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Edinburgh Will Celebrate Golden Age in August

April 06, 1986|ELISABETH INGLIS | Inglis is an Edinburgh free-lance writer.

EDINBURGH, Scotland — From Aug. 10 to 30 the Edinburgh International Festival will celebrate its 40th anniversary with three packed weeks of theater, ballet, concerts and opera. The world premiere of the festival production of Weber's opera "Oberon" will be one of the dramatic and musical highlights.

In addition, the Festival Fringe expects about 500 companies to put on about 1,000 shows among them.

Life begins at 40, so they say, but on its 40th birthday the Edinburgh festival has chosen, as its main theme, to look back to a period in the nation's history known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

That was Scotland's Golden Age. From the mid-1700s to early 1800s, Scotsmen were achieving fame in every field: men such as David Hume the philosopher, Sir Henry Raeburn the portrait painter, Sir Walter Scott the novelist and Adam Smith, the first political economist and author of "Wealth of Nations." It is these men, and the many other Scots whose work created the Golden Age, who will be especially honored at this year's festival.

'Hotbed of Genius'

Adam Smith and David Hume, together with Joseph Black, the chemist who discovered latent heat, and James Hutton, founder of modern geology, are to be featured in an exhibition in York Buildings, Queen Street, Edinburgh, from July through August. The exhibition title, "A Hotbed of Genius," is a quotation from Tobias Smollett's novel "Humphry Clinker," which contains a lively account of social life in Edinburgh.

Smollett, a Scot by birth, made his home in London but paid long visits to his married sister, Mrs. Telfer, who lived in St. John's Pend off the Canongate here. He wrote "Humphry Clinker" after his visit in 1766, when he met many prominent Scots of the day.

A second important festival exhibition, "The Golden Age of Scottish Painting," will show works by Scottish painters of that period, including Sir Henry Raeburn, Sir David Wikie and Allan Ramsay. The exhibition will include about 80 paintings and a similar number of prints and drawings by 22 artists. The showing will be held at the Talbot Rice Art Centre Aug. 8-31.

The Talbot Rice Art Centre is the old university on South Bridge. The building was designed by Robert Adams, the most eminent architect in Britain, but was completed after his death by William Playfair, a fellow Scot who designed much of Edinburgh's New Town, including the National Gallery on the Mound.

Museum Collections

Playfair was also architect for the Royal Scottish Academy, which is hosting a festival exhibition this year on "The Enterprising Scot," based on the collections of the national museums of Scotland. At the time of writing, the full list of the exhibition had not been released, but visitors are promised a bar and restaurant in the gallery, where they can relax, eat and learn food and drink in Scotland's past.

The proposal to commemorate the Scottish Enlightenment came from the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, which has planned a series of lectures, seminars and conferences on the men and the ideas of the Enlightenment. These are open to the public and are to be held through spring and summer, culminating at the festival.

Forty distinguished scholars from a dozen countries have been elected to fellowships in Edinburgh, and they will lecture on aspects of the Enlightenment from March through September. The name of this program is IPSE 86, the acronym for Institute Project Scottish Enlightenment 1986. Full details are available from IPSE 86, 17 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN, Scotland.

The entire New Town of Edinburgh is a celebration of the Golden Age, for it was planned and built during that time. That section, as well as the men who lived here, gave Edinburgh its name of the Athens of the North. Elegance, harmony and order characterize the New Town, and these are qualities that describe its first inhabitants, too.

Walking Tours

The squares and crescents of the New Town are still safe places to walk unaccompanied and quite the best way to appreciate the Georgian architecture. Or you can join one of the guided walks arranged by the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee, when you will be conducted by one of a small group of enthusiastic and knowledgeable New Town volunteers.

Their August walks will be linked to the Enlightenment and will cover artists (on Aug. 6), literary figures (Aug. 13) and scientific and medical men (Aug. 20). Further particulars can be obtained from the Edinburgh New Town Conservation Committee at 13a Dundas St., Edinburgh EH3 6QG, Scotland.

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