Musical Materials, phase 1 – FINISHED!!!

Today, the Alt Pibroch Club reached a major milestone. The most significant musical notations and published research on every pibroch notated before 1841 are now online, under one roof, comprehensively cross-indexed. The early sources have never been so accessible – in fact, there is only one more source to add before we can say that all pibroch notations from before 1841 are online: Sir John MacRa’s manuscript (c. 1824).

The MacCrimmons would probably be shocked and mortified – this tradition is no longer a closed shop. Our digital library, Musical Materials, presents 24 sources by 17 individuals. These contain 843 settings of an Ùrlar or more and 71 fragments. This makes a total of 914 ‘primary sources’ which I currently resolve to 313 pibrochs, although this number could change. It is contingent on perception. Many boundaries are blurred because the pieces all intermingle, consciously and accidentally flowing into one another.

I’d like to extend heartfelt thanks to my close collaborators in this enterprise. David Hester made it all happen and did most of the grunt work. Allan MacDonald recorded many fascinating discussions of cultural context as well as beautiful pronunciations of 367 Gaelic titles. The Gaelic scholars John MacInnes, Ronald Black and Colm Ó Baoill threw significant new light on some of the most obscure pibroch titles. And Keith Sanger has energetically and generously filled many gaps, both in the images and in my knowledge. The lion’s share of the credit, however, must go to the late Roderick Cannon – his comprehensive productions gave David Hester and I a monumental framework of content to build on. The end result brings to fruition decades of his scholarly work, and there is more to come. Much more!

For most of the PDFs, we are grateful to the movers and shakers who first made pibroch sources available online, years before the Alt Pibroch Club was born: Allan Speedy, William Donaldson, Steve Scaife, Jim McGillivray, Ross Anderson, Roderick Cannon, John Dow, Robert Wallace, Jack Taylor and Peter Cooke. We also owe Frans Buisman a great debt – his unpublished concordance tables (shared with me in 1995) were indispensable in sorting out identifications for the last three sources: O, SC and Y3. Last but not least, it has been a pleasure to deal with the libraries, archives and owners of this material, all of whom have gone out of their way to remove obstacles and make it universally accessible for non-commercial uses. Thank you!

The Musical Materials site has been around 98% complete since October 2015. The impetus to finish phase 1 was provided by two things: a donation from the Louis Sterne Trust covering reprographics costs, received a few weeks ago; and permission from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to make available images of Y3, received a few days ago.

At last, links to all notations of pibroch from before 1841 are live, with the exception of John McRa’s. This will come in due course, but other developments are higher in our priority list…

What next? This is just the beginning. Our next big project is History & Imagination – the stories, people and places associated with this music. We’d also like to work our way forwards in time, from 1841 to the present – a more difficult task because the ground is not so well tilled. While we develop plans with partners for these sibling sites (and set up multiple fundraising initiatives), every page of Musical Materials can be made better. For this, we’d appreciate your help. If you find something that doesn’t work, doesn’t make sense, or is missing, please let us know by leaving a reply on the relevant page (or via the Contact Us form).

This resource has been a collaborative enterprise from the beginning. Like the music itself, it is the work of many hands – each element passed on and refashioned with reverence, respect and the fiery flames of human spirit. May it inspire great music making!


7 thoughts on “Musical Materials, phase 1 – FINISHED!!!

  1. Congratulations on a fantastic effort!

    I look forward to going through the sources I didn’t have access to before your work was completed.

    Piobaireachd history has turned another page…

  2. CONGRATULATIONS on a job so very well done! I know it’s not over yet, but it’s nice to occasionally stand straight, look around, and see what you’ve accomplished. This one…as my granny used to say….is a biggie.

  3. Sorry to be pedantic, (but it does come naturally to me), but I question your claim ‘all known musical notations of pibroch from before 1840 are on line’. The site is still lacking the ‘Sir John MacRa manuscript which is his copy of an earlier draft of Donald MacDonald’s manuscript which has some differences from the ‘1826’ version. Also among the MacRa collection there is another Angus MacKay manuscript which should also be added for completion.

    1. You are quite right, Keith. I must reword the ‘complete’ claim. The truth is, we have completed what I judged to be the priority over a year ago and defined as ‘phase 1’. The MacRa MS is more important than MacKay’s Seaforth MS (KS), which we only have because it was already online and contains vital evidence on the title page; the music pages are effectively a photocopy of K1-3. This is not true of the MacRa MS which sheds important light on D2, being copied from an earlier draft, now lost. Its significance is summarised on pages 9-10 of your edition with Roderick. However, I would say that adding selections from the John Smith MS and the earliest notation of My dearest on earth, give me your kiss (a tune not transcribed until the 1860s but which appeared in competitors’ lists in 1832 and 1835 – see PS Book 11, p. 352) are just as as important. Another two pibrochs we don’t yet have PDFs or tune pages for are a composition by Daniel Menzies in DM (1818) and a composition by J. C. McLeod in Dj (1850). I’d put all of these into phase 2, along with thorough proof-reading and addition of more early recordings, particularly of related songs.

      The end-date for the sources we have made available needs to be permeable because SC (c. 1854) is very much a primary source and postdates much secondary material. Perhaps what we have achieved completion on is the specific ‘Primary Sources’ listed on the Sources page and all pibrochs notated before 1841. Oh, dear, not quite! Once I get Daniel Menzies’s composition up, then that will be true…

  4. Actually I can now be ‘double pedantic’ if that is possible, what happened to the Alexander Campbell ‘as taken down while with Gesto’ tunes? They also date to 1816 and are important for two reasons. 1. that Campbell contemplated submitting them to the HSL in response to their request for ‘written piobaireachd scores’, and 2. Because they are the only early notations which had both notes on the stave and canntaireachd written beneath the notes, ‘as performed on the Highland Bagpipe by the M’Cruimmens of Skye’ ?

    I was sure I had sent you a scan of the MacGregors Gathering, from the Stirling Archives and there should have been a copy of the other tune from EUL among Roddy’s papers.

    There is also a stray line from the MacGregor’s Gathering in the NRS . I have a photocopy but will look into the copyright issues.

  5. Today I updated this post, pointing out that Sir John McRa’s manuscript is not yet online. The Stirling Archives discovery that Keith kindly provided a scan of last year was online, but not with the prominence it deserved. I have raised its profile by rewriting the G source page and renaming it in the navigation drop-down list to 1815-28 canntaireachd AC & G.
    If there are any other inaccuracies, particularly omissions of people who have helped us reach this milestone, then please let us know.

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