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Art and culture

Shaped by Celtic beginnings, the early influence of invading Norsemen and the recurrent colonisation—peaceful or otherwise—by the English, the nation’s culture has developed into a fascinating hybrid that is impossible to pin down. Rugged and romantic, traditional and modern, it is always evolving, yet remains true to its roots.

Monuments and sculpture

In prehistoric times seafaring invasions left a rich legacy of monuments and ancient sites.

Neolithic Age (4400 BC-2000 BC)

Skara Brae is the best example of a Neolithic settlement where the local stone slabs have been used in every conceivable way. The settlers practised collective burials in chambered tombs, which took the form of either a galleried grave or passage grave. Orkney is rich in examples as at Unstan and Maes Howe. Other sites on the mainland include the Clava Cairns near Inverness, the Grey Cairns of Camster near Wick and Cairn Holy I and II in the southwest.

Bronze Age (2000 BC-1000 BC)

The Beaker people were continental agriculturalists who buried their dead in individual cists or graves. They erected the round cairns, stone circles and alignments as at Callanish, Ring of Brodgar, Hill o’Many Stanes and Cairnpapple.

Iron Age (800 BC-AD 400)

This period left the largest group of monuments. These include the hill forts and settlements (Traprain, Eildon Hill North, White Caterthun and Dunadd), crannogs or lake dwellings, earth houses or souterrains (Rennibister, Tealing) and wheelhouses (Jarlshof). This period is also marked by the brochs . These hollow round towers of drystone masonry are unique to Scotland. The outstanding broch, Mousa in the Shetland Islands, dates from 1C-2C AD.

Roman Scotland

The Romans left a considerable heritage. Along the route of penetration (Dere Street) were marching camps for Julius Agricola’s army, intent on the subjugation of the native tribes. A chain of forts across the Forth-Clyde isthmus was built prior to his retirement to Rome.

In the 2C Antoninus Pius built the turf Antonine Wall with walkway and ditch, along the Forth-Clyde line. Forts were placed at intervals laong the wall. Both were abandoned by the 160s.

Early religious symbols

The Latinus Stone AD 450 and a group of three other 5C-6C tombstones at Kirkmadrine are a few of the rare examples of this period when the Britons established the first Christian communities in the southwest.

Anglo-Saxon influence

The monumental Anglian crosses with their sculptured figures and patterns of vine scroll are the rich artistic heritage of the Northumbrian Kingdom. The 7C Ruthwell Cross is an outstanding example.

The Celtic tradition

The characteristic monument of the Scots was the free-standing cross with ring of glory, spiral patterns and high bosses. St Martin’s and St John’s Crosses (8C) on Iona are among the better examples. The Scots brought with them their Celtic ornamental tradition which they applied to stonecarving, metalwork and manuscript illumination. The tradition was continued to some extent in the art of the Picts and the influence is also clearly seen in the works of the 14C-16C school of West Highland Sculpture.

Pictish art

In the Pictish Kingdom of the east and north, a flowering of this native culture produced the Pictish Symbol Stones. These incised and carved boulders and stones portray animal symbols (boar, fish, goose, snake and bull as at Burghead), or purely abstract symbols (mirror and comb, double disc and Z-rod, crescent and V-rod, snake and Z-rod). This art died out once the Scots had become rulers of Pictland c AD 843. Sueno’s Stone near Forres remains a unique monument closely covered with sculpture of intertwined foliage and beasts and the serried ranks of troops on the shaft.



Celtic foundations

Mainland Scotland retains two of the earliest buildings erected by the Celtic clergy, the round towers of Brechin and Abernethy. Dating from the late 10C to early 11C these refuges or belfries are outliers of an Irish tradition. Although tangible remains are few, the Christian faith was an important unifying factor in Dark Age Scotland.

Anglo-Norman period

Scotland of the mid 11C with its Celtic and Norse influences was soon to undergo a new and gradual Anglo-Norman colonisation. It was the west and north, the strongholds of the old cultures, that resisted the new imprint.

