The Heart of Mid-Lothian
November 16, 2021
SIR WALTER SCOTT: A Celebration through Scottish Music and Dance - The Heart of Mid-Lothian
Celebrating the life of Sir Walter Scott, 250 years after his birth, this book is inspired by a leaflet originally published in 1820, entitled The Heart of Mid-Lothian.
Inspired by Walter Scott’s novel of the same name, the original publication contained the instructions for six country dances. However, this 2021 anniversary issue is much more than a book of dance instructions – it aims to take you on a journey through 19th century Scotland, sharing the life of Walter Scott, bringing to life the novel’s characters, while helping the reader experience the Scottish dancing scene of Edinburgh in the 1820s.
We asked the team behind this new book to tell us a bit about it...
Why Sir Walter Scott and why a book of Scott dances?
The story starts in 1820 when John Sutherland published a small leaflet of six country dances as a celebration of Scott’s recently published novel The Heart of Midlothian. A copy of this leaflet was deposited in the RSCDS archive many years ago, where it has stayed unloved and ignored, until now.
Republishing these dances in 2021 seems highly appropriate as this year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott, a man who had a major influence on Scottish myths and culture. Publishing reconstructions of these dances on their own, whilst worthwhile, somehow seemed to be an inadequate way to mark the birth of such an important historic Scottish figure, with the result that the project expanded to become ‘more than a book of dances’.
At the time of Scott, Scotland was undergoing some fairly traumatic changes as it moved from an agricultural society into an industrial one. The legacy of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and its impact on Gaelic speaking Scotland was very much to the fore and there was an underlying sense of political unrest. Against this background Scott, through his novels and narrative poems, created a romantic image and story about Scotland that still remains important today. The resulting book is not typical of many RSCDS publications. We have attempted to put the dances into a historic context by taking the reader on a journey through 19th century Scotland, by exploring the life of Walter Scott and his legacy to Scottish culture. The characters in The Heart of Midlothian and their connection with the dances, bring the novel to life, while helping the reader experience the Scottish dancing and music scene of Edinburgh in the 1820s. As an added bonus the book includes the original historic dance instructions alongside their modern reconstructions. Perhaps something the RSCDS should have been doing as a matter of course - whilst we understandably focus on 21st century dancing we should never lose sight of our roots.
What was it like writing this book?
Fun, interesting, challenging, educational, stimulating, hard work and occasionally really stressful as well as many other at times contradictory emotions. Putting it together was a collective effort with the main contributions coming from Jimmie Hill, Angela Young and Peter Knapman. Although not academic, it involved a lot of research into Scott and Scotland with a particular emphasis on dancing and music. Many hours have been spent researching facts and dates as well as sourcing the multitude of images included in the book. Illustrations from the period sit side by side with the original dance instructions and music, whilst modern reconstructions and music arrangements help dancers enjoy an influential time in dancing history. Quotes from the period and, importantly, Scott himself give an insight to life at that time. As the dances are named after characters in Scott’s novel The Heart of Midlothian it also seemed highly appropriate that part of the research should include reading the novel.
A new CD of all the dances in the book has been recorded under the direction of Màrtainn Skene on cello along with Alastair Mcculloch (fiddle) and Andrew Forbes (piano). The music has been arranged to more reflect the style of the early 19th century. To quote our music director:
"A fantastic line-up of musicians providing a vibrant and creative presentation of an important part of our musical history -
It is a treat to listen to!"
Walter Scott was so famous that in 1822 he was asked to help organise King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh – Scott used the event to create an image of national identity for Scotland based round tartan. On arriving in Edinburgh, the King is reported to have said: “Sir Walter Scott! The man in Scotland I most wish to see!”
With thanks to:
Jimmie Hill, former editor of the Scottish Country Dancer Magazine and current member of the editorial team.
Peter Knapman, Membership Services Convenor
Angela Young, Membership Services, Convenor Elect