OT: 27 July 1929 – Somerled MacDonald “Joseph MacDonald and Pibroch Notation”



The Oban Times, 27 July, 1929

Joseph MacDonald and Pibroch Notation

Inverness, 27 June, 1929

Sir,–as almost every note and cutting in the pibroch has been questioned at one time or another, I propose here to discuss mainly the matter of the superfluous A in “Taorludh” and Crunludh”; also its influence on the “Taorludh a-mach” and “Crunludh-a-mach” beats, and these according to the way set forth by Joseph MacDonald.

Patrick, and his brother Joseph, considered the Pibroch as in a declining state since 1745. Joseph made a point of setting down all his Highland music as far as possible in its original form. He began the pipes at an early age, and was fortunate in that his elder brother, Patrick, was also a piper, as probably his father was as well. They could easily have been in communication with the composers as far back as 1680.

“Riludh,” detailed on page 2 of the Treatise, is a different beat to “Iuludh” the 11th cutting. “Riludh” was played in the ground, and is the equivalent of our “Taorludh-a-mach” And Is Also Applicable to “Taorludh Fosgailt” a true “fosgailt” beat (see “Ceol Mor,” para. 39).

“Riludh” was not used in the runnings proper, except in what we call “Taorludh-a-mach” and Crunludh-a-mach.”

We must remember that at one time “taorludh-a-mach” was given off the A. This has now been discarded. Instead, we use the ordinary, “Taorludh” to-day. Nonetheless, the A is still in the scale.

Neither Donald MacDonald or Mackay has made any difference between “Riludh” and “Iuludh,” but have given us “Riludh” right through the tune. Probably the differentiation of the two beats was partially lost or discarded after the ‘45. As the trouble, and the “taorludh” with the superfluous A.

“Riludh” is the parent of “Iuludh” (or the present “Taorludh”). It has in the full beat (that is including the theme note) 8 notes–made up of two cuts and a strike. This strike causes the superfluous A.

“Iuludh” is a running beat and is the equivalent of our “taorludh.” It contains 7 notes and all the notes are cut. It is formed from “Riludh” by removing the second low G–thus converting a strike into a cut. So that all the notes in “Iuludh” are cut and contain the same number of notes as our “taorludh” in which all the notes are also cut.

Forty years ago there was an argument over these two beats (and doubtless there was in the MacCrimmon’s time also), but the argument differed from the present one in that both sides were agreed that the full or heavy “Taorludh” (“Riludh”) was unplayable as a running. The question then was, should the second low G be sounded, or should it be an A?; Some contending that the two A’s were unnecessary, others that the second low G made the strongest note and retained the full grip. They were probably equally logical. The MacCrimmons preferred “Iuludh.” “Iuludh” and “Taorludh” are both cutting and hard notes, “Riludh” is liquid and is open.

A Point in Technique

The characteristic of a “Taorludh” or “Crunludh” beat is that when properly played the cutting of every note will be regular, distinct and hard. Played with a striking note this characteristic must be lost and that beat will sound liquid–as it is, meant to sound in a “Fosgailt” beat. The time of a strike cannot be exactly regulated, nor is it meant to be, as directly the finger leaves the chanter it must make a sound of some sort–the length of that sound is at the discretion of the performer. If the peat is entirely compounded of cutting notes, the performer knows that every note must be cut with the utmost velocity and clarity. He has no liberty. The “Fosgailt” beat also contains a syllable too many, and must interfere with the time of the theme note. Therefore the piper will not play it. It is absurd to say he cannot manage the G, D, G group.

Played in the ground or in “Taorludh-a-mach” and “Crunludh-a-mach,” “Riludh” or the heavy “Taorludh” becomes a very different matter. Here the A strike in question is accentuated at the discretion of the performer.

In the case of the formation of “Riludh agus Crunludh,” which is exactly the same as our “Crunludh-a-mach,” this is formed by reverting to “Riludh” and adding onto “Riludh” the “Crunludh” beat, or, if you preferred, it is formed from “Iuludh” by re-introducing the second low G in “Iuludh” and thereby converting the central note into a striking or liquid note–and this is the “mach” part of it, the characteristic beauty of the beat being the liquid low hand and the heart upper hand.

In the case of the same formation from our “Taorludh” the second low G is already there, and the liquid note is again introduced, be it A, B, C, or D (the A is still in the Scale, whether it is played or not).

It is, I suppose that we form our “”Taorludh-a-mach”on the same principle as we do our “Crunludh-a-mach.” This is, however, far from the case, as owing to the discarding of “Riludh” we use a different order of notes to those which make up the lower hand in “Crunludh-a-mach.”

This has come about through the modern player forming “Taorludh-fosgailt” entirely of cutting grace notes. Now “Taorludh-fosgailt” is exactly the same group of notes as “Taorludh-a-mach,” the difference being in the accentuation only. That is according to Thomason.

The modern player (later than eighteenth century) forms his “Taorludh-fosgailt” and “Taorludh-a-mach” with the following notes in order (let us say off the C as the A has been abandoned) including the theme note and all the notes in the group:–G. C. G. D. G. E. C., or 7 notes.

Joseph has G. C. G. D. G. C. E. C. , or 8 notes. The modern player claims that the last C, because it is long and at the end, forms the “mach.” Joseph says (and General Thomason agrees with him) that the middle or second C forms the “mach” part of it on the same principle as “Crunludh-a-mach” is formed. But this is not all. The modern player forms his “Taorludh-a-mach,” off the D on the same principle as he forms his “Crunludh-a-mach” off the D.

Thus in his “Taorludh-a-mach” he has all is beats cutting beats, with the exception of that off the D, which is a striking be; and this exception, which has one more note in it, agrees with the principle of the “Crunludh-a-mach.”

Contrasts in Style

Joseph has all his “Taorludh-a-mach” striking beats, all his beats have the same number of notes, and all are formed on the same principle as his “Crunludh-a-mach.”

The modern player forms his “Crunludh” from “Taorludh” on the same principle as Joseph does. He also forms his “Crunludh-a-mach” on the same principle as Joseph does–i.e. , he uses in the forming of it a group of notes he has discarded, viz.” The true “Taorludh-fosgailt” beat, otherwise “Riludh.”

It is obvious that he cannot possibly form his “Crunludh-a-mach” on any other principle. Thus instead of forming “Taorludh” from “Taorludh-fosgailt” (Riludh), as it is in the ground where we would naturally expect to find the parent beat, the modern player, having discarded this beat, must now introduce into the ground in place of it a running beat which was perhaps invented many years after the ground.

The other moderns have begun with “Riludh” and carry it right through the variations, which is perhaps even worse, as “Taorludh” is playable in the ground and “Riludh” is not playable (that is in time) in the variations. Joseph has given us I believe, the true MacCrimmon system of construction and every beat fits into its place perfectly, while ours, we must admit, does not.

It looks, therefore, as if to schools of piping had got mixed up, hours and Joseph’s. Yet they are agreed on one point at least–they will have nothing to do with the superfluous A in “Taorludh” when it is used as a running–I am, etc.,

Somerled MacDonald

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