WELL, it was love and Scotland last week for Jamie Oswald and this week it’s love and flowers and, believe it or not, London. Love and flowers go together and Oswald’s truly remarkable collection of 96 Airs for the Seasons has each Air named after a different flower or shrub and often depicting its characteristics.

He quotes Horace on each season’s cover of his Airs: “Now Cytherea leads the dance”. It is an explicit claim for the Scottish dancing master to make, and Cytherea (another name for Venus, the Goddess of Love) is the source of his inspiration.

But how many plants can you name? Ninety-six? And Oswald’s collection has some of the very latest exotic imports. This can only have been done through a familiarity with some of the finest gardens of the period – notably Kew which was essentially a foundation of his sponsor’s widow, the dowager Princess of Wales, supported by the Earl of Bute who was a keen botanist.

Many of the Airs can be heard as descriptions of the plant’s properties, legendary and/or medicinal. The Narcissus has reflections and echoes in it because Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection and the nymph Echo fell hopelessly in love with him but could only repeat whatever he said.

There are sneezes in the music for The Sneezewort, and The Marvel of Peru has three movements as varied in colour as the plant, which can produce flowers of different colours off the same stem. The Thistle as the emblem of Scotland has a splendid reel in it, and a deeply nostalgic Scottish air, marked Amoroso and played entirely in double-stopping, is beautifully laid out for the violinist’s hand. There are other pieces with strong Scottish characteristics, such as The Heather Bells, The Auricula (a mountain cowslip with ear-shaped leaves) and The Hawthorn.

A subtle one is The Almond. The first movement is bittersweet, like the taste of the nut, and the wonderful lively second movement is a canon, one part following in direct imitation of the other, just as the two halves of an almond match each other in form.

These Airs are inspired throughout by fresh melodies and lively bass parts. Oswald played cello, violin and flute, as well as being a dancing master and singer. He had the music beautifully engraved, each plant fitting on its own page. The whole set would look wonderful, published with contemporary images of the plants themselves but, try as I might, I can’t get anyone to take up the idea. Money for beauty is not to be readily found.

Despite having both the Earl of Bute and the Prince of Wales as patrons for his own music, life in London was not straightforward for a Scot, and where Oswald’s sympathies lay prior to Culloden is not clear. He is credited with the first harmonisation of God Save the King with its anti-Scots sentiments. Oswald might also have had in mind that God Save the King was originally a Jacobite song. It may well be that he himself was confused by events, especially as his musical loyalties were widespread.

Nor should we forget that the philosopher and father of sociology Adam Ferguson fought with the Hanoverians, as did the composer John Reid. The 1745 Rising was a civil war, not a Highlands versus Lowlands war. However, after 1746, there can be no doubts. The defeat of the Jacobites was followed by horrific blood-letting by the Hanoverian troops, inspired by the king’s own son, the Duke of Cumberland, justly remembered to this day as “Butcher Cumberland”. This butchery was widely approved in London and Cumberland was the toast of the town in many quarters.

To publish, as Oswald did, a Caledonian Pocket Companion after such events was to make a powerful cultural statement. On top of that, he published a tune for Smollett’s Tears of Scotland, the verses for which were so anti-government that they were verging on the seditious. But Oswald went ahead, publishing 12 books over a decade, with more than 500 tunes, mostly Scottish and many unique to the publication.

Burns had his own treasured copy from which he got the tune for Ae Fond Kiss – Rory Dall’s Port. The tune itself is very likely by Oswald.

The later inclusion of many tunes of Highland origin, given their Gaelic titles, shows that Oswald was very sympathetic to Highland music. At the same time, he was supplying the aristocratic market with music for the “Guittar”. Only one copy of the Twelve Divertimentis for the Guitar Dedicated to Her Grace the Dutchess of Grafton Composed by James Oswald is known to survive anywhere in the world.

They are composed for a wire-strung 18th-century guittar, “a sort of hybrid between the cittern, the guitar and the lute” as Robert MacKillop describes it. Rob recorded all 12 pieces on James Oswald – Twelve Divertimentis for the Guitar (1759) ASV Gaudeamus CD GAU 221. They can sneak into your heart like little children.

The English Guittar, as it was known, was primarily promoted by two Scots – Oswald and Robert Bremner. Such was its popularity among ladies of leisure that it began to affect sales of harpsichords. The London harpsichord maker Kirkman proceeded to give away these guitars to beggars and prostitutes, rapidly putting them out of fashion, which may explain the scarcity of the Oswald pieces, which are in their own way little gems.

In some of them, Oswald breaks the conventions of the day in order to bring out the best from the instrument’s unique colour. We have no known portrait of Oswald, but since I am not allowed the flautist in the Frontispiece of The Caledonian Pocket Companion – which you saw last week, I wonder whether he might not be the figure, bottom left, composing the Eighteen Divertimento’s for guitars? Yes – that apostrophe again, and once more my fellow scholars don’t think much of my idea.

On January 31, 1761, following the accession to the throne of a new king, Oswald was appointed “Chamber composer to His Majesty George III”. This was a remarkable appointment for a laddie from Crail. Here he was, in effect, master of Knebworth House, one of England’s greatest country mansions to this day, and officially appointed as a court composer. He celebrated with Twelve Serenatas, published in 1762. The appointment had probably been promised to him by his former patron, Frederick, Prince of Wales, the king’s father, who died before he could succeed to the throne.

Or maybe the Earl of Bute secured this prestigious place for him. In any event, Oswald himself had only seven years to live, but they must have been pleasant years – years of fulfilment.

The Serenatas are distinct in style from the rest of his work in that they seem to inhabit the Italian idiom with such absolute assurance that there is scarcely a trace of the Scot or the Briton in them.

But they enjoy that natural flow of melody and rhythm which marks all Oswald’s work. His every musical move is shapely. His lines dance, sometimes with great simplicity and tenderness, sometimes bursting with energy. I love this man, though it can only be through his music and the few details of his life. We have no letters of his and the one manuscript, which the late Lord Balfour of Burleigh kindly shared with me and other scholars, reveals nothing very personal. But you can get an excellent idea of him yourself through Concerto Caledonia’s recording Colin’s Kisses: The Music of James Oswald on Linn CKD 101, and there are many other recordings out there which include his music.

Oswald had become a widower in 1756, but it would seem that Leonora Robinson Lytton was very close to him, for two of Oswald’s daughters named their own daughters after her. She may be referred to in the titles of three tunes which appear in the Caledonian Pocket Companion – “Norea’s Scots Measure”, “Norea’s Wish” and “Norea’s Lost to me”, with Norea a contraction of Leonora.

When Leonora was widowed in 1762, she married Oswald – probably secretly. It wouldn’t do for an aristocrat to be known to have married a town drummer’s son, but the banns were called on three separate weeks in 1766, and on May 17 they were married. Leonora was named as sole executrix in Oswald’s will, and when she herself died in 1790 her own will was in the name of Leonora Robinson Lytton Oswald If I knew where Oswald was buried I would go there and place a little white rose of Scotland on his grave. But his burial place is not known. Many of the gravestones at Knebworth are indecipherable. Unless, of course, he had been quietly and anonymously placed by Leonora in the tomb she herself was to occupy. But that is the stuff of romance and not proper to this account.