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James Oswald

May 21, 2014

Scottish Baroque composer James Oswald may not be a household name today, but in his lifetime he achieved great fame and fortune and rose from humble beginnings in Fife to earn the title of court chamber composer to King George III, no mean feat.  

 

He was born in Crail in 1710 and music seems to have been at the centre of family life; two of his brothers also became musicians. By his early twenties he was working as a dance teacher in Dunfermline and was writing and arranging music too. Oswald was passionate about Scottish music and determined to show that it deserved a place alongside the Italian Baroque style that was flooding Europe. His genius is the way in which he blended the styles together to create a unique and highly personal musical language that embraces continental forms whilst never losing sight of its Scottish roots.

 

Like many Scots, the lure of London proved too much for Oswald, and he moved there in 1741 to work as a composer and publisher. He eventually opened his own extremely successful publishing house, but he still seems to have found time for composing as his output is huge. All his works are miniature in scale, but he groups them together to make larger pieces as is the case in 'Airs for the Seasons', 96 single-page sonatas for violin with figured bass accompaniment. The music is beautiful and fresh, and Oswald's skill as a cellist is evident as both parts are full of variety and  life.

 

It seems a shame that that such a talented man is not better known today, especially in his native Scotland. We hope TRANSPLANTED will bring Oswald and his music back into the public eye. As John Purser writes in his book 'Scotland's Music': 

 

"James Oswald is one of the most remarkable and unsung heroes of Scottish music".

 

Feartured video: Primrose from Airs for the Seasons by James Oswald, performed by High Heels and Horse Hair at Crear April 2014

 

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