OT: 1 June 1912 – Charles Bannatyne

The Oban Times, 1 June, 1912

Salsburgh, by Holytown, 27 May, 1912

Sir,–Mr. Grant, in his latest communication, is prepared to show by answering any questions put to him about piobaireachd that his knowledge of that music is greater than Captain MacLeod’s or mine. Captain MacLeod is dead long, long years ago, but it will narrow Mr. Grant self-imposed task when I admit that Captain MacLeod’s knowledge of both the MacCrimmons and their music is yet greater than mine; secondly, I have never claimed that my knowledge is greater than any other body’s. The first question I asked Mr. Grant they cover all the points. What is the difference between one of Mr. Grant’s laboured laments and a pibroch?

Mr. Grant goes on to say: “Mr. Simon Fraser said, and in public print, that Dr. Bannatyne and himself were the only two men living who knew all the MacCrimmon sol-fa notation secrets. Dr. Bannatyne did not contradict this, therefore” (post hoc ergo propter hoc) “it was a claim on Bannatyne’s part which he has not proved.” Sir, I leave your readers to criticise this form of reasoning.

Next your correspondent says that the greatest masterpieces of the MacCrimmons have been handed down to us perfect in form by means of canntaireachd. How many of the tunes are perfect in form, and where is the notation by which they were handed down?

Mr. Grant says: “Captain MacLeod never had canntaireachd.” What, then, I ask, had he? Further on he states: “Dr. Bannatyne says Captain MacLeod had a collection of two hundred pibrochs; this has often been written, but never proved.” The late Rev. Alex. MacGregor, Alasdair Ruadh, of Gaelic literature, himself a piper, who knew Captain MacLeod well, states on pp. 193-6 of “The History of the MacLeod’s”:–” He had a large MS. collection of the MacCrimmon piobaireachds, as noted by themselves, and part of it was apparently very old and yellow in the paper from age. . . . I should think that the MS. I saw with him would contain upwards of two hundred tunes, from the bulk of it.” Evidently Mr. Grant disbelieves Dr. MacGregor as well as Captain MacLeod, and apparently his creed is “All men are liars.”

With reference to a quotation from something I wrote claiming to be the first of recent years to define a pibroch and its musical terms, I may say it referred principally to taor-luadh, crun-luadh, and other ceol mor terms, being corruptions of tri-ludh, ceither ludh, etc., an assumption that, in company with Lieut. MacLennan, I still believe in the it is disputed. I am not ashamed to admit being taught a great deal by the author of “The Piobaireachd As MacCrimmon Played It,” an honest attempt to write wrong, and the best musical method I know of presenting the groundwork of a pibroch as it should be played.

With reference to the vocables of the crunluath a mach of tune 3 in MacLeod’s book, I may say it is a good enough movement when written in ordinary notation, but resembles no modern movement of the same name. Regarding the singling and doubling of the crun-luath of tune 18 I may simply state that no man whose musical ear is so fundamentally defective as your correspondence seems to be can offer a reliable opinion on such a subject.

I now come to my letter to Mr. Grant of 1908, which he says praises his tunes as fine specimens of original piobaireachd. A man requires a very powerful imagination and conceit of himself to place such a construction on this simple letter. The letter, if Mr. Grant can read and understand, means exactly what it says. I never designated Mr. Grant’s tunes “piobaireachd”; I did not think they were in 1908, and I do not think so yet! Many good pipers call them eccentricities. In the first book the tune on p.10 starts off with two distorted bars from “MacIntosh’s Lament,” the fourth bar is from “The Big Spree.” The three first bars have beats resembling no known ceol mor beats, and the changes of key in the ground are such as can only be tolerated by a defective musical ear. The tune on p. 19 is another medley. The tune on p. 21 is quite evidently a transcript of one of the variations of “Patrick Og MacCrimmon’s Lament.” Tune on p. 23 is a variation of “Captain Wemyss Sutherland’s Lament.” To be very plain, Mr. Grants “magnum opus” deserves the highest place as a curiosity. Let any piper examine the tunes in the first book; there is neither time nor rhythm in any of them, and most are out of tune in some part of their course. I have never changed my opinion since 1908; it stands clear in the letter printed last week in Mr. Grant’s communication. I have never professed to be a pibroch composer. If I could compose a tune I would let the pipers praise it. The recipe I gave last week is used by Mr. Grant, as can be proved by reference to his works. I never said my scale was the real MacCrimmons’ scale. I simply said it translated Captain MacLeod’s tunes into ordinary notation. It also produces music, which no scale, ancient or modern, could do with “The Royal Collection Piobaireachd.”–I am, etc.,

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