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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Culture and Leisure


By John Purser

The Reformation ended ambitious music-making. In 1563 the sub-cantor at Glasgow was tried for assisting at mass. Secular music was also affected. In 1593 the Kirk Session threatened the town piper with excommunication if he played on Sundays. But there were also itinerant musicians such as the Irish harper, O'Cahan (d. C. 1650). Lady Eglintoun had been rude and he refused to play. When she apologised O'Cahan composed Da Mihi Manum in appreciation.

In 1626 James Sanders gained exclusive right to teach music. Fine keyboard music by Kinloch and Byrd was copied and used by Duncan Burnett (d. 1651) who received his appointment in 1638: "[the council] ... seeing that the musik school is altogether dekayit within this burgh to the great discredit of this citie ... has granted licence the said Duncane Birnett to take up ane musik school within this burgh."

The Covenanters did nothing to promote music, but in 1668 an attempt was made to employ a music teacher and in 1691 the city appointed "Lewis de France" (fl. 1680) on condition that he gave free lessons to children of the poor. About 1715 MacMhaighsteir Alasdair (c. 1685-c. 1770) wrote "Sweeter than the carillon of Glasgow is the cheering sound of the drinking horn being filled", but he composed one of his most famous songs to a tune heard on the bells.

"There was never but one concert during the two winters I was at Glasgow, and that was given by Walter Scott, ... his band of assistants consisted of two dancing-school fiddlers and the town-waits," complained one writer. Simple psalm singing was the main formal music experience of the population. Thomas More, teaching in Hutcheson's Hospital from 1756, attempted improvements and published the psalm tune "Glasgow". The mathematician, Robert Simson (1687-1768) "admitted all and sundry to his symposia at a public house, where he demonstrated an improbable talent for singing classical Greek odes set to modern music." Duncan McGibbon (b. 1705), a violinist in Glasgow, and his son, William (1696-1756), both benefited from the popularity of music in Masonic Lodges.

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