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James Oswald

b. Scotland 1711, d. Hertfordshire 1769


Scottish composer and music publisher. Using popular Scottish folktunes, he wrote variations of these for the fiddle and composed other original tunes in the same genre. He published much of his work anonymously or using the nom de plume “David Rizzio”. A “Collection of Minuets” was published in Edinburgh in 1736 and a “Curious Collection of Scots Tunes” in 1740.

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 15 volumes and many editions.

Like many others whose works feature in the Wighton Collection, he was a member of “The Temple of Apollo”, a secret musical society of composers in London (c.f. Earl of Kelly, John Reid, Charles Burney).

He was appointed chamber composer to George III in 1761. Much research still needs to be done to identify his compositions but he composed with style and talent in both Scottish and classical form, working within the range of his abilities.

Oswald’s “Airs” deserve particular mention. There were once thought to be 48 short trio sonata movements, in four groups of 12, each bearing the name of a flower, but the edition in the Wighton Collection contains two sets for each season. Also in the Wighton Collection is a MS for “Air for Autumn” in the composer’s own hand.

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