Tag Archives: books

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”.

Craftsmen & crafts


In Dundee on Saturday I picked up an interesting and pretty book at a charity street bookstall. It is Fifteen Craftsmen on their Crafts edited by John Farleigh, published by the Sylvan Press in 1945.

I was interested in the general ambience of the book as well as some of the more specific comments in it. It reminds me of other craftsmanship books from the earlier part of the 20th century, and I wonder if this is like the tail end of the original Arts & Crafts movement. There is a kind of straightness and openness about the attitudes that I do not see very often today.

Farleigh in his introduction talks about tradition, technique and personality being a “creative yet conservative force”. I was interested to see Carl Dolmetsch’s essay on “Music and Craftsmanship” was the least conservative – when discussing modern manufacture of historical instruments, he delights in “improvements” and repeatedly describes Arnold Dolmetsch’s designs and mechanisms as better than those of the historical masters.

There is even a brief mention of A.D.’s work on the medieval Welsh music: “The harps were simple, … but the crwth … required much research and all the skill of the violin maker”. It is interesting to see this dismissal of the craftsmanship and design in the old harps. Perhaps it is significant that the harps made by Dolmetsch in the 1930s are not rated nowadays either as musical instruments or as art objects, in contrast with his beautiful and high quality harpsichords.

James Taylor of Elgin’s Strathspeys & Reels

I found in an old Edinburgh bookshop, an early 19th century bound album of printed and manuscript music. It is a companion volume to one I already own, being in the same distinctive quarter leather binding and with the same name inscribed inside the front cover: Miss Mc. Arthur

This second volume has very little Scottish music in it, unlike the first volume. But one thing caught my eye; this nice collection of Scottish tunes published by James Taylor, Teacher of Music, Elgin.

The title page:

The dedication, to Lady Dunbar of Northfield:

Page 1: Lady Dunbar of Northfield’s Favourite; Lady Cumming of Altyre’s Strathspey; James B Dunbar’s Strathspey. All composed by Sir Archibald Dunbar, Bart, of Northfield.

Page 2: Mrs Hay of Westertown’s Strathspey; Lady Dick Lauder’s Strathspey; Miss Cumming Bruce, a Strathspey, all composed by the same.

Page 3: Miss Grant of Grant’s Strathspey; Mrs Warden of Parkhill, a strathspey; Miss Dunbar’s Strathspey, all composed as above.

Page 4: Miss Margaret Dunbar’s Strathspey; Mrs Cumming Bruce’s Strathspey; Lady Dunbar of Boath’s Strathspey, composed as above.

Page 5: Lieut. Dunbar (22nd Regt) Reel; Northfield House, Duffus, a Strathspey; Lady Penuel Grant’s Strathspey, all composed by James Taylor

Page 6: Miss E Grant, Lossymouth’s Reel; Mrs Brodie of Brodie’s Strathspey; Mr Brodie of Brodie’s Reel, all by JT.

Page 7: Mrs Gordon of Abergeldie’s Strathspey; Mrs Dr Gordon, Elgin, a Reel; Mrs Skinner of Drumin’s Strathspey; all by JT.

Page 8: Miss Catherine Stewart of Desky’s Reel; Miss Brander of Springfield, a Strathspey; A Lament for Mrs Tulloch, Kirkmichael; all by JT

Page 9: Miss Coull of Ashgrove, a Strathspey, by JT; Mrs Foljambe, Elgin, a Strathspey, by JT; Sir Archd. Dunbar Bart. of Northfield’s Strathspey, by a Lady.


Page 10: Miss Catherine Forsyth’s Reel, by a Lady; Mr Marshall’s Strathspey Edinburgh, by R McDonald; Mr Marshall’s Reel Edinr. by R McD

Page 11: Mrs McLeod of Delvey’s Strathspey, by R McD; Miss McLeod of Delvey’s Strathspey, by R McD; The Elgin Academy, a Strathspey, by an Old Pupil

Page 12: Leiut. Dunbar 22nd Regiments Waltz, by a Lady; A Set of Scots Quadrilles

Page 13:

page 14:

Page 15: The Surly Gallope, by a Young Lady; Mrs G Forbes, Ashgrove, a Strathspey, by a Lady

Page 16: The Earl of Fife’s Birth Day, a Strathspey by JT; The Pearl, a Strathspey by JT.


If you click on a page image you will be able to view it much larger. Let me know if you play or perform any of these tunes.

Aldhelm and Sherbourne

I have just received a new book, Aldhelm and Sherbourne – essays to celebrate the founding of the bishopric edited by Katherine Barker and Nicholas Brooks, published by Oxbow Books last year. I ordered this book of conference papers because it includes an audio CD of a performance of one of Aldhelm’s Latin lyrics, the Carmen rythmicum, as performed by a “Finnish rune-singer” accompanied with kantele.

Aldhem was a late 7th -early 8th century Anglo Saxon Christian priest in the south-west of England, and the book is an erudite and scholarly series of papers discussing various aspects of his life and work, and especially his connection to the ecclesiastical centre at Sherbourne which he founded in 705.

