OT: 12 February 1927 – A.K. Cameron “Toarluath and Crunluath”

The Oban Times, 12 February, 1927

Toarluath and Crunluath

Powderville, Montana, U.S.A., 15 January, 1927

Sir,–in your issue of 25th December, 1926, Mr. Malcolm MacInnes states that Angus Mackay never played the music he wrote. Nevertheless, all the actual facts suggest that he did. Mackay’s instructions for playing piobaireachd on page 3 of his book indicates clearly that he played all the notes he wrote, and also that he did not write any superfluous notes on the treble cleft in any part of his book for the benefit of those playing his music on other musical instruments.

The open toarluath is on the fourth staff line (page 3), and is composed of four notes and four syllables, as its name “Toarluath cheithir buillean” suggests. The last note in each group in this movement is a themal note, and accounts for the fourth syllable in this movement.

The closed toarluath is on the six staff line (page 3), and is composed of three notes and three syllables as its name “Toarluath thri buillean” implies. This proves that the closed movement must have three basal notes and three syllables, corresponding with the three notes and three syllables in the open movement when the themal note in the open movement is omitted. Furthermore, the second and fourth bar on the tenth staff line gives the notes for part of the A and G scale respectively. The notes in the second bar–A scale–are A A A, C and A A A, A. The notes in the fourth bar–G scale–are G G G, B and G G G, G. The last note in each group in both scales is a themal note. When the notes in these two bars are compared with each other and with the notes in similar bars throughout Mackay’s book, it will be seen beyond any reasonable doubt that the toarluath duinte must have the same number of basal notes as a toarluath fosgailte, and that Mackay did not write any superfluous notes in that movement in any part of his book. The last four notes–A A A, A in the second bar of the open movement, which are played as a closed movement, proves this, and also that the rhythm of both movements is the same. Both movements, too, have the same number of basal notes, and their rhythm is the same when the initial note of each is an accented themal notes as in the “Gathering of Clan Ranald.”

The “Toarluath Fosgailte,” open movement is the original movement, therefore the “Toarluath Duinte,” closed movement, is derived from it, and is a more intricate and elaborate innovation of later date. Nevertheless this rhythm is incomplete unless it’s three basal notes are played so that it’s rhythm corresponds with the rhythm of the open movement. This is proved by the A and G scales in the “Pretty Dirk” and “Gathering of Clan Ranald.” The old style of the theme of “Clan Ranald,” which will be found in the second part of the Piobaireachd Society’s Collection,” proves that we cannot use the closed movement as a substitute for the open movement, unless it is played as a three note and three syllable movement. The fourth themal note is not considered. Both phrases on A in G scales in “Clan Ranald” must correspond exactly with each other as to notes and rhythm, and I defy Mr. MacInnes or anyone else to prove that this piobaireachd or similar piobaireachd composed of A and G scales or phrases can be played correctly any other way.

The chanting syllables and poems of the bards agree perfectly with the open and closed toarluath movements of three notes and three syllables in Mackay’s book, but they do not and cannot agree with Mr. MacInnes’s notes, because there are only two notes and two syllables in his closed movement. This is proved by the late John McClellan’s book, “The Piobaireachd as MacCrimmon Played It,” and by the notation in the books of W. Ross and W. Gray, and no doubt they wrote all the notes they play or played.

There is only one way in which the closed toarluath of the moderns can be played as a three note and three syllable movement, and that is by extending the time of the last low G in the grip on that note. When played in this manner the low G is a plain note and a discord in the low A scale, proving that it is incorrect. Moreover, the new note is not the closed toarluath at all, but a hybrid note–half toarluath duinte on A and half toarluath mach on G. It is not true to low A scale, and is therefore incorrect.

Mr. MacInnes has offered us no proof whatever, except traditional teaching, to support his method of playing the notes in dispute. But Mackay’s notation is supported by traditional teaching, by his instructions on page 3 and footnote at page 148, by perfect scales on low A and low G and higher notes, by at least four systems of canntaireachd, namely, Gesto, Campbell, MacArthur, and Patrick Mor MacCrimmon, by the notation and instructions of D. MacDonald and W. Ross.–I am, etc.,

A. K. Cameron