96 AIRS FOR THE SEASONS - JAMES OSWALD
Sonia first discovered Oswald when reading Scotland’s Music by the author, playwright and composer John Purser. She was looking for Scottish repertoire for our Alba to Oz programme- an exploration of the music from our homelands Scotland and Australia and we included a few of Oswalds’ Airs in this recital.
A few years after performing Alba to Oz at the Edinburgh Fringe I was watching an episode of the Countryfile on the BBC. There was a segment on Plantlife’s road verge campaign and explained how they were working hard to preserve wildflower meadows in Britain. It was from this programme that the idea was born. By combining a passion for the conservation of native plants with a desire to expand the existing repertoire for violin and cello TRANSPLANTED took root!
Images below are the Spring title page for Airs for the Seasons and also the music for Rocket. These images are kindly provided by the Wighton Collection in Dundee.
As the collection of the 96 airs is so vast I
thought it would be a good idea to list them all in this blog post to give you an idea of how many little one page miniatures exist in this masterwork.
In and extract from Scotlands’ Music John Purser gives a summation of the work.
“Oswald composed no fewer than ninety-six violin sonatas with figured basses, each named after a different flower o shrub, classified by its season – two complete sets and not one plant and not one tune repeated. For twelve of them at least he issued second violin parts thus turning them into trio sonatas. This is an astonishing venture to have taken, a rational ordering of nature, an Aristotelion list based not o scientific classification but on the natural flowering time of the plants with the exception of the second set for winter is classified as tress and shrubs.
Oswald has combined different approaches – the symbolic, by verbal association, mythological, medical and botanical. The names, significances and varieties of plants have also changed since his day, and patient research has yet to find flora, herbal, material medica, horticultural calendar or even a vast dictionary from seventeenth century or first half of the eighteenth century that matches Oswald’s usage. Perhaps he worked from several sources, some not published, or had the habit of walking in fine gardens with knowledgeable people. His patron, the Prince of Wales, was expanding the gardens at Kew and Oswald clearly was aware of all the latest imported plants.’ © John Purser
Therefore the list below has been divided into two categories, species native to Scotland and exotic species. Dr. Deborah Long at Plantlife Scotland has helped to put each plant in either category. As Purser mentions some of the names for the plants have changed and so we have had to guess what they are and where they belong. Some species have varieties that are native to Scotland, for example Sea Rocket is an indigenous form of Rocket, and Squill is a native Lily.
Hyacinth, Narcissus, Pheasant’s Eye, Primrose, Anemone, Ranunculus, Catch-Fly, Star of Bethlehem, Lady’s Mantle, Cowslip, Rocket, Gentinella,
Auricula, Junquill, Crocus, Polyanthus, Daffodil, Tulip, Lilac, Friar’s Cowl, Duck’s Foot, Pyracantha, Crown Imperial
Rose, Pink, Veronica, Poppy, Lily, Honeysuckle, Heather, Myrtle, Foxglove, Thistle
Sweet William, Larkspur, Hollyhock, Bachelor’s Button, Columbine, Oleander, Turk’s Cap, Magnolia, Corn Flags, Virgin’s Bower, Flos Adonis. Melianthus, Heliotrope, Syringa
Campanula, Monk’s Hood, Nightshade, Daisy, Starwort, Violet, Aster, Oxeye, Hawkweed, Sneez-wort, Scabious,
Capsicum, Marigold, Amaranthus, Candytuft, Jasmine, Passiflora, Sumach, Ambrosia, Oriental Mallow, Spanish Broom, Sweet Sultan, Belvedere, Marvel of Peru
Golden Rod, Heartsease, Geranium, Holly, Yew, Hawthorn, Ivy
Periwinkle, Stock Gill Flower, Cyclamen, Persian Iris, Bear’s Foot, Snap Dragon, Wall Flower, Hepatica, Snowdrop, Arbutus, Phillyrea, Bay, Almond, Box, Laurel, Mezereon, Laurustinus
Alice and Sonia in front of Wildflower Europe's patchwork meadow Image © Andrew Macdonald