A Highland Port by Rory Dall

Today is Burns Night, so what better tune to look at than “Rory Dall’s Port”, as used by Burns for the original setting of his lovely poem “Ae Fond Kiss”.

The only source for this tune I have ever found is two publications by James Oswald. I do not know the exact date of either of these books; they are both from around 1750.

This is the famous “Caledonian Pocket Companion” (book 8, p24):

And here it is with a baroque bass for harpsichord or cello, in “A Collection of 43 Scots tunes with variations”:

This tune is often claimed for either Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin or Rory Dall Morrison. On the other hand, various authors including John Purser and David Johnson have suggested that it looks more like Oswald’s own work.

I have played this tune for a while – I included a complete version with Oswald’s variations on Clàrsach na Bànrighe, and I have played it to accompany Sheena Wellington singing “Ae Fond Kiss”, but have always thought it was not particularly convincing as a piece of ancient harp idiom. My suspicion was strengthened when I read recently about Oswald’s common use of pseudonyms when publishing tunes (a common enough thing in mid 18th century Scottish literary circles I understand). Perhaps we should simply add “Rory Dall” to the list of Oswald’s pseudonyms alongside “Rizzio” and “Dottel Figlio”.

2 thoughts on “A Highland Port by Rory Dall”

  1. Very puzzling that the Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (part 4, page *371) — to which Burns personally contributed — connects a different tune, also entitled “Rory Dall’s Port,” to the Burns song.

    1. Thanks for this reference, I hadn’t noticed that before.

      Your tune is an “additional illustration” added to the Scots Musical Museum by William Stenhouse in 1839, copied from the Straloch Lute book of c. 1627 where it is titled “A Port / Port Rorie Dall”. See http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/sources/straloch.htm for details. I don’t think Stenhouse is trying to connect this tune (or the other two Straloch ports he prints) with the Burns song. I think he is trying to get to the origins of Scottish musical style and idiom.

      I love trying to untangle these stramashes of tunes, titles and attributions! Thanks for pointing out this unexpected little by-way.

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