Dr Fred Freeman, Hon. Fellow in English at the University of Edinburgh - 'A fiddler and a poet' : Songs of Robert Burns

The Moore Institute Seminar Room

Date & Time
7th June, 2013 @ 11:00:00

‘I am a fiddler and a poet' : Robert Burns as a song-writer

This illustrated talk is designed to introduce a wholly unknown Robert Burns to the general public. For over 200 years Burns has been misrepresented as Scotland's national ‘poet', yet he was primarily a song-writer, composing upwards of 400 songs.

Most of the songs have been lying in abeyance since 1796 though they are of a quality which should easily have established Burns as one of the greatest song-writers of the 18th-century. The presentation considers why this did not happen as it explores the activities of George Thomson, Burns's second editor, in commissioning Viennese/German composers - Pleyel, Kozeluch, van Weber, Hummel, Haydn, Beethoven, etc. - to recast Burns's folk composition into an alien classical mould which put paid to it, almost irrevocably. Much of the approach considers Burns's background as a fiddler and folk musician, quite generally; his innovative use of folk dance/instrumental forms (strathspeys, reels, jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes); his curious method of composition - always from the tune to the words; his seminal theory of ‘ballad simplicity' which relates to language, form, rhythm, tonality and more.

The lecture is both informative and entertaining, with numerous musical examples played throughout the presentation - drawn from Freeman's THE COMPLETE SONGS OF ROBERT BURNS (12 vols, Linn Records 1996-2003).

Biography of Dr Fred Freeman

Sometime Fellow in English at University of Edinburgh, I am a graduate of Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities (Ph.D. Edinburgh). I have taught Scottish literature at The School of Scottish Studies and in the English Department of Edinburgh; held postdoctoral posts (several times over) at The Advanced Studies Institute, The School of Scottish Studies, the English Department, University of Edinburgh. I had a postdoctoral appointment at St Antony's College, University of Oxford for two years in the late ‘80s, concentrating on ethnic minority writers in Scotland.

I am author of a book on the 18th-century Edinburgh poet, Robert Fergusson (EUP 1984) and a children's book on the Paisley poet, Robert Tannahill (2009); have published over 100 articles on Scottish literature, folk music and history. I am on the official Live Literature Scotland authors' list for grants.

Over the past decade I have drawn upon my extensive musical background, producing over 42 (internationally acclaimed) CDs - amongst them: "THE COMPLETE SONGS OF ROBERT BURNS" (13 Cds, 12 vols, Linn Records 1996-2003); (for Scottish Borders Region) "BORDERS FIDDLES", "BORDERS SANGSTERS", "BORDERS BOXES", "BORDERS PIPES"; "BORDERS YOUNG PIPERS" (1999-2012); "A'THE BAIRNS O' ADAM - A TRIBUTE TO HAMISH HENDERSON" (Greentrax 2004); "A' ADAM'S BAIRNS" National Library of Scotland, 2008); numerous solo CDs - "YONT THE TAY" (Jim Reid) which won BBC's ‘Best Singer of the Year 2005'; "THE COMPLETE SONGS OF ROBERT TANNAHILL" - Vols I, II & III (with 2 vols still to come).