OT: 20 September 1924 George MacKay “The Prince’s Salute”

The Oban Times, 20 September, 1924

The Prince’s Salute

65 Harrison Road, Edinburgh, 15th September, 1924

Sir,–Kindly allow me a final word on the above subject in reply to your correspondent “Crunluath,” who is mistaken in thinking that the appending notes in certain parts of this tune have anything to do with the main notes of the piece. They have no connection whatever with the four main notes of the melody. This is proved conclusively by their absence from the “Doubling” sections of the same variations. Take the first phrase of the Taorluath “Singling” where there are three G notes instead of two. The two correct ones are the first and last. It is the third one which is recognised by the “Doubling” section and not the second as is generally supposed. The same applies of course to the second phrase, where the superfluous note in the “Singling” is an A. It is not, as “Crunluath” seems to think, a question of cutting out any essentials, but only an endeavour to restore the parts to the original beauty and simplicity of the composer by an appeal to reason and common sense.

Your correspondent admits the irregularity of the part referred to, but makes the extraordinary suggestion that this may be a feature of the music, and quotes Dr. Johnson in support of this fallacy, which surely he meant as a joke. Dr. Johnson, of all men, as an authority on Piobaireachd is to “Gilbertian” for words. To define Piobaireachd as an irregular form of music is an aspersion on the profound genius of the men who made them, and the definition is as false as it is insulting. Piobaireachd is the music of poetry pure and simple, regular and lyrical poetry, and the lines of the one are the phrases of the other.

Your correspondent goes on to ask why we should assume that there is anything wrong in piobaireachd considering the careful manner in which it was and still is taught. That being so, will he please tell us how he accounts for the extraordinary divergence in style between the various publications of this tune, none of which agree as to the correct phrasing of the “Ground,” and are flatly contradictory in regard to the first two variations, the one method of playing them being precisely the reverse of the other. A perusal of the tune in all the publications shows quite clearly that the compilers had very hazy notions of the melody; they are very misleading, and the song of the thing is conspicuous by its absence.  This is all the more inexplicable as the air was very popular at one time in the Highlands, especially in the Mackay country, where it was sung to the words of “Iseabal Nic Aoidh.” As children, we were quite familiar with it. Robert MacKay (Rob Donn), the bard was a contemporary of John MacIntyre, composer of the Piobaireachd, and they may have met frequently, as Rob Donn’s occupation took him regularly on foot to the South. It is more than probable therefore that he would get the tune at first hand.—I am, etc.,

George MacKay