OT: 26 October 1929 – Grip “Joseph MacDonald and Pibroch Notation – Part I”

The Oban Times, 26 October, 1929

Joseph MacDonald and Pibroch Notation


Sir,–As a student of Joseph McDonald’s “Complete Theory,” I have read Mr. Somerled MacDonald’s letter in a late issue.

This Theory is, undoubtedly, a very valuable work, but it should be remembered it is probably the very first attempt to reduce complicated pibroch beats to staff notation, and it is far from being “compleat.” Indeed, the book indicates that even in those times much mutilation of the music existed. The Theory is possibly merely Joseph’s first draft, and unedited. Had it not been for his untimely death the work would possibly have been far more valuable than it is. However, much can be learned from it!

I am afraid I am not very clear as to the points Mr. MacDonald wishes to bring out in his letter, and his use of the word “Fosgailte” is somewhat apt to confuse. However, I gather that his contention is to uphold the middle note in the Mach (and Taobhludh Fosgailte Doubling beats) and to class it as “Superfluous” in the closed beats. In case of the latter beats he would seem to suggest that the modern school are supported by Joseph in having “nothing to do with the superfluous A in Toarluadh when it is used as a running.” He seems to have formed the opinion that “Riludh” is the Mach beats with the middle note and “Iuludh” is the running Taobhludh without the middle A.

Some may think these conclusions regarding the middle notes are perhaps open to question. I propose, therefore, to discuss these points in the light of Joseph’s work. In doing so I shall, when quoting beats in full, use a capital letter for a “big” note and a small letter for a grace note.

First, some doubt might be expressed if three words used in the Theory to refer to a beat to-day miscalled Toarluath are three distinct words or really one only! The three words are “Riludh,” “Iuludh,” and “Tudhludh” (page 19). Now, it is more than possible “Iuludh” is a misprint for “Tuludh” (or “Tudhludh” as spelt on page 19, where a direct reference to the 11th Table is made!) This word the late Mr. Alexander MacDonald “Gleannach”), who reprinted the work, considered to be “Taobhludh” not Toarluath). “Riludh” if a different word, as is quite possible, may mean a Mach beat, but it does not necessarily follow that the principle of its construction is different to the closed beats, whether called “Iuludh,” “Tudhludh,” or “Taobhludh”! The possibility of a misprint (there are very many in the book) is always present.

In support of these suggestions the following points may be quoted:–

On page 1 the word “Iuludh” is found, but not “Riludh.” On page 2 in his “Signification” of the “terms of Art,” he places certain beats in logical order, viz.–(a) “Riludh,” describing its notes (and showing the middle A); (b) “Creanludh,” meaning by the term only the doubling of the E and not the full beat known by that name to-day; (c) “Iuludh and Creanludh together,” meaning the full beat known as Creanludh or Creanluath and to-day’s nomenclature. It looks very much as if in this case some word is a misprint.

(2) At the foot of page 7, dealing with the doubling of the E (called by him Creanludh) he remarks that it forms the last part of “a very grand species of Variation or Cutting, called in our “language Riludh agus Creanludh.” This would indicate that Riludh is not only a Ground beat but a Variation beat, even if no more than a Mach beat as Mr. MacDonald suggests. One might ask why Joseph should bring in the word “Riludh” at this place if it is a different beat to Iuludh (or Tuludh), for surely “Iuludh (or Tuludh) agus Creanludh” would in such a case be the more common Variation.

In the 4th Table on page 6 the full GDG grip is clearly shown (Beats 1, 2 and 3). In the “Exercise on the 4th Table” on page 10 the numbers of the beats in the 4th table itself are placed above the notes, as “figures of reference.” The “3” above the second large note in the exercise therefore clearly refers us to the 3rd beat in the 4th Table where the GDG grip is given. But he says–” At the figure of 3 in the beginning the two little cutting notes are placed. . . without putting the learner to the trouble of looking back.” He writes his “two little cutting notes” GD (as in his 11th Table–Iuludh), and yet it is amply clear that he means the full GDG grip. This error in writing in his “Exercise” is some justification for the suggestion that he means the full GDG grip wherever he writes GD only! I deal with this point more fully later.

(4) On page 12 his 8th Cutting is a finishing beat in the Doubling of Taobhludh Fosgailte (the 4 note beat) in place of the double beat on A in the Singling (as in the “Lament for Rory Mor”). This beat is gAgdgAeAdA. This beat “also prepares the learner for one of very pretty execution to be seen below” (the 9th Cutting). This cutting is in the style of a Mach Cutting and five beats are given–gAgdgAeAdA, gBgdgBeBdB, gCgdgCeCdC, etc. In the first two beats, however, his illustrated “fingering” suggests GD in place of the grip GDG, but it is very clear from the letterpress that “each principal has three dividing notes,” for he explains the fingering of them! Another instance, clearly, of the careless omission of the last G in his note writing, helping to prove he always means GDG when he writes Gd.

(5) On page 14, introducing “Iuludh,” he refers to it “as one of the three last Variations of the Pipe March, mentioned before”! But where does he mention it before, otherwise than on pages 1 and 2 by name, in his “Terms of Art” and their “Signification”? Where will one find it in the text, unless the word “Riludh” on page 7 is intended to be the same?

Now in his 11th Table he illustrates Iuludh as gCgdAeA, gBgdAeA, gAgdAeA, gGdAeA, etc. In the beats “first noted plain” on the top staff[)] he gives–CAA, BAA, AAA, GAA, etc., thus indicating he understood the point that the beat is a three syllable one and that the second and third syllables are A. This repetition of the middle A throughout the work, both in Taobhludh and Creanludh beats (see also the “March for a Beginner” on page 34,[)] is the clearest possible evidence of the existence of the middle A!

(6) On page 19 he illustrates a “General Prelude,” and says–” the second two dividing notes from the third principal is made up from the “Cutting Iuludh.” In the First Bar the three notes after the Third principle are gDg and in the Second Bar gDa! This seems to suggest the usual grip is meant GDG.