OT: 27 July 1912 – John MacLennan [Review of PS Vol. VI]

The Oban Times, Saturday, 27 July, 1912

26 Arden Street, Edinburgh 23 July, 1911 [sic]

Sir,–Part VI. of the Piobaireachd Society’s publication has recently been issued, and I regret to note that it is as great a failure as its predecessors–indeed, if we take into consideration the “Historical Notes,” this volume may be looked upon as the greatest failure. An estimate of the care and research put on it can be obtained from statements made on the second page of the “Historical and Traditional Notes,” viz.: “John MacLeod of Colbecks was an eminent Jamaica planter. He married Janet, daughter of MacLeod of Raasay. Colbeck’s son, Colonel John MacLeod of Colbecks, for whom this lament seems to have been written, married his cousin Jane, daughter of MacLeod of Raasay. He died on 12 May, 1775.”

Very slight inquiry would reveal the fact that Colonel John MacLeod of Colbecks raised and was Colonel of “The Princess Charlotte of Wales’ Loyal Fencible Highlanders,” which so much assisted in the preservation of the piece of Ireland from the time it was embodied and inspected in Elgin by Major-General Leith Hay, in June, 1799, till it was reduced at Tynemouth early in 1804; and that the gallant Colonel died in London, 15th February, 1823. He did not marry a MacLeod; but his father married Jane, daughter of John MacLeod, ninth of Raasay, and the Colonel’s grandfather married Janet, daughter of Malcolm MacLeod, eighth of Raasay. Thus the Piobaireachd Society would have us to believe that the Colonel’s mother was his wife, and that his grandmother was his mother. (See Major-General D. Stewart’s Sketches; the Army Lists for 1800 to1803; “The MacLeods,” by the Rev. R. C. MacLeod; and “Blackwood’s Magazine,” vol. xiii., page 259.)

Again: “John Mackay was sent by MacLeod of Raasay to Boreraig to be instructed by John Dubh MacCrimmon.” The Piobaireachd Society are not the originators of this episode. The Mackays do not say their grandfather was taught by a MacCrimmon. He was taught by Malcolm MacLeod–cousin to Raasay–who composed the Lament for Prince Charles, and he was afterwards taught by Donald MacRae, a famous piper in Kintail. Professor John MacArthur, who died in Edinburgh in September, 1790, was by the Highland Society of Scotland, a body then as now composed of Scotland’s best, advertised to give an exhibition of bagpipe playing at the Edinburgh competition of 1785, “being the last pupil taught by the ancient MacCrimmons of Skye.”

From this, in the absence of most reliable contrary evidence, we must believe that Professor MacArthur was the last pupil taught by John Dubh MacCrimmon, and that any pupils he may have taught after that were local gentlemen, who never intended to become professionals. Indeed, it may be a question as to how long he was piper to the MacLeod of Dunvegan after 1746. Without entering into details, it may be said that MacLeod of the ’45 had little room for a piper, and his grandson, General MacLeod, who succeeded him in 1772, tells his own story. He joined the 42nd Highlanders in 1774, was absent from Dunvegan till 1779, and there was no piper then to welcome him, so they sent for Donald Ruadh, the last of the piping MacCrimmons, who played to welcome the Chief. Dr. Johnson makes no mention of a MacCrimmon when in Skye in 1773, nor yet does Pennant, while MacArthur and Rankin are mentioned.

In Part II. the Society Prince a tune named in English “Lady Doyle’s Salute,” while in the Gaelic it is “D’Oyley.” It is very difficult to say what the original name of many tenants may have been, but in this case it is well known to have been composed for a Miss Ross, granddaughter of MacLeod of Raasay, who became Lady D’Oyley, and ancient English family. The D’Oyley’s are, on the other hand, a French family. One of the MacDonells of Keppoch was a Lady D’Oyley, while the Doyles are said to have no connection with the MacLeods.

In Part II, also we find a tune known till then as “Scarce of Fishing,” printed under the heading “Lochnell’s Lament”–a variant of “MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute.” I am informed the Mackays can prove that the tune was composed by their grandfather, John Mackay of Raasay, under the former name, and that Lochnell had nothing to do with it.

Let us now take a casual view of the tunes as noted in this book.

MacDonald of Glengarry’s Lament

This is a beautiful little tune–spoiled. In the first bar of the urlar there are two grace notes changed into theme notes to fill in the time, and the same thing occurs in the second bar. Throughout the tune there are no less than seventeen syncopated beats cut up into two beats, the result of which can easily be imagined. The toarluath and crunluath are pointed and timed quite differently to the same toarluath and crunluath in the immediately succeeding tune, and there are two bars of music awanting in the third part of the urlar and all the variations.

Kinlochmoidart’s Salute

This tune is in Ross’s book under “Kinlochmoidart’s Lament”–a far better setting than is here. In the urlar alone there are no less than eighteen notes belonging to one beat stuck onto the next beat–comparable to eighteen letters of the alphabet belonging to one word being joined on to the next.

The Battle of Auldearn

The urlar and its doubling contain 64 beats each. The siubhal, the doubling of the siubhal, and the dara siubhal, only contain 32 beats each. The treas siubhal goes back again the 64 beats, while the toarluath and crunluath, with their doublings, only contain 32 beats each. In the urlar alone there are some 10 notes belonging to one beat stuck onto the next beat.

The Battle of Sheriffmuir

This tune is a variant of “the Battle of Vatternish.” The second beat in each part of the ground and siubhal ordaig is A. It should be B, as in all the other variations. There are no notes belonging to one beat stuck onto another in this urlar, but some of the variations are badly tied. Compare the treas siubhal here with the treas siubhal in “the Battle of Auldearn.” They are the exact same movements, but very differently written–and both wrong!

The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy

In the urlar, the third bar of the first part, and the fifth bar of the second part are the same, but in the variations they are different, and that to the deterioration of the tune. The third bar of the third part of the urlar is new. The first siubhal has a variation to suit it, as has the crunluath, but all the other variations have none. The toarluath and crunluath with their doubling, four variations, are wanting. What is given as such is no more a toarluath or crunluath than is the urlar of “The Glen Is Mine,” “Chisholm’s Salute,” or “MacCrimmon Will Never Return.” There are at least two or more pipers who have a complete setting of this tune, and I am sure would be quite willing to have it printed.

MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament

This is an abstract from “the MacRaes’ March,” “My King has Landed in Moidart,” and from “the Munro’s March,” but quite a nice air. The beats, however, are badly grouped, and the whole tune badly timed. There are four bars at the end of the third part of the urlar different from anything in the other parts, and there are no variations to represent them. The variations follow the first six bars of the urlar, after which there is no connection between the two, and the melody is lost.

Seeing that the vocation of first-class pipers and that of a lexicographer are so very different, the Society music should be written by a man who has a thorough knowledge of the Gaelic language, its songs, literature, and music, as well as of the fingering of the chanter, and who has obtained the certificate of a college of music for having passed in the science of music, harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation.–I am, etc.,

John MacLennan