Corelli‘s legacy in Scotland

Concerto Caledonia

Aaron McGregor, Alice Rickards violins,

Lucia Capellaro cello,

David McGuinness harpsichord

Saturday 23rd October 2021

St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh

The Georgian Concert Society gratefully acknowledges support from its Supporters, from Chamber Music Scotland (through funding provided by Creative Scotland) and for tonight’s concert from the Scottish Early Music Trust.  The Trust’s funds are generated from the assets of the former Scottish Early Music Consort. The principal aim of the Trustees is the encouragement of live performances of early music within Scotland.

CorelliTrio Sonata op. 1 no. 4 (1681)
 Vivace – Adagio – Allegro – Presto
William McGibbonTrio Sonata no. 5 (1734), in imitation of Corelli
 Adagio – Allegro – Largo – Allegro
McGibbonThe Bonniest Lass in a the World (A Collection of Scots Tunes 1742)
Corelli, recomposed by McGibbonGiga from Sonata op. 5 no. 5
Robert BremnerGavott by Corelli, from op. 5 no. 10 (The Harpsichord or Spinnet Miscellany 1765)
Francesco GeminianiThe Broom of Cowdenknows; Bonny Christy (A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick 1749)
John Clerk of PenicuikUntitled variations (MS in the Clerk papers)
James OswaldSerenata no. 4  (Twelve Seranatas 1762)
 Languido Largo – Allegro con Spirito – Moderato Cantabli – Pastorale con Spirito
Robert Mackintosh‘Solo’ sonata  (Airs Minuets Gavotts and Reels 1783)
 Allegro – Largo – Jigg
James OswaldSymphony & Non Nobis
 Polwart on the Green (A Collection of Musick by Several Hands 1736)

The Italian violinist-composer Arcangelo Corelli held a special place in the hearts of Scottish musicians and audiences throughout the 18th century, after the publication in 1700 of his most famous book of violin sonatas, his opus 5. In 1748 the Aberdeen Musical Society resolved on its founding that each of the three Acts of a Society Meeting would include some of Corelli’s music, and as late as 1815 Nathaniel Gow printed what had been his father Niel’s favourite Corelli giga (from the sonata op. 5 no. 9).

We begin with three different responses to Corelli by the Edinburgh violinist and composer William McGibbon. The first is an ‘imitation’ of Corelli’s trio sonata style, from McGibbon’s 1734 collection; the second shows his use of Italianate violin techniques in variations on a Scots tune, from A Collection of Scots Tunes, vol. 1 of 1742. In the third, he has recomposed one of Corelli’s violin sonata movements, part of a wider European tradition of elaborating on Corelli’s printed texts.

The publisher Robert Bremner included a similar exercise in his keyboard tutor The Harpsichord or Spinnet Miscellany of 1765, where a Corelli Gavotta is enlarged with two variations. Although he had left Edinburgh for London a few years earlier, Bremner continued to act as an agent and talent-spotter for the Edinburgh Musical Society.

Francesco Geminiani’s explorations of Scots tunes appear in his A Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick (London, 1749), after a bizarre preface in which he claims that both French and Scottish music originated from Italians: the French from Jean-Baptiste Lully (or rather Giovanni Baptista Lulli), and the Scots from Mary Queen of Scots’s murdered secretary, David Rizzio. In the second of these he was perpetuating an origin myth that Fife-born composer James Oswald had also enjoyed toying with: an Epistle in The Scots Magazine of October 1741 bade farewell to Oswald when he set off for London, lamenting that he would no longer ‘cheat the town wi’ David Rizo’s name’.

A long-standing stalwart of the Edinburgh Musical Society, the 2nd Baronet Sir John Clerk of Penicuik was unique among Scottish composers in that in his twenties, he did actually spend time with Corelli, as part of his Grand Tour. Corelli gave him lessons in composition, and led the first performance of Clerk’s cantata Odo di mesto intorno. The set of fiddle variations heard today was found in Clerk’s papers by Aaron McGregor, and is possibly now receiving its first performances since the early 18th century.

