HISTORY is an art not a science. In selecting evidence we have already so presumed upon reality that we are bound to have ignored many another pile of evidence, be it manuscripts of glorious music, or heaps of rubbish into which some have dumped evidence they do not wish to be discovered.

The mere term “Enlightenment” implies an improvement, because humans require light. The Enlightenment is also described as an Age of Reason and Rationality, so they too receive a kind of tacit approval by association. With Rationality, however, we do enter the realms of Science, for the word is based upon Ratio and upon Ratio all Music is dependant. Therefore Music is Rational, good, and the foundation of the Enlightenment. QED.

Last week, Alan Riach included the Reformation as relevant evidence with respect to the Enlightenment. He suggested that its emphasis upon education was significant. It was. But in a wee while I will be writing about Robert Carver and there we shall see (because I write always in the very brightest daylight) that the Reformation could be as profoundly destructive of the fruits of Rationality as it is possible to imagine. Those fruits are not themselves rational: their beauty borders on the mystical. But that’s for another day.

Christian belief is founded upon mystery, so Rational debate about the Incarnation and the Resurrection are only possible if you are prepared to doubt them. When John Toland published a book in 1696 called Christianity not Mysterious he was hounded out of two countries. The following year we in Scotland executed Thomas Aikenhead for blasphemy, despite his having repented, and we executed our last witches in Inverness in 1706, though witchcraft remained on the statute books until 1735, punishable by death. Hey-ho the Enlightenment.

All this is by way of introducing Alexander Malcolm and his Treatise of Music, Speculative, Practical, and Historical. It was published in Edinburgh in 1721. Malcolm was a mathematician and a Newtonian and, in explaining why simple ratios such as the octave (2:1) and the fifth (3:2) are considered more pleasurable than the second (9:8), he attempted to bring the basis of music into rational discussion. He was merely following on the work of Pythagoras, Boethius and many another, and if you have lost patience by the time the proportions have reached 6-figure numbers (as they do in Boethius) then just turn up the volume.

Malcolm’s Treatise of 1721 starts with a splendid poem by Joseph Mitchell which expresses the Pythagorean ideal of the music of the spheres in digestible form. Here’s part of it: At Musick’s sweet prevailing Call, Thro’ boundless Realms of Space, The Atoms danc’d, obsequious all, And, to compose this wondrous Ball, In Order took their Place.

How did the Piles of Matter part, And huddled Nature from her Slumber start?

*** Musick, the best of Arts divine, Maintains the Tune it first began, And makes ev’n Opposites combine To be of Use to Man.

Discords with tuneful Concords move Thro’ all the spacious Frame; Below is breath’d the Sound of Love, While mystick Dances shine Above, And Musick’s Power to nether World proclaim.

What various Globes in proper Spheres, Perform their great Creator’s Will?

While never silent, never still, Melodiously they run, Unhurt by Chance, or Length of Years, Around the central Sun.

So it is Musick that provides the motion essential to bring order to Matter, and it is Musick that maintains that motion is at a cosmic as well as a local level. Amen to that.

But I’m not done with the Reformation. The printing and, above all, reading of Bibles in one’s own language gave readers the chance to consider religious matters for themselves. For the Roman Catholics, the New Testament pretty much said it all: but for the Protestants, the Old Testament was as much the word of God as the New.

When Carswell translated the Book of Common Order into classical Gaelic (published in 1567), his prefatory comments reveal that the racial, territorial, linguistic and philosophic perceptions of Celt and Gael were perceived as a threat to the Christian faith of the reformed church. This threat was firmly rooted in Celtic mythology.

“And great is the blindness and darkness of sin and ignorance and of understanding among composers and writers and supporters of Gaelic, in that they prefer and practise the framing of vain, hurtful, lying, earthly stories about the Tuatha De Danann, and about the Sons of Mil, and about the heroes, and Fionn mac Cumhail with his Fianna, and about many others whom I shall not number or tell of here in detail, in order to maintain and advance these, with a view to obtaining for themselves passing worldly gain, rather than to write and to compose and to support the faithful words of God and the perfect way of truth.”

Now what annoys me about this is that the Old Testament is chock-a-block with vain, hurtful, lying, earthly stories. They may in part be history (whose history?) and they are in part mythology, and they are a great read. But if there are many truths in there, then they are often decidedly unedifying. So, to the Protestants, where did the Scots fit in? The answer was that we were the lost tribe of Israel.

And so we reach that outstanding composer and Enlightenment figure, John Clerk of Penicuik (1676-1755: one of the signatories of the Treaty and Act of Union of 1707, for which he has never been wholly forgiven. Only it is not as simple as that – and this is where music can provide history with evidence of a kind in which most historians have shown no interest whatever.

When Clerk was a young man, he wrote a cantata about the Darien Scheme. I was making an edition of this and, checking the parts against the manuscript, I found that the first section of his cantata Leo Scotiae Irritatus (The Lion of Scotland Angered) was 11 bars long. I must have missed a bar. Not so. The next section was 33 bars long. Total for the first movement, 44 bars. The second movement was 22 bars long. Total so far, 66. All multiples of 11. This is surely no accident, and totally unprecedented. The cantata extols the virtues of the Darien scheme – Scotland’s failed attempt at a colony in the New World. Clerk and his librettist, the famous Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhaave, bemoan the antagonism and misfortune it encountered. Bear with me, because the number symbolism is really significant.

