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 …

8 thoughts on “Harps and Harpsichords as well as Fiddles and Bass!

  1. Pingback: Harps and Harpsichords as well as Fiddle and Bass (reblogged) | Karen McAulay Teaching Artist

  2. For a long time now, I’ve wondered about the insights that might be achieved by mapping the networks of subscribers to historical Scottish music collections. An interesting perspective, I’m sure. The mechanisms of patronage remained essential to many fiddler-composers into the nineteenth century, and the connections between patrons (however noble) could potentially afford a valuable context for interpreting the collections.
    Turning to the issue of instrument specificity, the title pages of these collections oftentimes list an almost never-ending list of instruments for which the music within is suitable – primarily a marketing tactic to make the publication to appeal to a wide audience – but attention has, as of yet, focused almost exclusively on the fiddle, partly due to its central presence in the performance of the same music today, and perhaps because of its associations with both professional and amateur musicians. Saying that, it may be that that the only reason most famous musicians from this time were fiddle players is because that is where research has focused… but I shouldn’t really comment!

    • Karen responds:- “I’ve always been fascinated by corpora of repertoires associated with individuals, groups, or indeed libraries. I love to speculate how a particular tune got into someone’s manuscript book, a particular publication got into a bound collector’s volume (“Sammelband”, in bibliographer-speak), or into someone like Andrew Wighton’s large-scale collection, which ended up in Dundee Central Library. There are intriguing micro-stories too, like this one about how many tunes were actually dedicated to a wealthy patroness, and whether she asked for them to be written, maybe sat down and played them herself, and so on. Many years ago, my Masters’ research was also about repertoires – particular plainsong chants sung on special occasions by monastic communities across the UK.

      “And of course, modern database capabilities enable us to draw material together even more effectively so that we can see an overview of a repertoire in a way never available to earlier scholars or collectors.”

      • There’s a curious ms collection in the archives at Blair Castle. From memory, it was in the hand of Dorothea Ruggles-Brise, but maybe not… Anyway, it featured copies of many of the tunes dedicated to the Athole family. The most curious collection, given that family’s connection to the history of Scottish music!

        • Interesting – I haven’t been there for years, and I don’t rememember being shown that collection. Would you have a shelf-number or reference to it, please?

  3. I can’t resist drawing attention to one of my favourite written descriptions of Scottish traditional music as actually heard and by someone who knew what they were talking about. It’s by the ever observant Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus and describes her first meeting, in 1814, with the new, young Marchioness. To me, it captures an important transitional period in Scottish music as the younger generation make the most of the potential of the modern and improving pianoforte. Publishers were to respond to this change in taste accordingly. From then on in things in Scottish dance music would change including, as instruments became less expensive, through a great popularisation of keyboard playing (although I will leave the issues of bass accompaniment to you experts). By coincidence, I have just been working through some papers relating to the National Mod in the 1920s and 30s where there were competitions for playing traditional music on piano.

    I had a short discussion on this with Rosemary at Edinburgh University last year and we agreed to differ on a number of points, although I can’t remember exactly what!

    “The Marquis and Marchioness of Huntly arrived at Kinrara. We gave them a few days to settle before calling, but might have spared our delicacy, for the following morning a great racket was heard at the ferry close to the house, and presently the peculiar laugh of the Marquis; soon he appeared at the window in his old shabby shooting-dress and one of his queer hats, without gloves, calling to my father and mother to come out, he had brought his wife to visit them; and there she was, like another Cinderella, in a beautiful baby phaeton drawn by four goats. The pretty animals were harnessed with red ribbons, and at every horned head there ran a little foot-page, these fairy steeds being rather unruly.

    The whole equipage had been brought over in our small passenger boat. No sylph stepped out of this frail machine, but a stout bouncing girl, not tastefully attired, and with a pale broad face, fair which he never liked and stiff which he could not endure. He grew very fond of her, and so did I; the rest of the family never took to her, and my father and mother remembering her predecessor, the beautiful brilliant Duchess, could not avoid making disadvantageous comparisons.

    Kinrara too was different, a more elevated and very stupid society, dull propriety, regularity, ceremony. There was a feast of food, but not of reason; a flow of wine, but not of soul. I cannot wonder that they sighed over the change and thought with regret over the bright spirits departed.

    They came and dined with us; we were alone. She was very timid. She never had the gift of conversation ; she could talk well on a subject that interested her, and with a person she liked, otherwise she was silent. Bonaparte would not have chosen her for the wife of one of his marshals; she did not shine in her reception rooms. We did not get on well at this dinner, we ladies by ourselves in the drawing-room. I was of no use, having only just been brought out of the schoolroom; besides, it was not then the custom for young persons to speak unless spoken to. At last Lady Huntly proposed music, and on the pianoforte being opened she sat down to it to let us hear some Swiss airs she had picked up in her travels. The first chord was sufficient, the touch was masterly. In every style she played well, but her Scotch music, tender or lively, was perfection. Sir Walter Scott immortalised this delightful talent of hers in his Halidon Hill, and she merited his highest praise. I have never heard her surpassed or even equaled, as I do not reckon that wonderful finger-work now in fashion as worth listening to. Her lord, who was very little sensible of the power of harmony, was always pleased with her music, listening to it with evident pleasure and pride, particularly when she gave him the reels and strathspeys he danced so well, when he would jump up gaily and crack his fingers, and ask did any one ever hear better playing than that.”
    Elizabeth Grant Memoirs of a Highland Lady (London, 1911) pp. 267-8

    • Fascinating, Stuart! I read Elizabeth Grant’s diaries long before we commenced this project, and I see I shall have to revisit them urgently. It’s great to read anecdotes that place these tunes in their original context.

  4. Thanks for this discussion. The survival of Georgiana McCrae’s music collections in Australia is an example of musical and personal connections spreading far afield past the Scottish borders.

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