What's in a name?

Mons Graupius? What's in a name?

'A bit of Scottish fun!' says Scots mezzo-soprano Sally Garden.

Isn’t Mons Graupius the name of an ancient battle fought between the Caledonians and the Romans? Wasn’t it a Scottish defeat?

‘Indeed, but a victory for the Scottish sense of humour, I hope! The Scots have a great ability to laugh at themselves, an endearing and self-effacing humour. Celebrating defeats is all part of the fun!’

‘Calgacus may not have won the day when he fought the Roman army at Mons Graupius, but his battle is symbolic. Mons Graupius reminds us that modern Scotland was borne at least in part out of contact with the classical world. She may have been a strange and unfamiliar territory to the Romans – a territory at the ‘world’s end’ as Roman historian, Tacitus, described her - but she nevertheless figured in the building of the Roman Empire. So for me, Mons Graupius is simply a metaphor of Scotland’s contact with the wider world - a reminder that the music of Scotland is a cosmopolitan heritage, formed from both indigenous traditions and enriching influences from other cultures.’


The exact site of Mons Graupius is a bit of a mystery isn’t it?

‘Yes, but so too is the music of Scotland - we still have much to discover about Scotland's musical heritage and influence. Scotland is a northern nation - much more than a dreamy celtic periphery'.

'Whilst some of our documentary sources, such as music manuscripts from the C17, may now be untraceable, new sources surely remain to be discovered in the private collections and archives of Europe. The influence of the Italian diaspora is likely understated too - more Italian musicians came to C18 Scotland to add their flame to the Scottish Enlightenment than have been properly recorded. There is always more to be done to explore the music of our best C19 and C20 composers and performers. And although Scotland is today cognizant of her status as a northern nation, little is yet understood of her sphere of influence and her participation in the cultural life of her Scandinavian neighbours. There is much work to be done, much good scholarship required, so a symbol of uncertainty is no bad thing!’

‘Of course, evidence or no, I rather like the idea, as a north-east Scot, that Mons Graupius was fought at Aberdeenshire’s beloved hill, Bennachie! But, then, what’s in a name but a bit of Scottish fun!’