Sunday, 29 December 2013

Landed Gentry and Scottish Musical Dilettantes

I've just encountered a fascinating, useful and authoritative blog about the Landed Families of Britain and Ireland. It's by Nicholas Kingsley, who is (to quote his Twitter profile), 'Head of Archives Sector Development @UkNatArchives. Historian of the country house, peerage and gentry; FSA; and a member of the National Trust Arts Panel'.  He tweets as @NicholasKingsle

Now, you know my fascination with old eighteenth century Scottish dilettanti!  Kingsley's blog is clearly a resource I shall be returning to.

While I'm here, I don't know if I mentioned two recent papers I've had published about some of 'my' eighteenth century Scots, so I'll post the links now:-

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Happiness is a Hunch Proved Right

You know, it doesn't take much to make a scholar librarian happy!  Remember Pirates Daniel Wright and John Walsh?  The book which never WAS published by Wright, but was compiled by Walsh from two of his own existing publications?

Before I had worked out what the 'mystery volume' in Dundee's Wighton Collection actually was, I divided the two sets of irregularly interleaved pages into what I thought were two volumes.  One was, I thought, more Scottish in flavour than the other one.

I identified the two source volumes, and felt rather proud of myself.  This week, I received the scans of both source volumes from the British Library.  Now I'm even happier: I've just discovered the title of the second volume - the one I thought was more Scottish - has a little, tiny subtitle:-

'Consisting of Irish, Welsh and Scotch Tunes'

Monday, 16 December 2013

Our Ancient National Airs, Book Reviews

Reviews have started appearing.  Three in eight days, as a matter of fact!  I'm quite pleased with the comments, and delighted that all three find me readable!  With an early background in freelance short story writing (it helped finance my first maternity leave, AND a decent second-hand car at the end of it), I am gratified that I've managed to transfer that readability to more academic purposes!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

From Edinburgh to London, Ghostly Musical Muses

My focus has shifted, temporarily.  I've been looking at a couple of collections of national songs from the late 18th century - the Thompson family's Caledonian Muse and Hibernian Muse.  (Try as I might, I haven't yet found a Cambrian Muse, but next time I'm in London, there are sources I need to check, just to be sure!)

The Thompson family were at the sign of the Violin and Hautboy, 75 Saint Paul's Church Yard, in London.

Meanwhile,  Joseph Johnson, a politically radical literary publisher - he also published Non-Conformist church literature, and encouraged women writers, too - was just three doors along at no.72 Saint Paul's Church Yard.  I've discovered an unexpected connection between the two.  I'll be writing more about this in due course, so I am going to be irritatingly secretive for the next wee while!

To my joy and delight, Hilary Chaplin, a historian and music-lover who tweets @hilaryssteps, has been tweeting pictures of old London, and generously found me a wonderful etching of St Paul's Church Yard just a couple of decades after the events I'm interested in.  I love to be able to imagine "my" musical and publishing ghosts in their natural environment, so I'm delighted to share this picture.  Hilary tells me that in the foreground, people are looking out of Bowles and Carver's Print shop.  They were at 69 St Paul's Church Yard - incredible, just literally a couple of doors away from "my" people. Oh, WOW!  

Thanks for your help, Hilary!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

He promised to Write a Scottish Musical History - but Callander didn't follow through

I've blogged often enough about the illusive John Callander, but now I have an article published in Scottish Music Review:-
An Unwritten Enlightenment Scottish Musical History, and Two Reconstructed Edinburgh Bookshelves
Find out what this 18th century member of the Scottish 'literati' hoped to write about - and what went wrong.  This may not be my final word on Callander, but it is probably my most extensive piece of writing, including a transcript of his book proposal.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

True Imaginary Friend Hugh Cameron Drags me into the Limelight

Remember I mentioned Hugh Cameron, the 18th century owner of a little fiddle tunebook that turned up in Greenock a few months ago?  Well, after I'd been to see the fiddle tunebook bearing his signature, Inverclyde's press officer and archivist got their heads together and decided the manuscript would make an interesting centrepiece for a 'get to know your archives' week this autumn.  I was asked if any of the music was suitable for a group of senior school pupils to play.  The book contained only tunes, not harmonies, so I set a couple of pieces for string trio, and thought nothing more of it.  Until a couple of weeks ago, when I had a phonecall asking if I would mind attending a press-call.