The 11C and 12C were a time of church reorganisation and all building efforts were concentrated on ecclesiastical works. Queen Margaret and her sons were the principal promoters. David I’s church at Dunfermline has in the nave (12C) one of the most outstanding examples of Norman art. The parish churches of Leuchars and Dalmeny are equally well-preserved examples of this period.

Gothic tradition

Early monastic foundations included Arbroath, Dryburgh, Dundrennan, Holyrood and Jedburgh. Outstanding 13C Gothic buildings include Elgin, Dunblane and Glasgow cathedrals where the lancet window, pointed arch and vaulting are triumphant. War and strife brought building to a standstill and wreaked much havoc on existing buildings. Melrose Abbey, rebuilt in the 14C, is in the pure Gothic tradition.

Prosperity returned to the burghs in the 15C and the great burghal churches were an expression of renewed wealth and civic pride (Holy Rude, Stirling; St John’s, Perth; St Nicholas, Aberdeen and St Mary’s, Haddington). The period also saw the flourishing of collegiate churches built by the baronial class (Dunglass, Seton, Tullibardine, Crichton and Dalkeith). The style was truly Scottish, with a martial influence where buttresses were stepped, towers crenellated, and roofs stone-slabbed. Some of the loveliest churches date from this last Gothic phase, such as Tullibardine and Kirk o’Steil.

The Late Gothic King’s College Chapel in Old Aberdeen still has a splendid crown spire as does St Giles’, in Edinburgh.



The earliest predecessors of the Scottish castle were the enigmatic stone-built brochs of the 1C AD. An outstanding example is at Mousa in Shetland.

The feudalisation of Scotland was marked by the introduction of the Norman motte and bailey castles. Several imposing earthen mounds or mottes remain at Duffus, Inverurie and Invernochty. The earliest stone-built castles had a stone curtain wall, as a replacement for the wooden palisade, as seen at Rothesay, Sween and Dunstaffnage.

Medieval period

During the Wars of Independence Edward I altered a few strongholds including Kildrummy, giving it a Harlech type gatehouse. From then on the gatehouse replaced the keep as the place of strength.

In 14C Scotland weak kings and a disunited kingdom encouraged turbulent and ambitious feudal lords to build fortresses. Early examples include Drum, Threave, Castle Campbell and Craigmillar. The tradition continued with Cardoness and Newark.

The impact of the European Renaissance was limited to the royal works at Stirling, Falkland and Linlithgow.

Post Reformation innovation

The tower house reached its apotheosis in the late 16C and early 17C in the Grampian area, where a local school of architecture flourished. These baronial masterpieces—Craigievar, Crathes, Fyvie and Castle Fraser—all show a skilful handling of traditional features and a concentration on the skyline.

The 17C saw the infiltration of foreign influences as at Crichton with its Italianate façade, Edzell with its pleasance, at Huntly Castle, the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall and the inner courtyard façade of Caerlaverock.

The Restoration brought a new series of royal works, designed by the Architect Royal Sir William Bruce (c 1630-1710). Bruce excelled in the Classical style which he used for the courtyard at Holyroodhouse Palace (1671), Hopetoun House and his own home, Kinross House. Bruce enlarged and remodelled the main front of the Duke of Lauderdale’s principal Scottish seat, Thirlestane Castle. Bruce’s successor as surveyor to the king in Scotland in 1683 was James Smith (c 1644-1731). Smith refitted the Chapel Royal and converted the old palace at Hamilton and the castle at Dalkeith.

Georgian elegance

Apart from Smith the main exponent of this style in the early 18C was W­illiam Adam (d 1748), father of a family of famous architects. “Old Stone and Lime” dominated the period between the two Jacobite Risings. His better known works are Hopetoun House, the House of Dun, Haddo House and Duff House. Of the sons Robert Adam (1728-92) was the most famous and creator of the Adam style. With his brothers, he finished Hopetoun after the death of his father. Following four years of travel in Europe in the entourage of Charles Hope and a period when he worked on a series of London mansions (Osterley, Syon and Kenwood), Adam returned to Scotland. From this period we have Mellerstain, a house of homely proportions with all the refinement of his neo-Classical interiors. Altogether more grandiose are Culzean, Seton and Airthrey castles.


