301 – A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs by Patrick MacDonald

An update by Geoff Hore 2008-2015.  The writing in black font is from A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music. The update comments are in blue font.


Cannon identified 7 different editions of this book. Four editions published since 1974 are now included.

1      1784 (Edition I in the original Bibliography)


The above scanned image is from edition 7. 

title; dedication; pp [1], 2-7, preface, pp [8], 9-15, essay, ‘Of the influence of poetry and music upon the Highlanders’; pp 16-22, list of subscribers; p [23], ‘advertisement’; p [24] blank; pp 1-32, airs 1-186; pp 33-37, ‘North Highland Reels or Country Dances’ 1-32; pp 38-43, pibrochs (4).

National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.  (Glen collection). 12.4 x 9.0”. When this copy came to the National Library, on 28 January 1927, the pages were still uncut.

Dedication: To the / noblemen and gentlemen, / who compose the / Highland Society in London, / the following / collection of Highland airs / is most respectfully inscribed / by their much obliged & / most humble servant / Patrick Mc Donald.

The ‘advertisement’ begins, ‘The following collection of ancient Highland music has considerable difficulties to struggle with . . .’ and goes on to warn the reader that not all the tunes are of equal merit, or at any rate not when played from the printed page instead of being sung by a native musician. Certain tunes are recommended for the reader to begin with, and there is musical analysis of some others. Judging by the number of later editions that were called for, the fears expressed would seem to have been groundless, and it seems reasonable to infer that this is the first edition.

Information given by Humphries and Smith fixes the date of this edition within the period 1783-1787. Domenico Corri and James Sutherland were music publishers in Edinburgh from 1780 to 1790, and their address was 37 North Bridge Street from c. 1783. Neil Stewart was in Parliament Square from c. 1773 to 1792, but from 1787 his business was carried on under the names of Neil Stewart & Co., or N. & M. Stewart.

The publication date most generally accepted is 1784, and this seems to be conclusively proved by a contemporary advertisement, dated 5th May 1784, ‘Tomorrow will be published, a Collection of Highland Vocal Airs never hitherto published; to which are added, a few of the most lively country dances or reels of the North Highlands and Western Isles, and a few bagpipe pieces, by Patrick Macdonald, Minister of Kilmore.’ The advertisement is quoted by Dalyell, Musical Memoirs of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1849, p 94. The original source is not mentioned but Dalyell was a most careful antiquary and there is no reason to doubt his accuracy. Alexander Campbell, one of the earliest bibliographers of Scottish music, had put forward the same date many years previously: ‘In 1784 was published, ‘A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs . . .’ by Patrick MacDonald, Minister of Kilmore, Argyleshire. The reverend editor of this collection still lives; and although greatly advanced in years, yet enjoys good health, retired from official duty. (Albyn’s Anthology, Edinburgh, Vol 1 (1816), p vii).

The alternative date 1781 has been advanced, perhaps following Stenhouse (Introduction to the Scots Musical Museum, Edinburgh, 1839, p lxvii). An unsigned note in the Piping Times for January 1972 (p 22) amplifies this, stating that the first edition was brought out to subscribers in 1781, with a ‘preface in which the airs are classed and characterised’ (i.e. the advertisement referred to above) and a dissertation or essay, ‘Of the influence of poetry and music on the Highlanders’; and that ‘subsequently an ordinary issue was published in 1784, but without the list of subscribers and the introductory essay’. But the authority for these statements is not known, and for the present it seems that the date 1784 is better supported.

In the Caledonian Mercury 3 May 1784 is an advertisement stating this book ‘Tomorrow will be published’ and adds the ‘Subscribers are requested to call for their copies, at the Music shops of Corri and Sutherland, Bridge Street, and N Stewart, Parliament Square, and at the Shops of Dunlop and Wilson, and A Foulis, Glasgow’. Two days later, 5 May 1784, in the Edinburgh Courant another advertisement appeared stating the book had just been published. Keith Sanger of Edinburgh has provided the following advertisement from the London Advertiser, 11 November 1784:


Longman and Broderip, makers and sellers musical instruments and sheet music, traded at Cheapside from 1773 and by Michaelmas (29 September) 1782 opened a branch in 13 Haymarket. This advertisement confirms them as the publishers (despite the fact that they did not disclose this in the first three editions) and certainly proves the 1781 date is incorrect.

A detailed history of Longman and Broderip as well as its predecessors and successors can be seen in the website http://www.squarepianos.com/longman.html.

2      1784-87 (Edition II in the original Bibliography)


Contents as 1, omitting pp [23-24].

  • Reid Library, Edinburgh University.  Heavily repaired. The title-page is missing and the dedication leaf is mis-bound facing p [1]. 14.2 x 10.0″. Signed ‘James Clark’s Book Musician’. (James Clark is listed among the subscribers).
  • British Library, London.  Bound up with several other books. 13.0 x 9.4″.
  • University Library, Aberdeen.
  • The Rowe Music Library, King’s College, Cambridge.  (lacking pp 21-2, and with a blank leaf between pp 42 and 43);
  • National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
  • National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.  (Inglis collection);
  • Central Public Library, Edinburgh.  (two copies);
  • Mitchell Library, Glasgow.  (missing);
  • University Library, Glasgow.
  • Sandeman Public Library, Perth.  (two copies, one lacking the title-leaf).
  • Geoff Hore’s Collection.

