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Scottish Lute Manuscripts

The first Scottish collections

Lady lutenistMany a lute, viol and virginal 'whispered softness in the chambers' of the Scottish gentry during the turbulent years. Many an educated hand inscribed favourite airs in French or Italian tablature in manuscript tune books. Some of these books, of great interest today, have been preserved: we have the compilations of Sir William Mure of Rowallan; John Skene of Hallhills; Robert Gordon of Straloch (lost, but copied); Rev. Robert Edwards, minister of Murroes Parish near Dundee; Alexander Forbes of Tolquhan; William Sterling of Ardoch; William Ker of Newbattles; and the Rev. James Guthrie.

Of these, the Rowallan (c. 1612-28), the Skene (1615-20) and the Straloch (1627), are the earliest. They are for the lute and contain many Scottish airs, the earliest forms indeed of some tunes current in later years, such as 'Flowers o' the Forest', 'John Anderson my Jo', 'Adieu Dundee', 'Good Night and God be with You', 'My Jo Janet' and 'Green Grow the Rashes'. The Rowallan also contains a tune entitled 'Ane Scottis Dance', and the Stirling (sometimes called the Leyden) 'New Hilland Ladie'.

Straloch Lute MS

Lutenist with audienceGMT is G. F. Graham's partial transcript, NLS MS Adv 5.2.18. This from my own listing made in 1972. According to John Ward, NLS MS 349 is another transcript. I do not know for sure if this is identical. Kidson's copy of the latter is at Leeds according to Ward's account, but according to a different account the Leeds copy (purchased in 1905) was Graham's 2nd transcript. MT is Alfred Moffat's copy of Kidson's with translations of those that weren't faulty and some attempts for tunes with faulty notation (in Library of Congress, Music Division, MS, under Gordon, Robert of Straloch). Add'l is Additional Illustrations to The Scots Musical Museum, where some tune are given. GMSS is Graham's Songs of Scotland where a few translations are given. By my count there were 52 tunes in the original MS that Graham did not transcribe.

Wm. Mure of Rowallan's lute MS.

Contents from Diem (Cripps edition).

The Skene Mandora MS

Skene MS (Bandora) is in 8 sections. The 7th is instructions for tuning. There is a single verse in the MS, with no obvious connection to any tune. It looks strangely like an opening to a poetical version of the German folktale "The Bremen town Musicians".

Additional information supplied by Bruce Olson:

Not in published contents listing:

Iockey plaise on Ienneis fidle; SKMS II #6/

Tunes in published contents list, but not given by Dauney

Peggie is over see wie ye souldior [title added in latter hand]; SKMS VI #10/ D #2: [for broadside of c 1635, collected by Lomax in U.S.]

The Balcarres Lute MS

Female lutenistThe Balcarres lute manuscript is probably the single most important source of Scottish lute music; certainly it is the most extensive, containing well over 200 pages of music. It is also the most recent, being almost a century younger than the Rowallan, Straloch and Wemyss manuscripts. Balcarres is a priceless snapshot of popular Scottish music at the turn of the 18th century. Sources for the pieces in Balcarres are varied; many appear to have been transcribed for lute from Playford's original publications for violin, including The Division Violin (1685), Apollo's Banquet (1670), and the Original Scotch-Tunes (1700 and 1701). Several pieces from the latter publication seem to have been transcibed almost note-for-note, with the bass line added to make the pieces more interesting on the lute. Many other less traceable tunes in Balcarres probably come from the popular tune repertoire of the social milieu in which the manuscript was compiled. Among the Scottish melodies in Balcarres, both instrumental dance tunes and song airs are represented; a number of the latter appeared with the associated lyrics in Orpheus Caledonius (1733)—one of the first collections of Scottish songs to be published in London.

...Another feature of Balcarres is the elaborated and often extended nature of the settings, as compared with the earlier Scottish lute manuscripts mentioned above (which do contain a few concordances with pieces in Balcarres). This is clearly due to the violinistic origin of many of the settings, and increases both the interest and difficulty of the music.

The music in Balcarres was set for 11-course Baroque lute in the standard D minor tuning, with the exception of several small groups of pieces in transitional tunings. However, the pieces in the edition, taken from Balcarres, are transcribed for 10-course lute in Renaissance (vieil ton) tuning. The pieces herein do not suffer from this handling; indeed, given the tonalities involved, many of the pieces actually lie more naturally on the instrument in this tuning than in the original Baroque tuning.

What Darsie has done in his edition is to transcribe only those pieces which lie well in the old tuning; these are 61 in number. (He also omits a few French Baroque pieces from the original.) The following is the table of contents for the Darsie edition. Though it can not be proved, it is highly likely that many of these pieces were originally played in the old lute tuning, given that they fall more naturally on the instrument.

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