The Romantic movement was accompanied by a revival of medieval styles, as at Scone Palace, Abbotsford and Dalmeny House. David Bryce and Gillespie Graham both revived the baronial style in the Victorian period, notably at Blair and Brodick castles respectively. Balmoral Castle is the best-known example of the Scottish neo-baronial style. These imitations lacked the vigour and sculptural qualities of their 17C predecessors.

20C and beyond

At the close of the 19th century, Charles R­ennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) revived the Scottish vernacular tradition in his design for the Glasgow School of Art. Mackintosh followed this early design in the Art Nouveau style with Hill House in Helensburgh, a work which even today, more than 100 years later, still seems modern. The Glasgow Herald building has been successfully converted into The Lighthouse, a Centre for Architecture and Design.

Another exponent of the distinctly Scottish style was Sir Robert Lorimer with his many restorations (Earlshall and Dunrobin castles) and creations (Thistle Chapel in St Giles’, and the National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle).

Contemporary landmark buildings have won acclaim for imaginative design: the Museum of Scotland, Dynamic Earth, International Conference Centre in Edinburgh, the Armadillo Conference Centre in Glasgow, and the Contemporary Arts Centre in Dundee. In 1999 Glasgow was celebrated as the UK City of Architecture and Design.

The first great Scottish building of the 21C is the Parliament Building at Holyrood. Designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles (1955-2000) it is also destined to be one of the most controversial for many years to come for being massively over-budget.


While several towns (Haddington, Elgin and Old Edinburgh) retain their medieval layouts, relatively few medieval buildings exist, in part due to their timber construction. As a rule the main street linked the castle and church and was the site of the market and tolbooth. Pends and wynds led off to closes with burgess plots extending back to the town wall pierced by gates or ports. The burghs tended to lavish funds on such symbols of civic authority and pride as the tolbooth and mercat cross, with the result that the townscapes of today are still enhanced by some fine examples.

Market crosses

Known in Scotland as mercat crosses , these provided the focal point of the burgh, where goods for sale were presented, proclamations made and public punishment executed. Of the larger platform type an outstanding example is at Aberdeen, where a series of royal portrait medallions adorn the platform. Others are topped by the royal unicorn (Edinburgh, Cockburnspath). There is a rare pre-Reformation cross at Banff.


Originally for collecting taxes, the booths gradually came to embody civic authority and house the council chamber, court and prison. Today they represent one of the most attractive elements of Scottish townscapes. Kelso and Haddington have handsomely elegant buildings reflecting periods of agricultural prosperity. Tolbooths incorporated a tower (Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling) which was often adjoined by a later range of buildings.

Fine examples exist at Linlithgow, Crail, Culross, Dumfries and Old Aberdeen, Kirkcudbright, North Berwick, and the Canongate, Edinburgh. The most renowned of all was Edinburgh’s now vanished Heart of Midlothian, as popularised by Scott’s novel.


Now a rare feature, the public weigh-beam was once a common sight. Both Culross and the village of Stenton still have examples.


Dovecots (doocots in Scotland) are a familiar and attractive sight in rural Scotland and are found in their greatest number in the rich farming areas of the Lothians, Fife, Angus and Moray where grain growing predominated.


Most are stone-built. They vary in type from the fairly common beehive as at Phantassie, Craigmillar, Dirleton and Aberdour castles to the more typically Scottish lectern of Tantallon Castle and Tealing. Others were cylindrical (Lady Kitty’s Garden, Haddington). The majority were freestanding, although nesting boxes were incorporated into towers of certain castles (Hailes, Rothesay and Huntingtower) or even a church belfry (Aberlady, Stenton and Torphichen). 18C and 19C versions were built as part of farm buildings.


Scottish painting is closely linked with the English artistic tradition as many artists worked in London. Some were also great travellers and were influenced by the evolution of artistic movements in Europe. Many artists, however, remained relatively unknown outside Scotland.


In the 17C the Aberdonian George Jamesone (1588-1644) was the leading portraitist. His sensitive works are reminiscent of Van Dyck.