Which explains how yesterday morning saw me huddled on a very rainy railway platform, heading for Inverclyde.  In due course, the string-players played, the archivist and I were photographed and filmed, and with any luck we'll appear in the Greenock Telegraph on Friday, not to mention any other media that the Press Association might distribute us to.  Let me know if you catch a glimpse of us!

The Scotsman - Mystery songbook from 1709
Inverclyde Council - Rare Songbook at Centre of Archive Treasure Trove 
Greenock Telegraph - Greenock Songbook was unheard for 200 years
BBC iPlayer Radio Scotland Newsdrive - halfway through the programme at 56'23"

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Pirate Wright has been Wrongly Accused

Now, I'm not saying that John Wright wasn't a publishing pirate.  If Frank Kidson and William C. Smith agree that he indulged in piracy, then I'm not going to argue.  But what I am decisively saying, is that the anonymous book in Dundee's Wighton Collection, which Frank Kidson said was Wright's pirated copy of a John Walsh book, actually has nothing to do with Wright at all. It is not a Wright book, period.

What it is, is a compilation of two books, both published by John Walsh in the early 1730s, into one single volume, again published by Walsh.  I've explained more on our Bass Culture project blog.  You can read it here.  In due course, I'll write a more extensive article about it, so I won't go into too much detail right now.  

I feel a bit guilty about poor Mr Wright, though.  He could have indulged in all manner of underhand publications for all I know, but he is totally blameless in this particular instance.  So if you see the ghost of an early 18th century publisher traipsing the streets of London and wringing his hands in a mournful way, can I ask you a favour?  Please stop and tell him I'm sorry that he was falsely accused!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

John Callander's Ghost is Smiling

In 1781, John Callander published his Proposals to write a history of Scottish music.  

In 2013, his Proposals will be published again, this time online in the Scottish Music Review, complete with an extensive article and details of the books he referred to.  I've compared his 'library' with the library of an antiquary whose music history was published - that of William Tytler. 

Watch this space - I'll post a link when SMR goes online.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

My Regency Reunion

... and Gale's Pocket Companion Conundrum

Last night I was looking at old song collections in connection with a BBC query. I had a wonderful evening! It was so nice to look at the subjects of my doctoral research with fresh eyes, in a different context. And there they all were, sitting waiting to greet me -  the nice old Scottish gents that they were.

There was the ghost of poet and songwriter Allan Ramsay (father of the famous portrait painter), sitting shyly on the edge of the circle, then James Johnson, Robert Burns, Robert Archibald Smith - even the grumpy old northern English Joseph Ritson was pleased to see me.

So this morning, when I was compiling thumbnail sketch biographies of all our fiddle tunebook compilers, imagine my surprise and delight to find Smith, one of my special favourites, linked to a collection of flute tunes in Glasgow University Library. It's probably just a mundane collection, and if it has no basslines or accompaniments then it isn't any more use for my postdoc project than it would have been for the song-collecting research. However, if R A Smith is connected with it, then it's more interesting than I would otherwise have thought.

I went across to the Uni library this afternoon, to look at an old book about Scottish fiddlers, so I took the opportunity to call up the Glasgow-published Gales Pocket Companion while I was there.  I do have photocopies of the contents pages of all Smith's Scotish Minstrel books - and the Irish Minstrel - so I can at least check.  If this doesn't yield the answer, my next stop will be Dundee (good thing we're going there before the end of the month), to look at vol.2 of Gale's, in the vain hope that there might be something incriminating Smith in that book, if not this one!

Sadly, there was not a trace of Robert Archibald Smith to be found - at least, not on the face of it.  However, a cataloguer evidently once thought there was a link, so now I want to know what it was!  To begin with, I've taken a photo of the index page.  It doesn't look particularly Smith-ian to me, but I do have the photocopied indices of all his Scotish Minstrel books, and the single Irish Minstrel, so I have a reasonable chance of spotting any clear connection.  Or not.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Pirates Run Aground

Once upon a time ... no, that's not a scholarly way to begin a blogpost.  Quick change of voice, here.

