The Oban Times, 21 April, 1923
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 3 April, 1923
Sir,– I understand that the Piobaireachd Society really welcome fair and respectful criticism. It is only by so doing the Society can hope to leave anything of value to succeeding generations of pipers. Can the Piobaireachd Society bring forward any evidence from the works of the men to whom we are indebted for the piobaireachd music to disprove what I say. The invented “Crunluadh Mach” is simply an alien conception, and in truth merely the doubling of a false Crunluadh Fosgailte. I would respectfully appeal to the Piobaireachd Society and all lovers of the music of the bagpipes to consider my remarks in the spirit in which they are given, and abolish forever what, I hope they will agree, is a most mischievous introduction to Piobaireachd playing.
–I am, etc.
The Oban Times, 21 April, 1923
Piobaireachd Society Music
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 11 April, 1923
Sir,–When you were good enough to publish my comments on the above in a recent issue of your valued paper, I made the stipulation that only with one person giving his name and address would I follow the matter further. However, as your correspondent, “Bratach Bhan Clann Aoidh” was the means of setting the ball rolling, I will make a brief reply to his letter, dated 19th March.
I, too, would welcome any better setting of the “Battle of Dorneig” than that published by the Piobaireachd Society. The Society has, however, very wisely made a rule that any other setting than theirs may be played for competition and judged on its merits, and this, I think, should cover all your correspondent’s grievances. Not so mine, and I cannot think that your correspondent can be in earnest when he infers that the lengthening or shortening of any note which may well be left to the discretion of the performer, is of more importance than the abolishing now and for ever of a mongrel “Crunluadh Mach” which in truth is no “Mach” at all.
I am glad your correspondent agrees that there is a “Crunluadh” confusion. It is indeed very much a confusion, and the Piobaireachd Society must accept the blame, as such a thing was never known in the history of bagpipe playing until published by the Society.
It is not because Angus MacKay’s method of “Crunluadh Fosgailte” is heavier that it should be adopted, but because it is the only method of making a “Fosgailte,” and it would be well for the Piobaireachd Society and all concerned if Angus MacKay’s music was more rigidly adhered to.
I cannot quite follow your correspondent when he says that such fine tunes as he mentions were misunderstood originally. Does he mean by the composers? If so, it is a reckless remark to make. I am inclined to think that instead of adding variations essential to the tunes the tendency is to subtract, and I would like to see it made a rule by the Piobaireachd Society that the “ground” work of every Piobaireachd, whether long or short, must be repeated at the end, thus making a finished impression which neither “Crunluadh Mach,” “Fosgailte” or “Breabach” can possibly do. Hoping the Piobaireachd Society will take a more serious view of the matter, I have endeavoured, through your kindness, to bring to their notice then that of your correspondent.
–I am, etc.,
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”
The Oban Times, 17 March, 1923
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 6 March, 1923
Sir,– I notice from a recent copy of your paper that the critics of the Piobaireachd Society are again on the warpath. What puzzles me is, why do those experts get behind the barricaded walls of a nom-de-plume instead of coming out into the open to fight their case.
Will the Piobaireachd Society accept fair criticism? If so, I think it is not too much to say that their cause is doomed to utter failure.
Your correspondent of date March 3rd criticizes at some length the setting published by the Piobaireachd Society of the “Battle of Dorneag.” Well, he may be right, but he must first produce his setting for comparison before he can persuade others. I should say that, with the exception of some unnecessary cadences and wrong gracing, which a proficient piobaireachd player can by instinct observe and rectify, the setting given is not too bad.
I would, however, dare to bring to the notice of the Piobaireachd Society a matter of much more importance. Last year, for the first time in the history of Piobaireachd playing, the Society published what in their opinion was a “Crunluath Mach” and tacked it on to that beautiful tune “The Groat.” This year I find the same thing occurs in the setting given of that most delightful tune “Ghillie Chriosd” (“Glengarry’s March”).
Now I maintain with all due respect that there is not a piper living today (and certainly never dreamed of among those now dead) who can put a Crunluath Mach on either of those two tunes nor any such tunes requiring a Crunluath Fosgailte, and that the invented Crunluath Mach is simply the doubling of a Crunluath Fosgailte or open Crunluath, and quite out of place after the singling and doubling already in keeping with the tunes referred to.
I shall be glad to answer any contributor on this matter giving his name and address and shall endeavour, but if possible, to avoid a misinterpretation of a Crunluath Mach which has been left as a legacy to pipers. I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 3 March, 1923
The Piobaireachd Society Music
Edinburgh, February 19, 1923
Sir–With reference to the recent issue of by the above Society for the forthcoming competitions at Oban and Inverness, one of the tunes selected calls for some comment in the interest of the music and in justice to the composition itself.
The tune referred to is “The Battle of Dorneag,” one of the best and most characteristic battle pieces we have. Unfortunately, the few phrases of urlar constituting the theme of the tune has, like many others, got twisted in transit down the ages, and is consequently hopelessly at variance with the rest of the piece, and the issue of the Society is practically the same as that already published in “Ceòl Mòr.”
The real melody is very different from either of those publications, and is a thing of great beauty, and, considering that so many players will now have to learn the tune for those competitions, it is rather unfortunate that this fine piece of music has not been given its proper interpretation.
It is difficult to account for a simple and melodious old-world composition like this ever coming to be misunderstood, but apparently, as in the case of some others, its very simplicity has been its undoing. Paradoxical as it may seem, although very simple it is also very subtle; too much so, apparently, for our modern ideas of music. It is very evident that, like many more of our fine piobaireachd, it has completely baffled its compilers.– I am, etc.