This article examines the process of fashioning an idea of ‘national’ music, by considering the social and political conditions that made such an idea possible at a particular historical moment. An early example, Scotland, is the focus here, and helps to show the type of discursive and active work involved in giving meaning to the idea of ‘Scottish music’ in a cultural sense. I argue that the poet and song collector Allan Ramsay played a central role in the years beginning around 1720. Before Ramsay's generation, there was only a limited sense of ethnic identity translating into poetic or musical style. Furthermore, Ramsay himself, in attempting to harness song and music as national cultural capital, also had to contend with the fact that Scotland was ethnically, culturally and linguistically split along the Highland–Lowland divide, and in other ways as well. Through his song collection A Tea-Table Miscellany and his follow-up publication of tunes for that collection, as well as through his involvement with Edinburgh's elite musical community, Ramsay helped transform Scotland's musical culture from a manuscript-based milieu organized around specific musical functions and occasions to one in which national origins helped validate music, and printed collections enshrined such groupings. Lastly, in addition to its direct influence, Ramsay's work helped shape the emergent discourse about national song indirectly: an extensive outgrowth of thought rooted partly in Ramsay's own ideas led to his being used as a negative example among collectors of ‘folk’ music from the later eighteenth century onward.
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