I've blogged several times about the eighteenth century publishers Walsh and Wright, in recent weeks.  (Both are known to have pirated other people's work - it's certainly not the case that one was always wronged, and the other guilty of the wrongdoing.  Nor that it was a straightforward borrowing between just two publishers!)  However, I realise that I haven't mentioned them since I went to Edinburgh to inspect Mr Wright's Aria di Camera.  (I'm surprised that Wright didn't know the plural of 'Aria', but it's a bit late to quibble, nearly two centuries after the event...)

Wright's early eighteenth century compilation was supposed to provide evidence that an untitled collection in Dundee was also published by him. I'm not convinced.  I'm waiting for a copy of a collection in the British Library which will enable me to make further comments in this regard, but I'll bide my time until I can make my pronouncements with more certainty.

So, in that regard, my pirates have run aground - I can't do any more until I get those scans.  However, with a colleague's assistance, I identified the flute tutor published at the beginning of Wright's Aria.  Yes - it was pirated.  A pirated translation, itself arguably pirated from a famous French original.

I also discovered that there's a modern edition of the Aria da Camera - which is very satisfying, especially since the editorial commentary is well-researched and presented.  Furthermore, there are some really lovely tunes in that collection.  So, even though it's a flute collection, with no bassline, I see scope for indulging in a little musical arranging.  I've recently been arranging music for saxophone choir.  They've got a good bit to be going on with, so maybe I could arrange some of Wright's flute tunes for flute quartet.  It's a tempting thought ...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Morning in the Stacks with Pirates Wright and Walsh

I spent a totally satisfying morning at the University Library today, trying to fathom what publishers Wright and Walsh were up to in the 1720s/1730s.  Walsh had a reputation for piracy even at that time.  Wright's would similarly have been fairly obvious, but was re-exposed by Frank Kidson just over a century ago.

I've already shared some of my musings about these guys.  I can't say I've found out much more - though I've handwritten pages of notes already today.  (Sometimes it's easier to lay the page out and make connections, when you're just wielding a pen!)

So, I have three main questions:-

  • Firstly, is the untitled Wright book in Dundee, no more than a Walsh book without a title page?  Searching Fleischmann's Irish tune bibliography and the online Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources suggests that virtually the entire contents can be traced in contemporary tune-books by Walsh, with some also in Wright's Aria di Camera, or Wright's 1740-2 Compleat Collection - itself one of Wright's piracies.  Way back in 1898, Moffat opined in his Minstrelsy of Ireland that the untitled book contains 'unmistakeable evidence to show that the work is one of Wright's publications'.  My guess is that he was quoting some writing by Kidson, prior to the latter's book, British Music Publishers.  Since I seem to be the only person to have discovered that the untitled 'Wright' book has exactly the same contents as a Walsh publication, the only thing that would convince me of this 'unmistakeable evidence' is some visible difference between the two, in the printing or typeface.  I've spent an hour or so perusing the indexes of the Musical Times and Singing Class Circular for Kidson's 'New Lights upon old Tunes' series and other writings, without finding any mention of the 'oblong quarto' to which Moffat alluded.
  • Secondly, what connection do these volumes (or this volume) have with Wright's Aria di Camera?  Did Walsh or Wright just draw upon the repertoire?  Even if there's no argument about the fact that Wright published the Aria di Camera (yes, 'Aria', not 'Arie'), then can we say that Walsh (or Wright) picked and chose items out of it?  They'd have to be the same settings.  So I need to see the Aria, too, to see if they are the same arrangements.
  • Thirdly, WHICH two earlier volumes were drawn together to make up Walsh/Wright?  I haven't identified them yet. Yet!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Right Mr Wright all right, but This is All Wrong!

Remember I was telling you about Daniel Wright, the other day?  Well, I haven't exactly gotten to the bottom of his story, because it's more complex than I imagined.

I found someone had written a dissertation about a series of publications published by a prolific London publisher named John Walsh.  And the contents of one volume exactly matched the contents of the Daniel Wright book that is in Dundee, minus its cover.  So, who compiled the compilation, Walsh or Wright?  Kidson says the two publishers were rivals, and Wright is known to have pirated Walsh.

But it gets more complicated. Whoever did it first, they put two collections together, one on the front and one on the back (or vice versa) of each page.  I haven't yet established the identity of the two collections.  I've found tunes that appear in THIS book and a Wright book of country dances, but the latter has only a melody line, and I haven't yet looked at any Walsh books.  

