Songs & Slow Airs

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Most of these songs were first written down early in the 18th century, but are much older than that. Scottish flute repertoire tended to retain old Lowland vocal music that the fiddlers dropped in favour of more fashionable and virtuosic pieces in the second half of the eighteenth century.

The first five tunes are from Dan Wright's Aria di Camera of 1726. Fairly shot of her is best known today under a later title, the Jacobite Highland Muster Roll. But that song (and most pieces of the 18th century under the Fairly Shot of Her title) is very different; this early version has a phrase structure suggesting a pibroch. It should probably be played slowly in a free rhythm. Keele Cranke (in modern spelling, Killiecrankie) is structurally the same as the present-day tune. Hilland Tune is the earliest known version of what was later known as Gin ye were dead guidman; nothing but Wright's title suggests a Highland origin for it, and it has no early set of Gaelic words. Young Jockey doesn't sound Scottish at all, and the name "Jockey" was used often in the 18th century to give local colour to English-composed "Scotch airs". Da mihi Manum (Give me Your Hand) was composed for the harp by Rory Dall Morrison; it is still a favourite with whistle players. Sawny's Ferewel is usually known as Macpherson's Farewell; supposed to have been composed by the outlaw Macpherson at the gallows before trampling his fiddle to pieces, it is first found in a manuscript of 1710.

Pinky House is a very old song; the words associated with the title had been lost by the time this version was published in Orpheus Caledonius in 1733. The substitute words were terrible, and other attempts in the 18th century were even worse. The book contains a section of wordless transcriptions for the German flute, of which this is one. I have given six others: Bonny Christy, The Gaberlunzie Man, My Nanny O, The Braes of Yarrow, My Deary if thou Die and Come hap me with thy Pettycoat (which, according to a tradition reported in Stenhouse's notes to the Scots Musical Museum, was a originally a song by a woman to her dead lover, offering to wrap him in her petticoat against the cold of the grave; hence I've given it a very slow tempo here). All were popular until Burns's time and some until much later.

The next group of song tunes are from a learner's manuscript of the mid-18th century, MS.9681 in the National Library of Scotland. The book starts with a fingering chart and works up from there. The tunes are The Birks of Abergeldy, a love song later bowdlerized by Burns; Johnny Fa, or Earl Cassil's Lady, a ballad about a lady who goes off with the gypsies; The Mill Mill-O, a mildly bawdy song; The Bush aboon Traquair, a pastoral idyll; Catharine Ogie, a song, originally about a man who falls in love with a prostitute but with many later sets of words, which has been thought by some to be be of English origin (the third part seems to be known only from this manuscript); Tweed Side, another pastoral idyll; Bonny Jean, best known today in a strathspey rhythm as the rugby song The Ball of Kirriemuir; and The Flowers of the Forest, the lament for the fallen on the field of Flodden, in a version similar to the one James Oswald published in the middle of the 18th century.

Bonny Kate of Edinburgh, from Knox's manuscript of 1755, is an English imitation of Scots music dating from the late seventeenth century; it was often copied and printed in Scottish sources over the next few decades, steadily mutating from the original into something more idiomatically Scottish.

The next few tunes all come from The Museum for the German Flute. The Back of the Change House is more often played as a reel today; Dumbarton's Drums Beat Bonny O is a song from the late 17th century, now used as the march of the Royal Scots Regiment; Aiken Drum is not the usual tune for this song; As I came o'er the Cairney Mount was originally a very bawdy song, with words collected by Burns in The Merry Muses of Caledonia; Cuddy Claw'd Her occurs in dance settings as well; and Will you go to the Ew Bughts Marion (or Gowd on Your Gartens) is a simple old love song, so often drowned in fussy and sentimental arrangements that it was almost forgotten by 1900.

Two tunes are taken from Lieutenant Tapp's manuscript of 1805. A favorite Scotch Air is a version of The Miller's Wedding, the tune of the mid-18th century that later became Auld Lang Syne. The Mad Boy is a version of one of Nathaniel Gow's many street-cry pieces, from Tapp's book. Gow based it on the call of a mad beggar he heard in Edinburgh in 1798: the four-note figure went with the words "Fat meat's bonny", and Gow says of the repeated notes "the Boy requently repeats this Barr while he looks around him expecting Alms, which his truly Simple Apperance seldome fail to insure to him". Gow's original, for the piano, is in B flat. Its form - slow prelude, strathspey and 9/8 jig - seems unusual now, but strathspeys were often followed by 9/8 jigs in published collections of the 18th century. Sir Alexander Boswell wrote a song to the tune of the 9/8 section.

Two major collections of instrumental arrangements of Scots songs were published early in the nineteenth century. Alexander Robertson's Caledonian Museum of 1810 was one. Nathaniel Gow's Vocal Melodies of Scotland was published for the piano in 1823, and arranged for the flute by Henderson shortly after; the versions here are his. These huge books have never been reprinted, and many of their tunes are little played today.

Robertson's collections include Three Times Crowdie in a Day, still familiar as a song; The Green Leaves Were Us Between; Hey Jenny come down to Jock, an 18th century song; Yon Wild Mossy Mountains; I'll Never Love Mair Tho' I Live to Threescore; The Birks of Invermay, an 18th century song with several sets of dreadful words; Gloomy Winter's Now Awa, the title from Robert Tannahill's song, though the tune is an old Edinburgh trade guild march, The Cordwainers' March, published by Aird in 1778; and The Fient a Crum o' Thee she Fa's, whose words are the refrain of a poem by Alexander Scott, found in the Bannatyne Manuscript of 1568 and reprinted by Allan Ramsay in the 1720s. The tune first appeared shortly afterwards in an English theatre piece as an anonymous "Scotch Tune", and was first given a name in Aird's collection as The Spinning Wheel in the 1780s. Words and music were first put together in print in the Scots Musical Museum.

The pieces in Nathaniel Gow's collection that I have given here are all from the 18th century or earlier. Lord Gregory is the tune for a ballad in Child's collection. Corn Rigs is best known with Burns's words, but dates from long before he was born. On a Bank of Flowers is a mildly erotic song from Allan Ramsay, the tune by a German musician named Galliard who worked in Londion early in the 18th century.. Sweet Annie frae the Sea Beach Came is probably English, but was adopted into the Scots repertoire. Polwart on the Green dates to around 1700. Lament for Capt. Cook was originally written for harpsichord by Mrs Oswald of Auchincrieve. The Rock and Wee Pickle Tow, also played as a jig or pipe march, dates to the seventeenth century with a text about spinning (a "rock" was a distaff). The Flowers of Edinburgh was written by James Oswald about 1740, originally as a slow air like this rather than as a dance tune the way it's usually played now. Bessie's Haggis is basically the same tune as As I Came O'er the Cairney Mount, in a more elaborate setting. I Wish my Love were in a Mire dates to early in the 18th century.

Johnny's Grey Breeks, My Tocher's the Jewel, Donald of Dundee, and Evan Banks are all song tunes from Andrew Small of Carrickfergus's manuscript.

Cliffy Rocks, also known as The maid that tends the goats, is from an anonymous flute tutor written in 1838-9, now in Glasgow University Library.

Niel Gow's Lament for Abercairny was written for the fiddle; this arrangement is from Hamilton's Complete Repository.

The Fiery Cross is from J. Crichton Donaldson's manuscript of 1853-55; it's almost the same as Simon Fraser's 1816 version but in a different key. Charlie is my Darling and Macpherson's Lament, both familiar tunes, are from the same manuscript.

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Old Scottish Flute Music
Copyright © 2003, Jack Campin