The Scots Magazine Epistle also made reference to James Oswald composing faked ‘false Sicilian airs’, and in his A Collection of Musick by Several Hands of 1736 there is a Corelli-like prelude to the 16th-century canon ‘Non nobis Domine’. In the Sonata of Scots Tunes which originally appeared in the same book, he applied the structure of the Italian baroque trio sonata to native Scottish airs, and he explored the form further in his Twelve Seranatas of 1762, just after his appointment as court composer to George III in London.

In 1780s Edinburgh, fiddler-composer Robert ‘Red Rob’ Mackintosh was keeping up to date with shifts in musical fashion, and indeed the position shifts now expected of a violin soloist. The sonata, or rather ‘Solo’, in his Airs Minuets Gavotts and Reels of 1783 begins with a nod to Boccherini in its exploration of the violin’s upper reaches, but for the second and third movements, he reverts to a Corellian style, albeit one with more adventurous and colourful harmony.

We’ll let Allan Ramsay have the last word, in Edinburgh’s Address to the Country of November 1718. Edina is listing the best qualities of her population, and familiarity with Corelli’s music is seen as a civic asset:

Others in smoothest numbers are profuse,
And can in Mantuan dactyls lead the muse:
And others can with music make you gay,
With sweetest sounds Correlli’s art display,
While they around in softest measures sing,
Or beat melodious Solo’s from the string.

David McGuinness


Concerto Caledonia brings to life the classical and traditional music of Scotland’s history. The group’s fifteen albums include Robert Burns songs in their original versions, classical symphonies from Fife, and the unique sound of 18th-century Scottish-Italian crossover. The Nathaniel Gow’s Dance Band project has taken the Scottish country dances of the late 18th century to ceilidh nights in Glasgow basements and elegant balls in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, and as far afield as Helsinki and Adelaide.

Live collaborations at the Edinburgh International Festival have included the story of Orpheus with punk cabaret trio The Tiger Lillies, a four-concert series of historical Scottish music which became the live album Late Night Sessions, and an exploration of the music of 17th-century Scottish mercenary Tobias Hume. Revenge of the Folksingers, a 2010 project and recording bringing together traditional and early music at an Aldeburgh Residency, was followed in 2015 with Purcell’s Revenge, which showcased the diverse influences on Purcell’s music.

The album Mungrel Stuff was a Sunday Times Record of the Year, and besides appearing regularly on BBC Radio 3, the group has also been broadcast on Radios 1, 2, 4 and 6music. Its contemporary recordings include music by Frank Zappa, Astor Piazzolla, Daniel Johnston, and Buzzcocks.

In 2019 the group explored Scottish music in early Australian collections with the Universities of Southampton and Glasgow, recording video in Dalkeith Palace for Sydney Living Museums, and making an album for ABC Classics with Melbourne’s Evergreen Ensemble and musicians from the University of Sydney Conservatorium. In 2022 they will be recording an album of songs and music from 1720s Edinburgh and the cultural circle of the poet Allan Ramsay.

Barton Harpsichord

The harpsichord by Thomas Barton, made in London in 1709, is one of the earliest surviving English harpsichords; few remain from before the Georgian era.  The instrument is quite unlike the later English instruments.  The case is of solid walnut with comparatively thin sides, and the instrument is strung with brass wire throughout its compass.  In Britain this is found only in instruments built from around 1690 to 1725, comprising a small group of surviving examples made by native-born craftsman, whose style was eclipsed when the continental-born makers Kirkman and Shudi arrived.  Brass stringing is a characteristic commonly found on Italian harpsichords, and the Barton harpsichord has several other features – solid deep ‘box’ registers and scrolls on the keywell sides – which are also very typical of Italian instruments.  There is one keyboard with natural keytops of ebony and striped ‘skunktail’ accidentals. It has a GG/BB-d3 (broken octave) compass and two sets of strings, both at 8-foot pitch. The instrument is part of the Mirrey Collection, which was gifted to the University of Edinburgh by Rodger and Lynne Mirrey in 2005.

The Georgian Concert Society – Season 2021-22 Supporters

The GCS extends its sincere gratitude to all its Subscribers, the GCS Supporters listed here, and those who wish to remain anonymous.

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