The 18C is marked by the portraitist Allan Ramsay (1713-84), responsible for the founding of Edinburgh’s first important art academy and painter to George III. His delicate portraits of women are notable. Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), George IV’s Limner for Scotland, also has a well deserved reputation as a portrait painter (The Reverend Robert Walker skating, Sir Walter Scott, Mrs Lumsden, Mrs Liddell) . These two artists painted the gentry and leading personalities of the period and are well represented in the major art galleries and country houses.

Natural and historical themes

Alexander Nasmyth (1785-1859), Ramsay’s assistant, became a successful landscape artist (Robert Burns, The Windings of the Forth, Distant Views of Stirling). The idealised treatment of nature is illustrated in The Falls of Clyde by the neo-Classical master Jacob More. Gavin Hamilton (1723-98) painted vast historical compositions (illustrations of Homer’s Illiad, The Abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots ) and became very successful in Rome. In the 19C Walter Scott’s novels brought about renewed interest in Scottish landscape: Glencoe, Loch Katrine, Inverlochy Castle by Horatio McCullough (1805-67) who is famous for his Highland scenes. David Wilkie ’s (1785-1841) artistry is evident in his realistic popular scenes (Pitlessie Fair, Distraining for Rent) and portraits (George IV) which show Raeburn’s influence. The Gentle Shepherd illustrates Ramsay’s pastoral poem.

The Faed brothers (late 19C – early 20C), who were members of an artists’ colony in Galloway, specialised in detailed genre scenes. The romantic landscapes and religious works of William Dyce (1806-64) heralded the Pre-Raphaelites who influenced Noel Paton (1821-1901). Nature is depicted in great detail in the latter’s fairy scenes (Oberon and Titania) and other paintings full of symbolism. The portraitist John “Spanish” Phillip (1817-67) is better known for his exotic paintings.

In the Victorian era Highland scenery gained great popularity through the English artist Edwin Landseer (1802-73), the official Animal Painter for Scotland, who is famous for his romantic depiction of Scotland (stags at bay and other Highland scenes). Another Englishman John Everett Millais (1829-96), whose wife came from Perthshire and who spent many years near Perth, painted romantic landscapes (Chill October).


The founding of the Scottish Academy in 1836 brought about a flowering of native talent. In reaction against Victorian conventions, William McTaggart (1835-1910) developed a highly individual style – bold brushwork, light effects, rich colours – evident in his dramatic seascapes (The Storm, Dawn at Sea, The Fishers’ Landing) and landscapes (Corn in the Ear, Spring, Rosslyn Castle: Autumn).

In the second half of the 19C artistic activity in Glasgow was given a boost by rich art collectors and dealers. The works of the Glasgow School (James Guthrie, E A Walton, George Henry, E A Hornel, Joseph Crawhall, John Lavery among others under the leadership of W Y MacGregor) reveal the influence of Impressionism and other European movements (The Hague School). Their interest in Realism is expressed in an original decorative style: A Galloway Landscape (Henry), Gathering Primroses (Hornel), The Gypsy Fires (Guthrie), Carse of Lecropt (MacGregor), The Tennis Party (Lavery). Artists’ colonies flourished at Brig o’Turk, Kirkcudbright, Cockburnspath and Cambuskenneth. Tollcross 10 and Girls at Play are good examples of J Q Pringle’s original style.

The Scottish Colourists (J D Fergusson, F Caddell, S J Peploe, L Hunter) were the next important group to emerge from Glasgow in the early 20C. Their canvases are striking with the strong lines and vibrant colours reminiscent of Post Impressionism and Fauvism: Bathers, Le Voile Persan, Les Eus (Fergusson), The Red Chair (Caddell), The Brown Crock, Iona, Tulips and Cup (Peploe). Joan Eardley (1921-63) is an important artist who drew inspiration from slum life (Street Kids) and dramatic weather at sea (Salmon Nets and the Sea, A Stormy Sea).

