PS 051 – The Pretty Dirk: Another Lesson in Reading Old Scores

We turn now to one of the Little Music pieces, generally neglected in competition (due to the “single-tune” structure of competitions, and the fact that this has only a two-part structure), but nevertheless a popular tune (possibly due to it’s memorable title, as well as its lovely melody).

There are lessons available elsewhere on the Internet for this tune, but the take we bring to it is (as you would expect) perhaps a bit different.

The first thing that strikes us is the very first movement in the first measure, and its implication for tempo and interpretation:

Now, the thing of it is, both Jori Chisholm (my tutor) and I are kind of leaning a different way: that the movement in the first measure of the urlar is, in fact, a taorluath movement, and could be played as such.  Barnaby wants a bit of contrast between the urlar and the first cycle.  I’m not sure which direction I will take it at the moment.

What about tempo?

The tricky part is, as Jori is wont to remind me, I probably don’t want to cut the rhythm too sharply.  “Stop snatching the dot-cuts,” as he tells me.  We both chuckle at remembering a very important article for us that we stumbled across years ago:

So, Barnaby sings it thusly:

And I try it thusly:

The thing that becomes more an more apparent to us, as we gain familiarity and confidence in understanding the wide variety of available styles of cadence, is that all too often the student loses connection with the fundamental thematic structure of the tune.

Cadences are embellishments, the most expressive musical tool we have as performers to shape the melody.

The way they are most often played today (even by professional pipers), they can be disrupters of, rather than contributors to the melodic line.

Our fundamental principle when approaching a tune is to begin by eliminating cadences altogether in order to be familiar with the raw theme itself.

With that, I want to explore expression of the double-beats in the tune. There is no particular reason why they must be played as written: we know of a few different ways in which this phrase can be rhythmically shaped.  The question is: what would musically work best to support and enhance the structure?

I believe it would be interesting to make it rhyme, regardless of if I perform the held-cadence on the hiharins, or if I choose to use stream cadences to the hiharins, or if I choose simply a high G.  Regardless, the the idea would be to re-enforce the tune structure by rhyming across the lines of the melody with respect to the double-beats (of which, of course, the hiharin is one).

If so, however, we want to do so, we run into an interesting situation:

I choose to retain the version lifted from the Hannay-MacAuslan manuscript, both for its uniqueness, but also because I’ve grown fond of it.

Okay.  Now onto the third bar of the second line.  I happen to really enjoy to possibility that MacKay is introducing a kind of expressionistic element by notating an F in the throw up to high G.  Barnaby would prefer a contrast.  Not sure where I’ll come down.

Now, further along we run into a lovely twist: the throw to high G:

So, I want it to sound something like this:

Barnaby isn’t exactly convinced as to its musical or orthographic value.

In the end, I came up with this result (without a repeat of the first line):

I dunno. Maybe it’s a good start.

What do you think?


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