c. 1760 – Joseph MacDonald (J)

EUL ms La.III.804. A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe containing all the shakes, introductions, graces & cuttings which are peculiar to this instrument, reduced to order & method: fully explain’d, & noted at large in 58 tables & examples. With all the terms of art in which this instrument was originally taught by its first masters & composers in the Islands of Sky & Mull. Also a full account of the time, style, taste, & composition of true pipe music, with examples of each, in the genuine & native style of this instrument; & an account of the rules & method by which the pipe composition & time were regulated. To which is added direction & examples for the proper execution & cutting of the pipe reells composd by the same masters in the Isles & Highlands, & the first preludes they taught, with an example of a march, reel and jig with their introductions [&] cuttings drawn out at length; & a description of the original intent of pipe musick; & a short account of the nature & compass [of] the bellow’s pipe. The whole carefully collected & preservd in its antient style & form, without alteration or amendment by J. Macdonald.

This treatise contains: detailed instructional material; four tuning preludes; potentially 24 pibrochs (one in full, two in part and short excerpts of 21 others, three of which are unidentified); excerpts of two violin reels and possibly five pipe reels; one complete pipe reel; and one complete pipe jig. Editions were published in 1803 (with numerous misreadings) and 1994 (accurately transcribed with in-depth analysis and commentary by Roderick D. Cannon). A high-resolution colour facsimile was published here in 2015 with the kind permission of Edinburgh University Library thanks to funding from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

23 of the concordance identifications in the list below are from Cannon’s 1994 edition, but the danger of such a clear list is that it does not convey the intermingling fluidity of ‘same’ tunes separating and ‘different’ tunes converging. Joseph MacDonald’s precocious musical abilities may have led him to (re)compose some of his material with a confidence comparable to Angus MacKay’s, understanding ‘without alteration or amendment’ in the context of pre-Industrial musical norms in which performers had more say and scores, if they existed, were less prescriptive. Alternatively, Joseph (or his teacher) unconsciously mixed up different tunes. Both of these phenomena – conscious and accidental recomposition – are typical for repertories in oral transmission. A case in point is the excerpt on folio 21v, which fuses music that later sources separate into two tunes: The Pride of Barra (PS 8) and The Big Spree (PS 178).

I have tentatively offered one new identification: Macintyre’s Salute (PS 006). In this case, as for two of Cannon’s identifications – Lament for the Sword (PS 172) and Lament for the Laird of Arnabol (PS 197) – the words ‘identification uncertain’ signal the fact that the relationship is more relaxed than elsewhere, the melody being significantly different. Finally, I have assigned Piobaireachd Society catalogue number 129 to the ‘Exercise upon the Crahinin’ on folio 6r. This follows through the policy of recognising as a pibroch anything that consists of an Ùrlar or more.

Barnaby Brown, 2015

High-resolution colour facsimile (67.1 MB pdf)
Permanent link: https://pibroch.net/j
Online since: 2015-08-19
For commercial use of images, contact the Centre for Research Collections: is-crc@ed.ac.uk
Made available with support from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council

Alphabetical list of pibroch excerpts

References are in the form [source abbreviation]:[folio no.].[example no.]
Example nos are editorial and only given when there is more than one excerpt on a page.