The Glasgow School of Art nurtured many outstanding artists: R Colquhoun (1914-62) – The Dubliners, Figures in a Farmyard showing the influence of Cubism – and R MacBryde (1913-66) – The Backgammon Player, Fish on a Pedestal Table (original combination of unusual objects). Anne Redpath (1895-1965), well known for her still-life paintings, flower pieces, landscapes and church interiors (Pinks, Red Slippers), and William Gillies (1893-1973), who painted gentle landscapes (Temple Village) and still-life compositions, were both associated with the Edinburgh School of Art.

The work of lan Hamilton Finlay (b 1925) combines classical allusions and form. Russell Flint’s (1880-1969) watercolours celebrate the pleasures of life.

Modern trends

Another important group of artists was open to international influences. William Gear (b 1915) and Stephen Gilbert joined the COBRA movement. Alan Davie (b 1920) became an exponent of Abstract Expressionism (Jingling Space) while William Turnbull’s (b 1922) interest in modernist abstraction is expressed in geometrical or painterly compositions. Eduardo Paolozzi (b 1924) creates collages in the Pop Art idiom using discarded artefacts of the consumer society and showing the influence of Dadaism and Surrealism. Celebration of Earth, Air, Fire and Water by William Johnstone is a good example of landscape abstraction. John Bellany (b 1942) tackles the inhumanity of people and the mysteries of existence and human relations. He shows victims of horror in domestic interiors invaded by a nightmarish atmosphere (Woman with Skate). The triptych “Journey to the End of Night” is a visionary creation.

The New Image group from Glasgow is blazing a trail on the contemporary scene. The influence of Fernand Léger and the Mexican muralists is evident in the graphic emphasis of the human figure and the raw vigour of the large compositions by Ken Currie (b 1960) – The Glasgow Triptych mural. Social realism is also tackled with poetic vision by Peter Howson (b 1958). The works of Adrian Wiszniewski (b 1958) show great imaginative fantasy while Stephen Campbell (b 1953) poses conundrums in natural philosophy. Stephen Conroy (b 1964) who seems to distance himself from human life is famous for his strangely typecast characters (clubmen, actors, singers, businessmen) depicted with great flair and craftsmanship.

Other artists making a name for themselves on the contemporary scene include Jock McFayden (b 1950) and the “Wilde Malerei” group (Fiona Carlisle, June Redfern, Joyce Cairns) who paint in lively, vivid colours.


Early tradition

Gaelic folklore celebrates the legendary 3C bard Ossian who was thought to be the author of “The Ossianic Fragments” ; the poems were a literary fraud perpetrated by James Macpherson in the 18C which won great acclaim.

St Columba arrived in Iona in AD 563 and there is a tradition that the community’s scribes and illuminators worked on the Book of Kells. The 9th abbot St Adamnan (c 624-704) wrote The Life of St Columba. The Book of Deer (now at Cambridge University) is a 9C Latin manuscript annotated in Scottish Gaelic in the 11C or 12C (the earliest known example).

In medieval times learning was associated with the monastic houses (Jedburgh, Dryburgh, Melrose, Arbroath, Dunfermline) but their treasures were lost following raids by the English and the religious conflicts in the 16C. ­ Thomas the Rhymer , the 13C Scottish seer and poet, was famous for his verse prophecies. The wizard Michael Scott (1117-1232) won fame as a scholar and linguist at the court of Emperor Frederick II. John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), a Franciscan scholar, was a leading philosopher who dominated the European scene.


Printing was introduced in 1507 and the earliest printed works included those of Bishop Gavin Douglas (1474-1522) who translated Virgil’s Aeneid into Scots, and of the court poet William Dunbar (1460-1520). Both belonged to a group of poets known as the Makars which also included Robert Henryson (1430-1506).

In the 16C Andrew Melville (1554-1622), a celebrated theologian, scholar and linguist, had a close association with the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews. The humanist George Buchanan (1506-82) was the tutor of Mary, Queen of Scots and of James VI. The 16C was an era of religious ferment dominated by the reformer John Knox (1512-72) who held famous debates with Mary, Queen of Scots and whose fiery sermons led to unfortunate excesses.

