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Coalescence

Scotland’s musical place in the world, according to one of its leading composers

February 2019 sees the release of the third album in a projected ongoing series exploring Scottish classical composer Ronald Stevenson’s (1928-2015) massive contribution to the western classical piano repertoire. This release looks at how his work, as a consciously Scottish composer, fits in with music from around the world.

Stevenson was an ardent Scottish nationalist. There are many ways that he can be seen as a musical successor to the composer Francis George Scott (1880-1958), who was very much part of the Scottish Literary Renaissance (SLR) of the 1920s. Both Scott and Stevenson sought to confirm their national identity through conscious and deeply felt attempts to assimilate aspects of their nation’s culture (Scottish folksong) in to their mutual art form. They did so as a means to transcending their locality, to embrace the universal aspects of humanity.

This motive abounds in the work of all the artists of the SLR - and, in many cases, beyond too. In a fascinating and brilliant article in the Guardian from November 2018, the philosopher Julian Baggini notes how “TS Eliot is supposed to have said:

‘Although it is only too easy for a writer to be local without being universal, I doubt whether a poet or novelist can be universal without being local, too.” Eliot’s thought puts me in mind of SLR author Neil M. Gunn, who wrote novels of immense universal profundity, all of which being set in his native Caithness. Far from being a ‘local’ writer in a parochial sense, he transcended his roots because of them.

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