Scottish folk baroque fusion: When worlds collide

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In the Baroque and early Classical eras a succession of Scottish and Italian composers took an interest in fusing Scots fiddle and song melodies with Italian art music structures. Kevin MacDonald investigates the trend

The Scottish fiddle and its associated melodies have long trodden a narrow line between the classical concert hall and their rural roots. The lives of iconic Scots fiddler-composers like Niel Gow (1727–1807) ran parallel with the early publishing of folk melodies for the drawing rooms of Edinburgh and London. However, the present article is not concerned with Gow and his brethren, nor is it concerned with Scottish compositions in the conventional 18th-century Baroque and galant idioms. Rather, the focus here is on the fusion of Scots fiddle and song melodies with Italianate art music structures in the 18th century by a succession of Scottish and Italian composers.

Some 20 years ago, inspired by the pioneering research of David Johnson, George S. Emmerson and John Purser, I became interested in playing and researching the violin music of 18th-century Scotland. I subsequently corresponded regularly with Scottish composer and musicologist Johnson and shared regular visits and telephone calls with him until his untimely death in 2009 at the age of 66. Here I hope to highlight some aspects of Johnson’s scholarly passion and provide a broad introduction to this rich repertoire and its historical setting…

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