National pride

The Age of Enlightenment witnessed a flowering of talented men in all fields of endeavour who frequented clubs and learned societies. Leading figures included the prolific and influential poet and writer Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the revered bard Robert Burns (1759-96) who epitomised the national spirit, the poet Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) who fostered the use of the Scottish language in literary works (The Gentle Shepherd), the writer James Boswell (1740-95), Dr Johnson’s close friend and biographer, the novelist Tobias Smollett (1721-71), the philosophers David Hume (1716-86), Dugald Stewart (1753-1828) and Adam Smith (1723-90). James Hogg (1770-1835), the “Ettrick Shepherd”, was known for his pastoral poetry. The first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published between 1768-71 in Edinburgh. Literary magazines (Edinburgh Review, Blackwood’s Magazine) disseminated the new ideas and theories of the period.

In the 19C the essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was widely acclaimed and his seminal works (The French Revolution, Oliver Cromwell) wielded enormous influence. James Barrie ’s (1860-1937) original works show great wit and imagination (Peter Pan, The Admirable Crichton). Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) wrote thrilling tales of adventure (Treasure Island, Master of Ballantrae). The gripping stories (The Thirty-Nine Steps, Prester John, Greenmantle) told by John Buchan (1875-1940) were much admired. Another famous figure was the poet Charles Murray (1864-1941) who penned his verses in the Doric (rustic Scotch dialect).

Contemporary scene

The Scottish Literary Renaissance of the early 20C attempted to foster a national language and included the poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), the poet and journalist Lewis Spence (1874-1955), Helen Cruickshank (1896-1973), the novelists Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1901-35), Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) and Neil Gunn (1891-1973) and the poet and literary critic E Muir (1887-1959). William McGonagall (1830-1902) took up the role of itinerant bard although he wrote indifferent verse. John Joy Bell (1871-1961) wrote fiction, comic novels, travel books and recollections (I remember) . George Blake (1893-1961) is known for his naturalistic treatment of life in Glasgow and Clydeside (The Shipbuilders). The novelist and playwright Eric Linklater (1899-1974) (The Man of Ness, The Dark of Summer, A Year of Space) was born in Orkney. George Mackay Brown (1921-97) drew his inspiration from the Norse tradition and wrote in a limpid style (Winter Tales, Beside the Ocean of Time) . Famous names on the modern scene include Muriel Spark (b 1918) with her witty satirical novels (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Girls of Slender Means) , Alan Massie, William Boyd, James Kelman (How Late it was, How Late, The Bus-conductor Hines) . Alasdair Gray, A L Kennedy and D Maclean are also notable figures.

The Edinburgh International Festival which was launched in 1947 draws new and established theatrical talent from all over the world and the city has acquired a well deserved reputation as a cultural centre. Glasgow’s Mayfest founded in 1983 also attracts much international interest; in 1990 the city was nominated Cultural Capital of Europe.



Scottish folk music has its roots in the Gaelic (Celtic) tradition while the islands have a Nordic heritage. The òran mor (great song) comprises the Heroic Lays, the Ossianic Ballads and songs linked with pipe music (laments and pibroch songs). There were also songs which set the rhythm for certain tasks such as linen making, cloth fulling, reaping, spinning, churning, as well as lullabies, fairy songs, love songs and mourning songs (c­oronach). Puirt-a-Beul (mouth music) was a popular form of vocal dance music, often with humorous lyrics.

Communities scattered in remote areas of the Highlands held gatherings (c­eilidhs), when songs, music, dance and poetry were performed for entertainment. Itinerant musicians were always welcome. The Skene manuscript (c 1615) is the earliest example of Lowland music and there are collections of Lowland ballads (narrative songs).

Bothy ballads were associated with farming life and many have been collected in Aberdeenshire and neighbouring counties.

Traditional instruments

The most ancient musical instrument is the harp (clarsach) as evidenced from stone carvings dating from the 9C. Queen Mary’s Harp and the Lamont Harp in the Royal Museum of Scotland are the earliest surviving examples from the 15C-16C although no ancient harp music has survived in its original form.

