On Air Now
Cowan's Classics with Rob Cowan 7pm - 9pm
Discover the greatest composers and performers from Scotland - past and present - and those who were inspired by the country.
Half-Scottish half-Italian, Nicola Benedetti was born in West Kilbride. Today she is one of the world’s finest and most in-demand violinists. After winning Young Musician of the Year in 2004, she signed a £1m six-album recording deal. In 2010, she got involved in El Sistema Scotland's Big Noise project, a music education initiative partnered with Venezuela's El Sistema. Picture: Decca/Rich Hardcastle
Mendelssohn’s three-week tour around Scotland in the summer of 1829 took him to Edinburgh, Pitlochry, Fort William, Oban and the Western Isles. It was there, on 7 August, that he was inspired to write his Hebrides Overture. And he noted down the opening theme for his Scottish Symphony during a visit to Holyrood Palace. Interestingly, the symphony does not make use of Scottish tunes.
The present Master of the Queen's Music moved to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy in 1971 and later to Sanday. Orkney hosts the St. Magnus Festival, founded by 'Max' in 1977. He frequently uses it to premiere new works. He is also Composer Laureate of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, for whom he wrote a series of ten Strathclyde Concertos. Since his move to Orkney, Davies has often drawn on Scottish themes in his music.
A graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, film composer Patrick Doyle is best-known for his collaborations with actor-director Kenneth Branagh. He also wrote the music for Sense and Sensibility, Gosford Park, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Thor, and went back to his roots for Disney Pixar's Brave.
Thomas Erskine, the 6th Earl of Kellie - also known as Fiddler Tam, Viscount Fentoun and Lord Pittenweem - was famed as much for his rakish habits as his music. Today he is considered one of the most important British composers of the 18th century, as well as a key proponent of Scotland's music. At the end of the 18th century, he became a leading light of the Edinburgh Music Society and, as a violinist, directed concerts at Saint Cecillia's Hall in Niddry's Wynd.
The violinist and conductor claims Scottish ancestry through his maternal grandfather - a Sanderson - and the MacDonell of Glengarry clan. Since 2012, Oundjian has been music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Monty Python star Eric Idle is Oundjian's cousin, as their mothers are sisters.
MacCunn was born in Greenock and went to London at 25 to study at the Royal College of Music. His first and most enduring success was the overture 'Land of the Mountain and the Flood' performed in 1887 at the Crystal Palace. His music all has a distinctive Scottish flavour. He had a genuine love of folksong and, although he lived in London, he was a lifelong champion of Scottish music and of the country’s musical life.
One of cinema's A-list composers, Glasgow-born Craig Armstrong has also written several concert pieces for the RSNO, the Hebrides Ensemble and the Scottish Ensemble. In 2006 he collaborated with visual artists for the reopening of Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. In 2007 his first opera was premiered by Scottish Opera, with a libretto by Inspector Rebus author, Ian Rankin.
One of opera's biggest stars in the first third of the 20th century, Mary Garden was born in Aberdeen and later retired to Scotland after her career in the United States. She was described as the 'Sarah Bernhardt of opera', for her exceptional acting as well as singing skills. She created the role of Mélisande in Claude Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, pictured.
Hailing from Glasgow, Oliver Knussen is one of Britain's most respected contemporary composers and conductors. Among his best-known works are the operas, Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop! written in collaboration with the late illustrator Maurice Sendak.
A Scottish countertenor, composer and lutenist, Abell became a member of the Chapel Royal in 1679. Charles II said of Abell, "I never heard a more excellent voice, and would have sworn it had been a woman's, it was so high and so well and skilfully managed." During the Glorious Revolution of 1688 Abell fled to continental Europe, where he became rich from his singing. In 1702 Abell composed a coronation song for Queen Anne, pictured, titled 'Aloud proclaim the cheerful sound'.
The pre-eminent Scottish composer of today, James MacMillan was born at Kilwinning in North Ayrshire, but lived in the East Ayrshire town of Cumnock until 1977. He studied composition at the University of Edinburgh and at Durham University where he gained a PhD in 1987. His music combines rhythmic excitement, raw emotional power and spiritual meditation.
Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie was a composer, conductor and teacher best known for his oratorios, Scottish folk music and works for the stage. He composed more than 90 works, but from 1888 to 1924, he devoted the greatest part of his energies to running the Royal Academy of Music. Together with Parry and Stanford, he was regarded as one of the fathers of the British musical renaissance in the late 19th century.
A composer and Music Director, Stirling-born Mathieson was responsible for attracting first rate composers to arrange and conduct their scores for British films. During his wartime service with the Ministry of Information, he commissioned scores from Bliss, Walton, Vaughan Williams and Arnold. And we have him to thank for Benjmain Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, commissioned for the film, Instruments of the Orchestra.
Classic FM’s Orchestra in Scotland, the RSNO is one of Europe’s leading symphony orchestras. Formed in 1891 as the Scottish Orchestra, the company became the Scottish National Orchestra in 1950, and was awarded Royal Patronage in 1991. It performs across Scotland, including seasons in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth and Inverness. Photo: Tom Finnie