James Oswald (composer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

James Oswald (1710–1769) was a Scottish composer, arranger, cellist, and music publisher, who was appointed as Chamber Composer for King George III but also wrote and published many Scottish folk tunes.[1][2]


Oswald was born in Crail, Scotland in 1710, being baptised on 21 March, and died in Knebworth, Hertfordshire on 2 January 1769.[1] As a young man he worked in Dunfermline, Fife as a musician and dancing master. Throughout his career he maintained an interest in traditional Scottish music, but he also composed in classical style galant forms.

In 1741 he left Edinburgh for London and Allan Ramsay lamented this fact in "An Epistle to James Oswald". In London he eventually set up his own publishing house and published the Caledonian Pocket Companion, a collection of Scottish folktunes, some with his own variations. This ran to 12 volumes and many editions.

Like many others whose works feature in the Wighton Collection in Dundee, he was a member of "The Temple of Apollo", a secret musical society of composers in London along with Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie, John Reid, Charles Burney and others.


He wrote variations of popular Scottish folk tunes, arranged these for the fiddle and composed other original tunes in the same genre. He published his chamber works under the nom de plume "Dottel Figlio".[1] A "Collection of Minuets" was published in Edinburgh in 1736 and a "Curious Collection of Scots Tunes" in 1740.

He probably composed "The East Neuk of Fife" and "The Flowers of Edinburgh", "two classic reel tunes of the Scots fiddle repertory", and wrote tunes which were later used for some of Robert Burns's song lyrics, included in his Caledonian Pocket Companion. The earliest version of 'Ae Fond Kiss' was closely modelled on Oswald's tune 'Rory Dall's Port'. [1]

Later, he wrote a collection of German military music, "40 Marches, Tattoos and Night Pieces for two German flutes, violins or guittars as performed by the Prussian and Hessian Armies".

He was appointed Chamber Composer to George III in 1761, when George became King.[1] Since many of his compositions were written anonymously, research still needs to be done to identify them.

Some of Oswald's most remarkable creations are his two sets of 'Airs for the Seasons' - some 96 compositions in all - each named for a different flower or shrub, and attributed to their appropriate season of the year. They are playable by violin (flute, oboe) and cello, with second violin parts available for 12 of them and therefore performable as trios. Contained within the Wighton Collection in Dundee is a manuscript of "Airs for Autumn" in the composer's own hand.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e David Johnson and Heather Melvill, "Oswald, James". Grove Music Online. Accessed March 15, 2012.
  2. ^ "James Oswald (1711–1769)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed March 15, 2012.

External links[edit]