Thursday, August 16, 2007

The truth about Scotland

James MacMillan, one of the finest composers in Britain, never mind just Scotland, has written a fascinating article in today's Guardian about why music has tended to remain a 'black hole' in the soul of his home country.

Scotland's place in the history of European music suffered two near-fatal body blows in 1560 and 1603. The ancient universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen were founded in the 15th century, and music played a vital role. Collegiate chapels cultivated, besides Scottish music, English decorative composition, music by the Burgundian Dufay and Flemish-inspired polyphony. Scottish liturgists travelled to Rome, Paris and the Netherlands, absorbing the fashionable musical traits of the day.

In 1560, the Scottish Reformation stopped this all abruptly. The liturgy became a principal battleground, involving a violent repudiation of the past and of foreign influences. The second blow came with the departure of the Scottish court in 1603. At the very time when aristocratic courts all over Europe were becoming central in sponsoring great composers, Scotland lost the main arena where great music could be created and thrive. The result was an absence from our culture which has damaged the national soul and psyche, and the reverberations of this are still apparent today.