[Big Spree, The: counter phrase of cycles 3 and 5]  J:21v, First & Second Running, PS 178
[Black Donald’s March: first 2 bars] Triple Time Slow  J:17v.8, PS 177
[Clan Chattan’s Gathering: Taoludh, first 2 bars]  J:19r.2, matches JK’s setting of PS 76
[Company’s Lament, The: first two and a half cycles]  J:27r, PS 272
[Donald Gruamach’s March: first 2 bars]  J:19v.1, PS 102
[Earl of Ross’s March, The: first 4 bars]  J:20v.1, PS 118
[End of Inchberry Bridge, The: first 2 bars] Triple Time Allegro  J:17v.6, PS 165
Exercise upon the Crahinin  J:6r, PS 129
[Groat, The: first 4 bars omitting the first 2 beats]  J:20r.1, PS 159
[Hindariddan hodariddo hiodariddo hiõdin dhe: two bars of a Taoludh Breabach Singling]  J:19r:1, unidentified
     however, the first 3 vocables match “Var. 2nd” of PS 317
[Lament: Himõtro embarive cheo hiharara haembarive chea chevi hao hae hihorodo hintodrea]  J:20r.3, unidentified
[Lament for Donald of Laggan: first 4 bars]  J:20r.4, PS 26
[Lament for Duncan MacRae of Kintail: first 2 bars] Triple Time Slowest  J:17v.4, PS 271
[Lament for Dunyvaig Castle: first 2 bars] Common Time Slowest  J:17v.1, PS 146
[Lament for Rory MacLeod: first 5 bars]  J:20v.2, PS 64
[Lament for the Laird of Arnaboll: 9 bars]  J:20v.3, PS 197identification uncertain
[Lament for the Sword: first 4 bars]  J:20r.2, PS 172identification uncertain
[Lament for the Viscount of Dundee: 1st Quarter of Urlar and 1st Eighth of cycles 3, 5 and 7]  J:21r, PS 114
[Macintyre’s Salute: Ludh Sleamhuinn Singling and Doubling]  J:6v-7r, PS 006identification uncertain
[MacLeans’ Gathering, The: first 2 bars]  J:17r.5, PS 226
[March for a Beginner: first 2 bars] Common Time Slowest  J:17v.2, PS 1
March for a Beginner  J:26v-27r, PS 1
Martial March [Hiharin hoohõdin hihorodo hodãre cherede chea cheho cherede cheho che]  J:19v.2, unidentified
[Pride of Barra, The: Urlar, 3rd Quarter, first 3 bars] Triple Time Slowest  J:17v.3, PS 8
[Pride of Barra, The: Urlar, 7th Eighth]  J:21v, Adagio or Ground, PS 8
[War or Peace: first 2 bars] Triple Time Allegro  J:17v.7, PS 204

4 thoughts on “c. 1760 – Joseph MacDonald (J)”

  1. Today I added two tunes to the Alphabetical list in order to draw attention to the 3 Exercises on folios 6r – 7r. This brings the total no. of items to 26, corresponding to 24 pibrochs because March for a Beginner and The Pride of Barra each appear twice.

  2. On folio 12v, Joseph’s 15th cutting is reminiscent of The Unjust Incarceration – just change his x4 in the last bar to x3. But I don’t think it is sufficiently similar to add to the list of excerpts above. More like a free composition, drawing on something familiar. It takes his departure from a rising scale in the 14th Cutting one step further towards a real piece of music.

    In response to Ronald’s comment below, Robin Lorimer’s articles had a huge impact on me – see my series in The Voice (2004-5), ‘The design of it: patterns in pibroch – the secret to composing, memorizing, and appreciating ceol mór’. Part 1 quotes Joseph’s “4 Quarters” rule: http://pibroch.net/articles/bjb/2005-i.pdf

    Roderick Cannon made a brilliant suggestion – that and 6.6.4 both exist, superimposed, like a giant hemiola. This was in a conversation we had walking down Hope Street, from the Piping Centre to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama. I reported it in the article I was writing at the time – Piping Today Issue 39, pp 39-43 (http://pibroch.net/articles/bjb/2009-2.pdf) – but there is more on this in production!

  3. This fascinating document contains a great deal of inspiration for pipers and others who study it. My favourite example of this is Joseph’s reference to the method of composition used by the old pipers, which he described as using a finger for each line, so that their compositions were always regular. The late Robin Lorimer seized upon this and used it to overturn, in his view, the entrenched notion that many pibrochs were of three lines of unequal length (eg 6 6 4), as all could also be seen as four equal lines. This revolutionary idea, published in 1963/4 in the School of Scottish Studies journal (possibly linked somewhere to this site), fell largely on deaf ears, but is interesting to anyone trying to compose in the pibroch mode.

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