Eleven was the number of tribes of Israel that were given land. The 12th, the tribe of priests, was distributed amongst the others. Leo Scotiae Irritatus is about the Scots claiming their own “Promised Land” in Darien. Clans – tribes. The parallel is obvious. What about 22? This is the number of kings in Chronicles II, the first (Solomon) who built the Temple of Solomon, and the last (Cyrus) who rebuilt it after the return from exile.

In English alphabet gematria (the code that gives letters numerical value), 33 is Amen (1+13+5+14). It also represents the Star of David and the 33 degrees in Scottish Rite Freemasonry, so the House of the Temple in Washington DC has 33 columns, each 33 feet tall.

Forty-four? Using Hebrew gematria it can mean of, or by David, in which case Clerk was presenting his call to arms as a kind of psalm. Boerhaave’s text underlines the moral right that accompanies this colonial venture and the second movement reflects on God’s support for the Scots.

Sixty-six is the total so far, underlining the Biblical justification, it being the number of books in the Protestant Bible.

But it is the next movement that has the deepest symbolic significance. It is 27 bars long, the number of books in the New Testament. It represents the New Covenant as embodied in the teaching of Christ. How so? Because 27 is a perfect cube and the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the perfect cube of the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Solomon.

Boerhaave’s text acknowledges that Fortune’s wheel is turning against the Scots and asks for it to be reversed. Clerk uses a ground bass shaped to imitate the repeating rise and fall of the wheel. Against this, the singer vainly enumerates Scotland’s virtues – which include righteousness, law, religion, justice and equity. These were the very things enshrined on the tablets of law in the Ark of the Covenant in the perfect cube of the Holy of Holies at the heart of the Temple of Solomon, so Clerk has made the movement 27 bars long – 3 by 3 by 3, a perfect cube. The ground bass itself is 3 bars long and occurs 9 times, naturally fitting the pattern. It was easy for Clerk to incorporate these symbolic gestures. Anybody with a university education at that time would have been exposed to this sort of material through Biblical studies, even if they only had a smattering of Hebrew.

None of this makes the music any more beautiful: but it does give clues to Clerk’s high-minded aspirations for the colony. He was dreaming of the Scots founding a New Jerusalem in a New World, with its own tablets of law in its Holy of Holies. He was, after all, a lawyer. So this signatory of the Treaty and Act of Union of 1707 was at least initially as high-minded a nationalist as you could wish for. As we know, circumstances have changed.

One thing that changed was the rise of Freemasonry. Am I living dangerously? Is Freemasonry a word to be uttered in secret, or a word to be screamed at a referee if you support Celtic, or a word that represents the ideals of brotherhood and freedom?

Haydn and Beethoven were Freemasons. Clerk became a Freemason and designed (with William Adam), the glorious but now ruinous Mavisbank House. But the Freemasons that intrigue me are the Earl of Kellie (1732-1781) and James Oswald (1710-1769). Well before Kellie, as early as 1740, Oswald published his Masonic Anthem in Edinburgh, and it is quite possible that his music or its influence filtered through to the Viennese masonic lodges, for the continental lodges looked to Scotland as the parent of their ideals. Mozart was a Freemason, a member of the Illuminati who followed the Scottish Rite.

Oswald’s Masonic Anthem is cast in ancient mould like a 16th-century galliard, but one of the graver sort, and it sets a standard of subtlety and symbolism that waited thirty years to be matched by Mozart, whose The Magic Flute extols the ideals of Freemasonry which include Equality, Liberty and Fraternity. Remember them?

In Oswald’s piece, three parts and three beats in the bar stand for the three degrees of masonry, the three steps at the door, the three lights, or windows in the Lodge – and parallel thirds and linked notes in chains indicate the links of friendship. But where the words speak of freedom and sweet innocence enlarging the mind, Oswald introduces the mind-enlarging effect of counterpoint and octave leaps, though each phrase ends on an octave or a unison – perfect symbols of unity in diversity.

Sharp dissonances suggest discordant elements to be overcome. These dissonances are at the beginning. Sir John Clerk had likened discord to darkness, concord to light, literally constructing the Hurley Tunnel in the grounds at Penicuik to symbolise the journey: “As indeed certain discords set off and give finish to musical cadences in such a way as to render the subsequent harmony more grateful to the ear, so does the mouth of this mournful cave with its long and shady path followed by the light and prospect, make the exit more delightful. For suddenly the darkness disappears, and as it were at the creation of a new world.”

So too, in Freemasonry, the journey is from the darkness of the pre-masonic life, to the light of the Enlightened mason. The Illuminati. The Age of Enlightenment. I am not a member of the order, but its symbolism was fundamental to Enlightenment thought, and its egalitarianism and religious tolerance were a threat to the established churches. It does not deny the existence of the dark: but it does attempt to find a way out. We are still searching.