Moreover, there's another compilation by Wright, which doesn't appear to have any connection with Walsh, and I need to compare the contents of that, with Daniel Wright's untitled (or John Walsh's titled) collection.
Give me time!

I had a small disappointment this afternoon, though. The dissertation author mentioned an unpublished manuscript by Wright.  As you might guess, I was intrigued, and followed up the reference very carefully.  Only to have my anticipation dashed to a thousand pieces.  It isn't an unpublished manuscript - they've seen a reference to the untitled PUBLICATION in Dundee, and jumped to the erroneous conclusion that it's an unpublished manuscript.  The fact that it's in Dundee with the same catalogue number, is proof enough that the untitled publication is just that.  A publication with the front pages missing.

Takes me back to a memorable occasion many decades ago, when I was eagerly anticipating seeing an Augustinian plainsong manuscript at the British Museum.  I sat, pencil and notebook in front of me, almost salivating at the thought of the tasty treat I was about to have placed in front of me.  Instead, I was apologetically handed a slip.  

"Lost in enemy action."

I don't know what's worse! A manuscript that used to exist, or one that never existed at all!

More about Pirate Daniel Wright anon.......

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Right Mr Wright? Oh, Mr Wighton!

We had a Bass Culture research trip to the Wighton Collection in Dundee Central Library today.  Looking at Andrew Wighton's collected Scottish music books, we got to the very bottom of our list - a book of fiddle tunes believed to have been published by Daniel Wright.

I say, believed to have been, because the book has no cover, and appears to be the sole surviving copy of - well, whatever it is!

Things got worse when I realised that although the pages were numbered in one sequence, the TUNES were numbered in two sequences, with slightly different font used for the tune titles in "Collection A" compared to "Collection B".  Each sheet of paper had an A, and a B side, not necessarily in the same order throughout the book.  

I thought I detected a slight difference in repertoire between the two sequences, too.  Oh, Mr Wighton, if only you'd felt able to be a bit more specific about what the book is.  There's a note inside the volume from an expert in Ireland.  And that points to an old encyclopedia, which in turn quotes an old Irish book ... BUT, the book they're talking about is a different size and shape to the one we saw today.  If Wighton's is a pirated copy, then it's pirated from TWO books, not one.  

So is Mr Wright my "Mr Right"?  Watch this space.  The book referred to by the Irish expert is very old indeed.  And the one we saw?  Drat, I forgot to look to see if there was a watermark!  I still need convincing as to whether Wighton's un-named book is as old as that.  Hopefully, I'll blog about it on our Bass Culture blog as soon as I am sure I've got my facts Wright - sorry, right!

MEANWHILE, back at the ranch, I see there is another researcher interested in my ghostly friend, Mr John Callander.  This is exceptionally interesting news, and I really look forward to hearing more from him.  (The researcher, I mean.  I know that the ghostly Mr Callander will be there at my shoulder next time I go to Edinburgh, and quite possibly if I ever go near Stirling ...)

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Evidence of a Tidy Mind

The National Archives people ask how we keep our research ... well, this is my physical storage system.

Then there are all the files on my computer, the shared projects shared on Wordcloud, and my Mendeley bibliography.  Which is not my sole bibliography, actually.  I also have extensive Diigo links accessible by all my e-devices.

* and yes, that IS a bagpipe chanter, top right.  A whim, which I didn't carry through - I bought it when I was writing up my doctoral thesis.  Not good timing.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

True, Imaginary and Cyber Friends ... and Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford

Suddenly, this blog has attracted more traffic.  (I wonder if anyone found me after I spoke at the Vitae Part-Time Researchers' conference in Glasgow yesterday morning?  I spoke about embracing the challenge of part-time research.  If you thought my subtitle was rather Gothic, you're about to find out why!)

Welcome to my personal research blog.  It's called 'True Imaginary Friends' because I started it while I was working on turning my doctoral thesis into a book.  I had a mug which I only used when I was writing - it bore the slogan, 'Writer's block is when your imaginary friends stop talking to you'.  And that was it - my blog was born.  My thesis, and subsequent book, are on the subject of historic Scottish song collecting.  The topic lent itself to a chronological treatment, and I grew to know those song collectors very well.  So well that I couldn't go to Edinburgh without feeling as though half my Victorian friends were hanging around on street corners and tailing behind me close on my heels.  Not just imaginary friends, then.  Real, true imaginary friends.

