Harps and Harpsichords as well as Fiddles and Bass!

Australian researcher Rosemary Richards spotted a reference to the Marchioness of Huntly in Karen’s recently published paper about the Bass Culture project, published in Brio last year (Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 16-22), ‘From Historical Collections to Metadata: a Case Study in Scottish Musical Inheritance’.  We had highlighted the changes in accompaniment style between different editions of Marshall’s Scottish Airs, and Rosemary picked up on this:-

“Getting back to your comparison in your article of the two editions of Marshall’s tunes, it is interesting that the plainness of the harmonisation in the 1822 edition was at the time when Beethoven was nearly on his last legs.

“Marshall was over 20 years older than Beethoven and came from a different musical background so it’s not so surprising but the realisation suggested in the later 1845 Marshall edition is also not very lush.”

Rosemary is also intrigued by a tune we quoted, as it’s dedicated to the Marchioness of Huntly – a family in whom she takes a historical interest:-

“The Marchioness of Huntly whose strathspey was included in Marshall’s collections was the stepmother of Georgiana McCrae.  William Marshall was the butler amongst other jobs for the Marchioness’s father-in-law and Georgiana’s grandfather, the 4th Duke of Gordon.”

Straight away, Rosemary started wondering what else we had uncovered dedicated to the estimable, and music-loving Marchioness.  Several pieces, as it happens.

Rosemary comments,

“The Bass Culture Project is based on fiddle and pipe books, but people like Georgiana McCrae, her stepmother the Marchioness of Huntly (Fifth Duchess of Gordon) and Sir Walter Scott’s daughter Sophia were playing these same pieces on keyboard instruments or harp – so I’m wondering how you’re dealing with that?”

One of the fascinating aspects of this project is its breadth: while we’ve been focusing on the accompaniments, and changing styles from elegant baroque to  thumping bass and back to elegant harpsichord (or increasingly, piano), there are also hundreds of stories to be told about the people who wrote, collected, used or had pieces dedicated to them.  How many dedicatees find a place in this repertoire? This is one of life’s imponderables, but there are tales of patronage, of musical interests amongst the nobility, of dances at big houses and amateur music-making at small ones …

And indeed – a totally disconnected fact but a pleasing coincidence – Karen’s great-grandfather-in-law was the bass player for gigs at Fyvie Castle during the winter months when there was little work for stonemasons …