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Scottish heretic’s music gets rare public outing

Dr Elaine Moohan

The rarely-heard music of a fugitive 16th century Scottish priest will be performed at a special concert in Glasgow.

An ensemble from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will sing the music of Robert Johnson, a priest and composer from the Borders, based on research by Dr Elaine Moohan of The Open University (pictured left) to bring his works back to life.

Nine pieces by Johnson, who is said to have fled to England following accusations of heresy and believed to have died in 1560, the year of the Scottish Reformation, will be featured at the concert at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow.

Johnson wrote sacred and secular works, including ‘Defyled is my name’, the lyrics of which are believed to be have been written by Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England.

Dr Elaine Moohan, Senior Lecturer in Music at The Open University, said:

“I’m thrilled to be working with colleagues at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to bring this music alive once again. It’s a fitting culmination to my work on this project, which has seen me spend several weeks in research libraries across the UK consulting over 60 original manuscripts and very early printed books that date from the 1530s through to the 19th century. 

“We’re preparing a programme that will include some pieces that any church choir or school group will be able to add to their repertoire, as well as some that are trickier. It would be a fantastic outcome of this project to hear more people singing some of Johnson’s works more regularly.”

The concert marks the publication of Dr Moohan’s ‘Collected Works of Robert Johnson’, published by Musica Scotica, which brings together all of Johnson’s music for the first time.

The collection includes twenty four complete and eight fragmentary pieces which are previously unpublished. Dr Moohan’s research was supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and built on work by her late colleague Dr Kenneth Elliot.

Gordon Munro, General Editor at Musica Scotica, said:

“Robert Johnson is one of Scotland’s pre-eminent pre-Reformation composers.  Musica Scotica is proud to be publishing his complete works, and to be supporting this. We hope that this concert will reveal the glories of Johnson’s music to a wider audience.”

The ensemble will consist of ten singers from the RCS and lutenist Martin Eastwell and the concert, on Wednesday 4 April at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, will feature nine pieces by Johnson as well as works by some of his contemporaries.

Timothy Dean, Head of Opera at the RCS and conducting on the night, said:

“We are very much looking forward to performing the music of Robert Johnson. There is a variety and an invention in the repertoire which is lyrical and engaging, and the more substantial pieces are beautifully crafted.

“I can't wait to hear how they sound when RCS Voices get to work on them!”

Tickets are available from the RCS box office and online at  


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