Callander and Campbell

Mr Callander was a particularly persistent ghost, and Alexander Campbell has dragged me all over the place, including to the church where he used to be organist.  (It isn't even a church now, but it's been renovated to a staggeringly high standard inside, notwithstanding.  It's far too good to be 'just' financial services offices, and I hope the office-workers appreciate their good fortune!)

I digress.  If you've found me here because you share my interests in Scottish songs, Scottish cultural history, book history, or arts research methodology, then welcome!  I'd call you a 'cyber friend', but that sounds somewhat sinister.  I'm a scholar-librarian and musicologist, and not in the least scary, I can assure you.

Sir Walter Scott

Walter Scott deserves a mention today, too.  I went to Abbotsford last Saturday, with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.  It was a bit drizzly and damp, but we had a great day, with erudite commentary on the bus there, and the curator of Abbotsford as our guide when we got there.  I've wanted to go there for a few years now, but it has been closed for a couple of years for renovation.  I'm glad I had to wait - as time has passed, I kept on coming across references to Scott, and I've taken particular interest in his Border ballads; his poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel';, and his novel, The Antiquary.  
Scott also gave poems to Alexander Campbell, to be set to music in Campbell's two-volume Albyn's Anthology, and was very friendly with Margaret and Anna Maclean-Clephane, and their mother Marianne; I've written about this Mull family quite extensively, most recently in the International Review of the Sociology and Aesthetics of Music (Vol.44 no.1).

But most importantly, I'm interested in any aspect of the contemporary arguments about authenticity versus fakery or forgery.  And - you heard it first here - Scott's home, Abbotsford, is a perfect metaphor for the attitudes of his age.  Was this bit of panelling real, or fake? Was this glass stained, or painted?  Was this artefact old, or merely a pretence at something old?  That was exactly what antiquarians and literary people argued about in the 1810s and 1820s.  

So, I had a lovely day at Abbotsford.  It was a bit like my visit to the Robert Burns museum a couple of months ago, though.  I had to remember that I am a mature adult, and remind myself it would be wholly inappropriate to sit cross-legged on the floor, refusing to leave until I'd absorbed every last drop of atmosphere!  The ghost of Sir Walter Scott smiled benignly.  I think he was pleased that I had made the intellectual connection between his house and the ballads and songs that he and his circle 'collected' so assiduously.  Or did they collect them?!!

Do come back and visit my blog again!  Thank you for your interest.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Bards and Minstrels, Custodians of Oral History

I have an encyclopedia entry to write this month.  So I need to devote some time to planning what I want to say, and take steps to make it just a little less Anglo-Scottish centric.

But tonight is a glorious sunny evening!  I think I can just about justify sitting outside with Walter Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel.  Interestingly, this 'last minstrel' is a different one from the Welsh 18th century 'last bard' who was the subject of the English Thomas Gray's poem, The Bard, and different again from James Beattie's Scottish The Minstrel (1771-4) or the rebellious anti-English minstrel that we find in late 18th and early 19th century Ireland, immortalised in song by Thomas Moore.  This I find absolutely fascinating.  

I'd dearly love to read for a Masters in Gothic and nineteenth century literature, but it's not going to happen in the near or medium future!  I'd like a Masters in creative writing, too, but having self-financed a part-time PhD between 2004-2009, I think maybe I should be content that I am, finally, a Doctor, and leave other degree study plans for my distant retirement!  After all, further study in such different directions would drain any time I have for pursuing the subject in which I've already gained expertise - the collecting of Scottish song and fiddle tunes.

I'm sure you'll agree, meanwhile, that Sir Walter Scott is a more than worthy addition to my gallery of ghosts - along with my minstrel gallery!  So we'll see where this avenue leads, and I'll make sure I've read it before my trip to Abbotsford with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in a couple of weeks' time.

Post Script: Oh dear me, I've just stumbled across William Blake's watercolours for the poems of Thomas Gray, with a beautiful bard picture!  I just may have to get a copy!  And those wicked people at Amazon have just tempted me with posters from the Bridgeman image library, too.  Oh dear!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Scottish Cultural History as Illustrated by Musical Song Collections: CILIP LIHG visit

Whittaker Library visited by CILIP's Library and Information History Group

On Friday 12th July, 2013, I spoke about nearly all my 'True Imaginary Friends' in under an hour.  We hosted visitors from the CILIP Library and Information History Group, and - for the first time ever - I had just about every significant title from my PhD assembled along one long table.  I stood and looked, somewhat stunned, at the number of titles I intended to talk about in 45 minutes.  Would I do it?

