The Oban Times, 7 April, 1923
The Piobaireachd Society Music
Edinburgh, 19 March, 1923
Sir,– In reply to your correspondent, Mr. MacPherson, there are various defects in the Society’s tunes which I might have drawn attention to in my last letter, but these are all of a minor nature in comparison with the treatment of the tune, “The Battle of Dorneag,” and I thought it best to entirely confine my remarks to that tune.
I am disappointed for instance to find that nothing has been done to remove the “hiatus” in “The Unjust Incarceration,” notwithstanding that the tune has been several times published, twice by the Society alone. The “hiatus” referred to occurs in that passage of the “Ground” where for some strange reason there is a long C note followed by a sudden fall to low G and a jump to the high one, an offense in music which no composer was ever guilty of. But apart from the note referred to, the whole phrase is inaccurate, mainly owing to the lack of certain connecting notes, which is rather a pity, as it is the finest passage in the piece when played properly.
Your correspondent need have no doubts about the rights or wrongs of “The Battle of Dorneag.” It is not a matter of cadences at all. The whole thing is simply misconstrued. The same might with equal truth be said, for example, of “Castle Dun Naomhaig,” “Queen Anne” and several other tunes. It is astonishing how such fine tunes ever came to be so hopelessly misunderstood originally.
I quite agree with your correspondent in regard to the “Crunluath Confusion,” but is he not making too much of this? But the Society’s efforts can be easily rectified, and they need not be blamed for tunes which were published wrong before the Society came into existence. They are undoubtedly at fault in adding Crunluath Mach to certain tunes where it was never intended by the composer and in making the playing of both styles of Crunluath Fosgailte compulsory. The one in general use at the present day, and usually known as “That MacKay Method,” is favoured on account of its being heavier and more distinctive, and is quite sufficient in itself without the addition of the lighter and more easily made one. The fact is, most of the tunes are already overburdened with variations, many of which must have been added later. Some people have a mania for this sort of thing. This practice in no way augments the beauty of the tunes. The result is that the main theme or “Ground” of the piece is lost sight of in a multitude of variations, and the fact is entirely forgotten long e’er the finish of the tune.
This was never the intention of the composer, his idea being naturally to focus attention on the principal part and keep the mind concentrated on the theme of the tune instead of the variations, which are after all really embellishments. This is strikingly apparent in tunes like “Queen Anne” “The Union,” “Dun Naomhaig” and “Dun Dornaig”–where the melody is contained in a few phrases of great beauty of expression and made designedly short for convenient repetition at intervals of the piece. Hence the familiar injunction to “Repeat the Urlar” placed in the middle and end of the tunes in the older publications which we of a more enlightened age foolishly discarded altogether. It is almost unnecessary to add that all tunes were not made on this basis; it would be absurd for instance to repeat or to expect a repetition of the “Urlar” in “The Harp Tree” or “Donald Ban MacCrimmon,” the “Ground work” of those being of such dimensions as to make a repetition of them neither necessary nor desirable. There are other and much smaller tunes where the repetition of the “Urlar” does not hold good (” The Kings Taxes” for example ), for here the beauty of the tune is in the variations. The return to an old Piobaireachd custom like this would do much to enhance the value of the playing and would be a much happier addition to the tunes than superfluous “Crunluaths,” whether “Mach” or “Fosgailte.”–I am, etc.,
“Bratach Bhan Clann Aoidh”