Karen had two speaking engagements last weekend – one, a brief talk about our Bass Culture research project, and the other about the Wighton and Jimmy Shand music collections at Dundee Central Library. (We looked at the Shand acquisition on one of our visits to Dundee last year.)
At the University of Glasgow, the audience was a group of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students. They will be experimenting with performing some of Robert Burns’s songs in the Scots Musical Museum and George Thomson’s more upmarket collections, as part of a big project in the Scottish Literature department at the University. Karen’s talk about the Bass Culture project sat alongside talks about singing tutors and contemporary costume design, to provide context for the Burns project.
And a day later, the talk to the Friends of Wighton went well. Karen launched herself as a harpsichordist (believe that if you will!) to play a few examples from Shand’s early Scottish tune books. A talk with illustrations is always nicer. The Wighton harpsichord was lovely to play; and the Friends of Wighton were certainly interested and appreciative.
This morning I was in Special Collections at Glasgow’s university library with Dr Vivien Williams, who’s working with Prof. Murray Pittock on what is becoming a monumental edition of the Scots Musical Museum, the six-volume songbook which occupied Robert Burns for much of the last decade of his life.
It’s always surprised me that such an important publication has never been critically edited or explored thoroughly before, as the sources for its music as well as its texts seem to be many and various. But it was quite a surprise to me this morning to have Vivien show me her huge list of the alterations that were made in the basslines for the 1803 version of the first few books, and to see the two collections side by side.
Some of the self-consciously ‘clever’ quirks of the later, familiar version are late additions, but there is no clear consistency of style in the changes made, some of which seem quite arbitrary. Nonetheless, trying to see into the mind of someone making corrections or improvements to a musical text is a lot of fun. The changes here are nothing like the wholesale rewriting of Gow and Marshall’s books that took place; they’re perhaps more like Urbani’s more subtly ‘corrected’ versions of Abraham Johnson, Joshua Campbell and Abraham Mackintosh.
If I had nothing else to do I would set off on some detective work, analysing the changes and looking for stylistic traits that might identify the corrector(s) or improver(s), but we already have plenty to do here as it is! In the meantime I’ll settle for delighting that the really crass-sounding D sharps in the bassline for The Birks of Aberfeldy aren’t in the original version. I won’t be playing those again then.