Yes!  And I believe a good time was had by all.  My 'True Imaginary Friends' were handed round the group with due reverence as I talked.  

I took a different approach to my subject this time.   Realising that my audience would not be musicologists first and foremost, but book historians, I linked each collection back to the literary work that had either influenced it directly, or was typical of a genre that had been influential upon our Scottish song collectors.  

Thus, I mentioned Macpherson and Ossian, Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, William Tytler, Sydney Morgan and The Wild Irish Girl, Sir Walter Scott and his Antiquary, James Hogg and the Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  You didn't think they had much to do with Scottish songs?  Think again, dear reader, think again!

There wasn't a PowerPoint, so I can't share the slides online, but the talk is available via my pages.  Click here.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Whoa! Excessive Writing Alert

 I was flushed with success when my Musical Times article was followed only a week later by the publication of my article on the Maclean-Clephanes of Torloisk, in the International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music.  (This is a Croatian journal, but mercifully published in English.)  Nothing breeds success like success, so ...

I wrote an article for a librarianship magazine over the weekend, and finished off my cello quartet.  Since then - apart from going to work and the usual family domesticities - I've finished formatting the cello quartet, uploaded it to SoundCloud, sent out two more articles to online journals and written a piece about my copy of Ritson's Scotish Songs, for submission to another online website.

All this was, admittedly, a bit tiring.  But all would have been well if I'd been allowed a decent night's sleep last night.  That didn't happen, so today has been somewhat surreal as a consequence.

When will I learn to pace myself?  

I still have a talk to polish for Friday, and then substantial article revision and two encyclopedia articles to do this summer.  Oh, and work on the saxophone quartet to make it more suitable for sax choir.  That's going to be fun, but I won't start until I'm actually on holiday leave, to ensure I have enough time to do it justice.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Border Minstrelsy and Beyond

I went to an enchanting Northumbrian Minstrelsy concert at The Sage, Gateshead, yesterday - celebrating the bicentenary of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.  This was too close to my field of research to resist, as you can imagine!  Before I went, I found a pdf of a 1965 edition of the original Northumbrian Minstrelsy (1882).  I downloaded that, then decided I'd try sending it to my Kindle.  (Easy, as it happens.)  By the time the train reached Newcastle, I was quite well-informed about the collection, and knew a bit about the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne!  Funny to think that when I lived on Tyneside - we're talking nearly thirty years ago - I knew absolutely NOTHING about Northumbrian minstrelsy or societies of antiquarians.

I've written about my trip in a couple of blogposts on Whittaker Live, so I won't duplicate the effort here.  (I've posted a couple of links to some fabulous Northumbrian smallpipe playing.)  Suffice to say, it was intriguing to read about a society earnestly collecting and documenting its minstrelsy repertoire as 'my' Scottish antiquarian friends were also doing.  Yes, I learned a few more historical names.  (Acquaintances not friends as yet!)

After an excellent concert, I slept soundly in a hotel literally just five minutes across the Sage car-park, and had two new books to while away the train journey back!

Friday, 21 June 2013

A New (Unknown) Friend

A few weeks ago, I was invited to go and look at an eighteenth century fiddle manuscript that had turned up in Greenock Archives.  It belonged to one 'Hugh Cameron' in the early 18th century.  Someone - presumably Hugh - listed his books inside the front, over several pages.  It covered a wide range of subjects - philosophy, maths and theology to name but three.  The rest of the book contains fiddle tunes.  There were no accompaniments, just the tunes; the repertoire was considerably later than the dates of the listed books; and quite a few of them had been copied, directly or indirectly, from a late 18th century printed collection.

Had Hugh copied them out, or was it someone else, perhaps a relative?  Who knows.

And who was Hugh?  I have a very, very tentative identification.  There's not enough to identify him with any degree of certainty.  My hypothesis fits in with the kind of person who'd have owned those books, and would mean the fiddle tunes were collected when the owner of the book was an old man.  But how do we know that the book hadn't already fallen into someone else's hands?  We don't!