The modern revival of the harp dates from 1892 when the first Mod was held by The Highland Society (An Comunn Gaidhealach) which aims to stimulate interest in Gaelic culture. In 1931 the Comunn na Clàrsach (C­larsach Society) was founded.

The fiddle, lute and flute were also popular instruments. There are many references to fiddlers from the 13C; music collections have been recorded from the 15C onwards with manuscripts and printed music collections from the late 17C.


These are now generally acknowledged as the national musical instrument, but are of uncertain origin. Already in use in 14C Scotland they developed from the original one drone instrument to the modern example with three drones, chanter (for the melody) and blow stick (mouthpiece).

Bagpipe music is unquestionably a Scottish art, be it the ceol mor (big or great music) or ceol beag (small or light music). The latter, more recent and common, covers the lighter music for marching and dancing (strathspeys and reels). The older or classical music of the bagpipes is known as pibroch (piobairochd) .

Religious influence

The monastic and church music schools maintained a high musical standard but the religious conflicts exacted a heavy toll as the music collections were dispersed. The earliest document is a manuscript compiled at St Andrews c 1250. The flowering of sacred music which occurred from the reign of James IV (1488-1513) to the Reformation is marked by three notable 16C composers: Patrick Hamilton, Robert Johnson and David Peebles. The Protestant tradition favoured simple metrical psalm settings but an important and independent development was the Gaelic “long psalms” which are still sung today.

New trends

In the 18C folk songs arranged for stringed instruments and keyboard were very popular. The Edinburgh Musical Society concerts were founded in 1720. There was an influx of Italian composers and Scottish composers went to study abroad: Sir John Clerk (1676-1755), who studied with Corelli, composed solo cantatas and Thomas Alexander Erskine (1732-81) wrote symphonies and chamber music. Also of note were chamber music by William McGibbon (c 1690-1756) and violin sonatas by David Foulis (1710-73). Sir Walter Scott’s poems (The Lady of the Lake) and novels (Ivanhoe, The Bride of Lammermoor) were a source of inspiration for many composers (Schubert, Donizetti, Auber).


Robert Burns was active in collecting and rewriting Scottish songs which were published in The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1803) and Select Scottish Airs (1793-1818). Many of Burns’ own poems were also set to music.

Scottish musical inspiration was at its lowest ebb in the 19C but a rebirth became evident in the late 19C with the formation of choral and orchestral societies, the changing attitudes of the church and the celebration of Scotland by native composers (Sir Alex Campbell Mackenzie, Hamish MacCunn, William Wallace).

At the turn of the century, the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated organs to remote parishes to promote new interest in church music. 20C composers who adopted Scottish idioms include Eric Chisholm (1904-65), Ian Whyte (1902-69), Cedric Thorpe Davie (b 1913) and Lyell Creswell (b 1944). Celtic culture inspired two out­standing composers: Ronald Stevenson (b 1928) who wrote songs, piano works and concertos and Francis George Scott (1880-1958), who, together with his disciple Hugh M­acDiarmid (1892-1978), promoted the S­cottish Renaissance , a musical and literary movement in the 1920s.

Many Scottish artists have won great respect on the international scene : the pianist Frederic Lamond (1868-1948), the singers Mary Garden (1874-1967) and Joseph Hislop (1884-1977), and the choral conductor Hugh S Robertson (1874-1952). In the 20 C operas by the Scottish composers Robin Orr, lain Hamilton, Thomas Wilson and Thea Musgrave have been well received.

Scotland’s natural attractions have drawn several composers. The scenery of the Hebrides inspired Felix Mendelssohn to write the Overture to the Hebrides. Since 1970 Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the avant-garde English composer, has written all his music on Hoy in the Orkney Islands and in 1977 inaugurated the St Magnus Arts Festival held every summer in Kirkwall and Stromness.

The Edinburgh International F­estival and Glasgow Mayfest offer a wide range of classical music and the Jazz Festivals are very popular events. The reputation of the Scottish National Orchestra is second to none. It commissions new music from aspiring Scottish composers who contribute to the dynamism of the musical world in Scotland.

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