The preface and introduction are quite personal and intimate, and you get the impression that the organisers and scholars in this field are all close friends. The papers vary a lot, from historical and geographical surveys of the region, to detailed linguistic analyses. Barbara Yorke’s survey of Aldhelm’s Irish and British connections is especially interesting as a broad overview of cultural connections at this time. David Howlett’s numerological layout of the Latin life of Aldhelm is baffling in its application of number and letter counting and lack of explanation or discussion, and Katherine Barker’s discussion of Aldhelm as composer and author of the Carmen rythmicum is rather too ready to identify Latin musical terms with modern instrument categories (e.g. I would be suspicious of translating Aldhelm’s psalterium with “psaltery” without comment), but is a very thought provoking discussion of musical learning and practice in early medieval times.

The audio CD, with a single 35 minute track, is not a live recording of the conference performance, but a later studio version. The two performers are described as Masters students at Sibelius Institute and I found the performance style to be quite modern, much cleaner and more ‘professional’ sounding than the archive recordings of traditional Finnish singers I have heard. The text is in lines of 8 syllables, and the singers use the same even-spaced 8 syllable metre that is used for Kalevala singing, where each syllable is of equal length except for extended final syllables. To my mind this is less successful for the Latin verse, since my understanding of Latin meter is that it is strongly based on the alternation of feet containing long and short syllables. I also hear no trace of the Carmen‘s distinctive three syllable line ending, with the third from last stressed, and the second from last short (described here). The kantele is sometimes strummed, sometimes plucked, and complements the voices well, though some sections seemed a little too contrapunctal for my taste.

But, it is still a very interesting project, and the inclusion of the CD makes it almost unique and highly recommended. Also, the way that the book provides not only a complete Latin text of the song but also a number of different translations by different scholars really allows for a rich appreciation of this material.

Medieval musicians

“Medieval musicians were virtuosos of the diatonic, sensitized to the subtle differences of weight and role of the various scale degrees and the intervals between them…”

I was very interested to read Lefferts’ comment here. He is discussing plainchant, and the way in which the melodies of chants – single unaccompanied voices – curl around certain notes, certain repeated formulae, and how they start and end on certain pitches. It reminded me of a thing I have considered for a long time – the idea of the different notes of an ordinary scale having a hierarchy, so that a single note has a certain taste or flavour. Each note of a scale – each degree, as Leffert puts it, has a certain relationship with its surrounding notes – the intervals between them.

Early Music VSI

This small slim paperback of 130 pages is part of Oxford University Press’s “Very Short Introduction” series. I have been collecting these for many years, and I have found them to be highly variable. Some are just a little dull; some are rather biased, postmodern, or narrow; but some are just brilliant. This newly published work by Thomas Forest Kelly, published this month, is one of the brilliant ones. I would highly recommend it and to that end I have already listed it for sale in my Emporium:
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/books/kelly.htm

It is a superb pocket size introduction to the idea of “early music”. The first chapter considers the basic ideas, investigating peoples constant urge to look to the past for their art. Three subsequent chapters comprise the heart of the book, dealing respectively with the history of mainstream Western music in the medieval, Renaissance and baroque periods. These three chapters so easily and concisely explain the styles and types of music in each different historical time, that they are highly recommended as the best overview and introduction to this difficult subject. This is followed by one chapter discussing performance practice and ideas of authenticity, and a final chapter (which reads more like an appendix) listing notable individuals and organisations involved with early music during the 20th century in Europe and America.

I have long been searching for an accessible overview history of western music, and this one finally fits the bill. Coincidentally, Cambridge University Press have recently published a “Companion to Medieval Music” which is not very short, and naturally not concerned with Renaissance or baroque music.
http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/emporium/books/cc.htm

Both of these titles will be included in July’s Emporium update – but you get a sneak preview here first!

Gestures book

Today I sent out an announcement of the availability of my new book, “Gestures”. You can find out more here: www.earlygaelicharp.info/gestures

I considered many different options for publishing this book, including approaching another publisher, though I prefer to publish in house through earlygaelicharp.info. Normally, one would use a commercial printing company to make and bind the books, but a conventional printers needs a run of 1000 to make economic sense – the setup costs are high in relation to the cost per unit. I was not sure this made sense for such a niche specialist publication.

I also considered using a print-on-demand company. These will print and bind one copy at a time for you – Lulu is perhaps the best known, though there are others who focus more on the needs of small publishers. However a big problem with these is the cost of shipping the printed books from the company; what you gain in flexibility of being able to order small numbers, you lose in the economy of scale for delivery.

In the end I have decided to keep this book entirely in-house, and it is being published as a hand-made book. Below you will see a photo of the first batch being assembled in my workshop. The big advantage of this method is that it gives me complete control over the design of the binding – in this case it is traditionally hand-sewn to make sure that the book will easily open completely flat – an important consideration for a music book, that will be placed on a music stand.

Anyway, I enjoy bookbinding as much as book design and writing!