I hope I'm going to talk about this with interested parties in Inverclyde, so I won't say any more for now.  But watch this space.  It's all rather exciting.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Campbell's Episcopal Chapel is utterly gorgeous inside!

A very tasteful conversion into financial offices has retained the interior recogniseably as a former chapel, galleries and all.  I'm very grateful to Dr Stuart Eydmann for sourcing these pictures for me - readers of this blog will recall my excitement when I found the building a few months ago, but didn't have the courage to go in.

It's so light and airy - still an elegant interior.   I'm very happy!

Here's the weblink that Stuart sent me from an exhibition about the architect, Playfair.  It depicts the church building as it is now, inside and out, but also a mansion he designed - Belle View.  Sadly it's no longer there.
This weblink, incidentally, is from, and I'm delighted to acknowledge my gratitude for these fantastic images. Stuart has since sent me images of what the poor old chapel looked like before its renovation.  I'll get these uploaded soon, so you can see what a great job the refurbishment has been.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Rainy Edinburgh

It was damp in Edinburgh when we went to the National Library of Scotland in search of fiddle tunebooks today.  The locker-room was more colourful than usual, as you see ...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Saxophone Suites and Bagpipes in the Library

Campbell is the gent carrying the organ
Whilst this blog is generally about my ‘True Imaginary Friends’ – the late 18th and 19th century Scottish song collectors who were the subject of my doctoral research – the occasion of my recent book launch was a good excuse for making two sets of saxophone arrangements, using one particular old collection.  Alexander Campbell’s Albyn’s Anthology has always been lauded and condemned in equal measure.  Lauded, because of the extraordinary lengths he went to, collecting his tunes from the Hebrides to the Scottish Borders.  Condemned, because his settings of these lovely old tunes were, frankly, not very good.

Nonetheless, everyone agrees that the beautiful repertoire he preserved was well-worth saving.  So, I thought, why not try setting them for a small ensemble?  The challenge was to preserve the modality of the tunes, and also somehow to retain the sometimes na├»ve accompaniments, whilst at the same time removing some of the infelicities of Campbell’s harmonisation.  I’d like to stress that I’m not just missing the point of a clever approach to modality.  Campbell’s chord structures and progressions aren’t that clever, and sometimes they flagrantly break the rules.

I made a set of arrangements for flute, viola and cello, but I couldn’t find an ensemble to play them.  Enquiries on Twitter solicited a response from Sax Exosse (@Saxecosse), so I hastily rearranged a couple of tunes for sax trio, and waylaid the father of one of the saxophonists when they were doing a gig in Buchanan Bus Station last September.  Success!  The girls liked them.

I rearranged the other two pieces from my original mixed trio, and there it was – Alexander Campbell’s Hebridean Suite.  By this time I had realised that Sax Ecosse was actually a quartet.  Over Christmas, I made a second suite – Alexander Campbell’s Saxophone Quartet.

The whole lot was performed by the Royal Conservatoire Saxophone Quartet for my book launch in April 2013.  And I now have two recordings, because the whole book-launch was recorded by a colleague – although the open windows led to a bit of traffic noise – and it was also recorded for me by Saxual Healing, a saxophone quartet from the University of Cambridge.   
It’s the Cambridge recordings that I’m sharing with you here – I might share the whole Conservatoire book-launch event on a different blogpost at a later date.*

Alexander Campbell’s Hebridean Suite (Sax Trio) 

 Alexander Campbell’s Saxophone Quartet
1.    Georgy agam

2.    Cradle Song

4.    Una of Ulva

I love rearranging vocal melodies for instrumental ensembles.  These sax settings had their own challenges because, although the instruments have different ranges, the timbre is fairly uniform, and this means a tune can easily disappear if it’s submerged under other harmonising notes.  (However, the challenge became in one sense greater when I turned to write cello quartets, where the timbre and range are the same for all four instruments.)

Other challenges lie in choosing the harmonisation, and in ensuring there are breaks in the texture, whether for the instrumentalist or the tune itself to breathe!  And that’s quite apart from finding suitable material to arrange; thankfully, using very old songbooks avoids any copyright problems - a considerable relief!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Song Arranging: Or, Which May Ball Features a Cello Quartet?

A couple of weeks ago, I made a short detour from writing about music to arranging it.  Well, all my song-collectors did it, so it's not so surprising that I should join in the fun.

