The Oban Times, 6 February, 1926
A New Publication
The Piobaireachd Society
This book marks a new era in the editing of Piobaireachd. It is the first book of its kind to be furnished with a critical apparatus. Fifteen unpublished MSS. are enumerated and described. The edition is founded on these unpublished MSS. Editors of former collections have generally fixed on settings that happened to appeal to themselves. But in this instance the Society, while printing some traditional setting of a tune, has also given the different versions that are to be found in their unpublished authorities. This method of editing is absolutely the correct one, for it gives all the information available, at the same time leaving it to every player to make his own choice. This method, by the way, is also the one adopted by scholars in dealing with any old or disputed text. In applying it systematically for the first time to ancient Piobaireachd, the Society has done good service to the cause which it has a heart. The critical and explanatory notes reveal a balanced judgment. They suggest to the reader how the most popular tunes, just because of their popularity, are the very pieces that are most liable to undergo change throughout the generations.
Following to some extent the example of General Thomason, in his “Ceòl Mòr,” the editors have saved much space and some cost by using abbreviations for Toarluath and Crunluath. The abbreviations are explained at the foot of each page of music. The result of this plan is that a whole tune can be contained on one page without any crowding or sacrifice of clearness. The reader can see at a glance the proportions of every tune, and also the relation between the different lines of the ground and the corresponding lines of the variations.
There are some printers errors–”An Daorach Mor” for “Mhor,” pp. 11,13 and 14; on page 18, “Taorinath” for “Toarluath”; and in par. 1 of Preface, “Nether Lord” for “Nether Lorn.” In the tunes “The Groat,” “The Big Spree” and “Lament for the Viscount of Dundee,” we observe that the variations which are given as Crunluath a Mach do not contain the genuine movement of Crunluath a Mach at all. The part given as Crunluath a Mach in “The Groat,” for example, is only the doubling of a Crunluath Fosgailte, and should be called by that name. Is there ancient authority for this departure? Thomason had access to several old MSS., but yet in his “Ceòl Mòr” he does not at a Crunluath a Mach to the three tunes mentioned.
A new and excellent feature of the volume is a Canntaireachd translation of the printed setting of each tune. The system of Canntaireachd adopted is that of the Campbells of Nether Lorn. Fortunately, an old MS. of date 1791 survives, which contains no less than 168 tunes, and all in this particular notation. A key to the system can be got from this source alone. The notation is verbal, one word indicating a phrase, or sometimes a bar of music. Certain vowels represent the notes of the scale. Certain consonants coming before these vowels show the various beats and grace notes.
As may be seen from a comparison of the verbal with the staff notation, a tune can be rendered quite correctly in Canntaireachd. The verbal system was undoubtedly the style used in the old schools of Ceòl Mòr; for it is only a century and a half since the staff notation was first used for the writing of Piobaireachd. The verbal system had much to commend it. A tune could be put in actual words which could be dictated by the master and repeated by the pupil. Canntaireachd appealed to the ear as a spoken word, an advantage which the staff notation does not possess. The verbal system could not only be written and spoken as words, but it could also be sung. If the present generation of pipers are desirous of acquiring the spirit of the old music, it is only reasonable to urge that they should at least be acquainted with the form in which the old music was taught.
The printing, paper and general appearance of the volume deserve high praise. The book is one which every piper might well possess.
Piobaireachd. Twelve tunes edited by Comunn na Piobaireachd (The Piobaireachd Society), in Staff and Canntaireachd Notations, with a Preface and Explanatory Notes. Patterson publications Ltd., Buchanan Street, Glasgow.