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The Scottish Symphony and beyond

30 Nov 2022

News Story

In celebration of St Andrew's Day (30 November), here is a whistlestop tour of Scottish orchestral works.

Some countries have an enviably wide choice of classical music to illustrate their culture – there’s a bewildering array to choose from when building a concert programme devoted to Spain, for example, without even depending (much) on the sound of the castanets. Scotland has a more limited number of works to draw from in this respect, but they are every bit as evocative. Here’s a small selection to whet your appetite …


Yes, it’s an obvious choice, but these are among the earliest major works to depict Scotland, and probably still the best known. Inspired by his visit here in 1829, they effortlessly convey the wilderness of the landscape. The symphony throws in a smattering of Scottish dance rhythms for good measure, along with capturing a nobility of spirit in its final section. Very much required listening.


The writings of Sir Walter Scott inspired many a 19th century composer to set pen to paper, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is probably the best-known result. Berlioz's take on Waverley is only loosely based on Scott's novel of the same name, though the quotation with which he prefaced the score - "Dreams of love and ladies’ charms / Give way to honour and to arms" - is an apt description of the music. Truth be told, it does not sound especially Scottish, but there is no denying it is a fine composition.


Wee drams are an integral part of Scottish culture, in music as much as anywhere else. Malcolm Arnold had a lot of fun with a decidedly tipsy bassoon in his Four Scottish Dances in 1957, but Peter Maxwell Davies’ 1985 work takes this a(n unsteady) step further before adds solo bagpipes at the climax, to represent the sun rising over Caithness.

The video above is from Max's 80th birthday concert, given by the SCO at the 2014 BBC Proms. His waistcoat was the first ever piece to be made from the then brand new Scottish Chamber Orchestra 40th anniversary tartan.

Whether you're celebrating Scotland's national saint in full tartan regalia or with a quiet wee dram, lang may yer lum reek!

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