Our eldest son, besides studying computer science, is also a cellist.  His cello quartet needed music for the forthcoming Cambridge May Balls.  (He's the designer of, as it happens.)  I was asked for Spanish and Scottish song arrangements.  I needed a suitable book of Spanish songs - it had to be old enough to be completely copyright-clear, so there was nothing for it but to take the librarian approach to the problem - find the classmark for Spanish songs, and go look at the shelves!

And there she was!  A Victorian lady arranger of Spanish songs - Mrs S G C Middlemore published her collection in 1887, and they were absolutely perfect for rearranging.*

Songs of the Pyrenees with Spanish, French & English words; Book 2; collected and arranged from traditional Pyrenean melodies with accompaniments by Mrs. S.G.C. Middlemore; translated by W.P. Blake and Miss Constance Bache

 I arranged four of her songs:- 
  1. Bolero
  2. Fandango
  3. Spanish Gypsy Dance
  4. Cancion d'Amor (with surprise banjo line)
Next came the question as to what I should do in the way of Scottish songs.  I like to arrange songs into suites, so the ensemble can play a batch of songs which retain the flavour of the original arranger or compiler.  That's how I came to write Alexander Campbell's Hebridean Suite for Saxophone Trio, and Alexander Campell's Saxophone Quartet - all from his Albyn's Anthology.   (Here's the first movement of the Sax Quartet, played by Saxual Healing Quartet. I'll blog about the sax ensemble pieces in my next posting, so watch this space.)

I'd done enough Alexander Campbell for now, so instead, I found a piano version of 'The Eriskay Love Lilt', by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser.  It was eased into a four-cello setting with no difficulty at all.  I must confess I didn't think I had time to do a whole set of Kennedy-Fraser settings, but maybe I might have a go another day.

Anyway, my final offering to the May Ball project was my own setting of 'My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose'I was quite pleased with the outcome; Finale NotePad played it back to me nicely enough, but I needed 'real cellists' to play it before I would really know if it worked.  Cello-Man phoned me this evening, and paid me one of his own idiosyncratic compliments.  'It worked very well .... I didn't know you had it in you.' 

Well, there you are then.  Not only a musicologist but a fully-fledged arranger, too. What shall I arrange next?!

* Mrs Middlemore also published two books of legends,  called Round a Posada Fire: Spanish Legends (1883); and Spanish Legendary Tales (1885).   In the latter's preface she explains that she spent some years living in the Pyrenees.  Sounds a fascinating woman!  I like to think that such a versatile woman would appreciate what I did to her Spanish song settings!

Friday, 31 May 2013

Two New Imaginary Friends

A colleague approached me to help research a couple of obscure composers with anniversaries coming up.  Lamond and D'Albert were both "modern" by comparison with my own Scottish Victorians, but they're certainly deserving of research.  I'm looking forward to finding out more about them - I'll be heading for my old biographical dictionary sources at work next week!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Reconstructed Bookshelves

Remember I wrote an article about Callander's Proposals to write a history of Scottish music? 
Craigforth, Stirling - once the Callander family ancestral halls
Washed and ironed and revised from top to toe, it has just gone off on its travels again.  I wait agog to hear how it fares.

Callander's ghost, grumpy old curmudgeon that he is, pronounces himself satisfied.  He didn't like me hunting him down in Edinburgh, but concedes that I've done a fair job of describing his approach to writing a music history!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Distant Relatives

I have to confess I'm not as enamoured of LinkedIn as I am with Twitter or Blogger.  I'm a great enthusiast of social media, but some unnerving messages spooked me a bit, a couple of years ago, and I've been more wary since then.

However, I'm becoming more convinced of LinkedIn's value, since making contact with the descendents of one of "my" Scottish antiquarians.

This is the third family I've made contact with, as it happens.  The first was via a genealogy website, and the second through archival contacts.  Strange to think that twenty years ago, we weren't even on the internet!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Alexander Boswell - Epistle to the Edinburgh Reviewers

Nowadays, we get rightfully annoyed when women's scholarship is treated differently to men's, but 210 years ago was a different story! Just look at poet Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck's advice to critics! I'm sharing two pages of his poem with you.  ('Epistle to the Edinburgh Reviewers', Edinburgh, 1803, via

Alexander Boswell was the son of James Boswell, biographer and travelling companion of Samuel Johnson.