On Interpretation

J David Hester, PhD

A General Principle of Pibroch Performance

Interpreting the old books and manuscripts on altpibroch.com is not easy.  It is not easy, because it is not necessarily the case that the scores with which you are familiar look the same as those you encounter from pre-1840: There maybe different movements, different variations, different rhythms to the urlar than you’ve encountered in Piobaireachd Society manuscripts.

You first inclination is to ignore all those differences and force out of the scores music as you and others know how to play them: you’ll listen to modern recordings, see how they do not really coincide with what you are reading.  You will then console yourself that you’ve been told that piobaireachd cannot really be captured by the notational system, so you can ignore the disconnect between what you are hearing and what you are reading.

Do not do so.

The transcribers of these manuscripts were profoundly musical talents.  They understood rhythm, they understood theory, they understood performance and tempo rubato.  They knew that any musician would understand the give-and-take of expression, but sought to capture the fundamentals of the music they were hearing and performing on staff for the sake of distribution and posterity.  They were serious musicians.

And when serious musicians write, for example, triplets, they meant triplets. They did not mean dot-cut 6/8.  The fundamentals were captured, and if they had heard dot-cut 6/8, they would have and did transcribe them.

So, if the first thing you are going to do is listen to a modern recording, do so while marking those areas where today’s performance differs from those of 200 years ago as indicated by the collections you have here ready to hand.

But more importantly, where possible take the next step and compare these manuscripts and scores with each other: Do they differ? If so, where?  How did those differences come to be? Which differences came to be standard?And what does that tell you about musical history and transmission?

More importantly, what does that tell you about performance opportunities?

On this site you will see a number of posts, under the Category of “Learning Interpretations,” where we will capture and document the process of teasing out possible ways of bringing these tunes to new life.

You may post similar explorations yourself, to the betterment of the community!