OT: 2 March 1907 Charles Bannatyne “Angus Mackay’s Collection of Piobaireachd”

The Oban Times, 2 March, 1907

Angus Mackay’s Collection of Piobaireachd

Salsburgh, by Holytown,

22 February, 1907

Sir,–Among the authentic MSS. in my possession are a number of piobaireachd taken down for the Highland Society of London from the dictation of Angus MacArthur; and a number taken down from the playing of John Mackay, the father of Angus Mackay. To the first collection is appended an index signed by Angus Mackay, with this note–

The tunes taken from this part of the Highland Society of London’s music, which appear in the first part of my collection of piobaireachd, are marked with a cross.

For the sake of brevity, this collection will hereafter be referred to as the H. S. L. music. I have carefully compared the settings with those given in Mackay’s collection, and here is the result. In the first place, Mackay wrote all long grace notes as full ground notes, and herein lies one difference from his source–a difference which has been greatly to blame for the controversies of many years regarding the correct method of noting piobaireachd. Here are my notes on comparing the tunes in A. Mackay’s book with those of the H.S.L. music.

“Hector MacLean’s Warning.” The H.S.L. music gives the first variation and doubling and 6/8 time. These variations are of a different and more original type than Mackay gives. The cadence endings of the second variation are embellished differently in the H.S.L. music from those of the ground, while Mackay makes them the same as in the ground.

“MacNeil of Barra’s March” should be “MacNeil of Barra’s Lament.” Mackay has added to bars to the finish of the ground or urlar to make sixteen. He alters the accent in the siubhal variation from the variation to the ground note, which forms one of the few instances in which his alteration improves the melody. This variation is succeeded by an open toar-luath. I have heard pipers attempts to lay down the rule that an open toar-luath is always preceded by a siubhal, in which the strong accent is on the variation note. Here we find Angus Mackay overturning such a rule, if it ever existed, and I could point out more tunes to over-ride it than support it.

“The Highland Society of Scotland’s Salute.” Mackay omits several notes from the ground, and alters the crun-luath to common time.

“Murray of Abercairney’s Salute.” Mackay altered the ground considerably, and added a singling to the siubhal.

“The MacLean’s March.” Tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth bars differ completely from the H.S.L. music. The first variation is turned from 6/8 two, and time by the addition of several low A’s, and thereby is made hum-drum. The trebling of the crunluath given by Mackay is “A’ steach,” while in the H.S.L. music it is “A’ mach.”

“Donald Dougal Mackay’s Lament” is given by the H.S.L. music with the full score, as published by Mr. D. Glen from my collection last year.

“The Bells of Perth,” published by the Scottish Piobaireachd Society last year, is from the H.S.L. music, and differs from Mackays version in ground and variations.

“The Macrae’s March,” as given by Mackay, is entirely altered in the ground, and in the rhythm of the late toar-luath breabach.

“Lady Diana MacDonald’s Lament.” Mackay alters the time of the doubling of the ground from 6/8 to common time, and alters two notes in the second variation.

Mackenzie of Gairloch’s Lament.” Piper John MacGregor, who, along with Mr. A. Robertson, took down the tunes comprising this volume of the H.S.L. music, appends a note and initials it, stating that this name is doubtful. Mackay adds eight bars to the ground, thus making it 32 bars long, instead of 24, and alters the time from duple to triple.

“The Young Laird of Dungallton’s Salute.” Mackay alters time of ground from simple duple to triple time, changes gracing of the ground considerably, and alters several ground notes.

As it so happens, all the tunes aforesaid occur in John Mackay, senior’s, MSS., and they there agree note for note almost, with the H.S.L. music. The ground of “The Bells of Perth” is an exception. In John Mackays MSS. “The Bells” has a ground much nearer to that published last year by the Piobaireachd Society, and variations exactly the same as the Society’s setting. Angus MacKay’s is much different. It appears to me that Angus Mackay did some drastic editing. He never collected at first-hand, so far as I can see, but got all his music from the Highland Society of London and from its members.

Herein he differs from Donald MacDonald, who collected at first-hand the magnificent book called “The Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia,” a publication which rhythmically considered, is yet one of the finest. Take away the few superfluous grace notes, and look on the cadences as MacDonald intended them to be considered, viz., as appoggiaturae, whose time is subtracted from the notes they embellish, and the result is fine music. These long grace notes may be either quavers, semi-quavers, or dotted semi-quavers in value, and their value and performance comes off the notes they are tied to. Thus, if a quaver is tied to a dotted quaver, the latter when played has only the value of the dot, namely, a semi-quaver.

Take the case of a “D beat group” written with a quaver E tied to a dotted quaver D, the next D being a semi-quaver; in practice this is the same as writing E a full quaver in the ground attached to two semi-quaver D’s. Some players don’t seem to understand this, as last year I was asked more than once the playing value of a G E D cadence tied to a dotted “A” quaver succeeded by two A’s added by the double beats of the little finger, “hiehirin,” as it is called in canntaireachd. This is exactly the same when played, as if written E quaver, first and second A’s semi-quavers, third A in both being, say, a crotchet. The first A is added by D grace note, and the fact that this D succeeding an E is more than “cut” makes it advisable to write it as a semi-quaver, though its value is scarcely that, and yet is more than a demi-semi-quaver. When this movement is written as a tied embellishment, I think it would meet the case to make the E a dotted semi-quaver, and the D a demi-semi-quaver, but it seems hardly correct to write that E a semi-quaver only, and tie it to a dotted quaver. From several years’ practical experience of piobaireachd and judging, I asseverate that the best performers recognise long grace notes of the several values I mention; and with their highly trained his sense of rhythm, they invariably subtract these long grace notes from the ground note embellished, and this is one of the charms of their magnificent execution.

Regarding the siubhal variations where the variation note gets the accent in place of the theme note I can only state that I think these variations should be played in four-fourth time, that is, with four dotted crotchets, the ground note getting the accent. John Mackay, sen., and his son John in their MSS. invariably write such variations in that way, and surely they played them so.

Perhaps some of your many readers can give me some information regarding a composer of piobaireachd called R. McDougall. Among some loose MSS. included in the music collected by John MacKay, jun., are one or two tunes by this piper. Two of them differ slightly from tunes of the same names given in Major-General Thomason’s “Ceol Mor.”

I may state that some of the loose MSS. included in John Mackay, jun.’s collection appear to have been copied from older sheets, and some of them were probably not collected by John Mackay at all. He died in 1848. The bound collection of his, which I have, containing 62 tunes is endorsed by his brother Angus, and so is authentic.

Information regarding R. MacDougall would enable me to form correct opinions concerning some of the loose MSS. One of them is “A Lament for Captain McDougall.” The tune called “Cumha Iain Cheir,” in John Mackay, sen.’s MSS. is called a salute in “Ceol Mor.”

–I am, etc.,

Charles Bannatyne, M.B., C.M.

© Copyright Pipe Major John Grant - Designed for Dr. Alan Armstrong