3      1784-87 (Edition III in the original Bibliography)

Title and imprint as I above. The dedication reads:

To / John Mc Gregor of Mc Gregor / Now called and known by the name of / John Murray, / Colonel in the Service and / Comissary General / to the Army in Bengal; / The 2d Edition of the following / Collection of Highland Airs / is respectfully inscribed / By his much Obliged and / Most devoted humble Servant / Patrick Mc Donald.

title; dedication; pp 1-32, airs 1-186; pp 33-37, Reels etc; pp 38-43, pibrochs (4).

  • Public Library, New York.  Rebound at some time, with pp 25-26 now misplaced between pp 22 and 23. 13.3 x 9.5”. Pages cropped. A MS inscription near the top of the title-page has been partly lost. It now reads, ‘To Miss Greenfield with com[ts]. from D. McD. . . Oban’.  No watermark. Dated c. 1788 in the catalogue. It is possible that this copy is the same as the one which formerly belonged to Mr. Alfred Moffatt as noted below, but there is nothing in the library records to indicate the provenance. It was catalogued in 1953, which is taken to suggest that it was acquired in the early 1950’s or late 1940’s.
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford.  Bound up with a copy of J. MacDonald’s Theory (no. 302 below). An imperfect copy containing only title and pp 1-42. There is evidence that only one leaf has been torn out between the title leaf and page 1, but Mr. R. Bruce (who undertook the examination of this copy) points out that other pages might have been removed more skilfully before the book was rebound in its present state. There are no watermarks, and the imprint is the same as in I above. There are three oblique stitch holes which go through the whole work, suggesting a single stitched gathering in its original state.  At the front of the book is written, ‘The property of Kenneth MacLeay R.S.A. Edinburgh’, and at the back in a different hand, ‘Mr. MacLeay was grandson of Mr. MacDonald, the compiler of this collection, and died in 1879. This Vol. was got at the sale of his books by the late D. C. MacPherson, and from him by me Alex. Nicolson.’
  • Untraced copy: A copy of the second edition was formerly in the possession of Mr. Alfred Moffatt, and was sold after his death by the firm of Otto Haas, in 1946. The sale catalogue has the following descriptive note. ‘Mc Donald (Patrick). A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs. . . . Edinburgh, N. Stewart, Part. Square, c. 1788. Folio. H[al]f calf. Title, ded., pp 43, music. The dedication refers to this work as “The 2d edition”. It probably followed the first issue shortly after 1784. We know this because in 1788 N. Stewart removed from the Parliament Square address given in the imprint. This 2nd edition was unknown to Mr. John Glen, David Laing and other writers on Scottish folk music.’ (Haas catalogue, No. 20, 1946. Item no. 421). According to Haas’ records, the book was bought by Schott & Co., Music Publishers, 48 Great Marlborough Street, London, W.1; but Schott and Co. have no record of it and I have not been able to trace it further.

The date c. 1788 suggested in the New York catalogue is not quite consistent with the information quoted above under edition I, according to which the latest possible publication year is 1787.


4      No date (Edition IV in the original Bibliography)

Dedication as 1.

dedication; pp 1-32, 33-37, 38-42, music as 1. (title and p 43 missing.)

  • Reid Library, Edinburgh University.  14 x 10″ approx. Hand-made paper, uncut.

This copy is very badly worn, and lacks the title and page 43. The dedication page and p 41 have had to be repaired at the spine, but the remainder of the book forms a single gathering, stitched through the centre pages. The stitching has been renewed, but the original holes can be seen, and they run through the dedication page as well.

The paper is thinner than that of I, and watermarked in five places: dedication and pp 14, 20, 32, 34. The watermark is the numeral 80, with no ornamental design or date.

It follows from the above description that there are no pages missing between the dedication and page 1, otherwise there must have been corresponding pages between pages 40 and 41. Hence this edition is different from any of those already described. In the absence of a title-page, one can only guess at the date. The British Union-Catalogue has c. 1790.

5      c1803 (Edition V in the original Bibliography)

Title as 1.

Edinr printed & sold by Muir Wood & Co musical instrument / makers to His Majesty No 7 Leith Street. /

Above the imprint, right: Pr. 7/6

title; dedication; pp 1-32, 33-37, 38-43, music as 1.

  • National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh.  (catalogue no. Mus. E. 1.88.16). The front cover has an owner’s name: ‘Alpin McGregor’s Book’.

Several pages bear a watermarked date, 1802. According to Humphries and Smith, Muir Wood & Co. were at the 7 Leith Street address from c. 1803-1810, hence a probable date for this issue is c. 1803.

6      c1822-30 (Edition VI in the original Bibliography)

Title as 1.

Edinr printed & sold by Wood Small & Co. musical instrument makers to His Majesty No. 12. Waterloo Place.

Above the imprint: Pr. 7/6

Contents as 1 omitting pp [23-24].

  • City Library, Dundee.

 Wood, Small and Co. were at 12 Waterloo Place c. 1822-30. The Dundee copy contains a watermarked date, 1821.

 7     1973 (Edition VII in the original Bibliography)


p [i], title; p [ii], reproduction of Library of Congress catalogue card; p [iii], title and imprint as 1; p [v], dedication as 1; pp [1], 2-22, 1-43, as 1.

  • Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.  13.7 x 9.6”. Bound in cloth, boards.
  • Geoff Hore’s Collection.

For biographical notes on the Rev. Patrick MacDonald, see especially J. Glen, The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music, Edinburgh, 1891; an article by K. N. MacDonald in the Celtic Monthly, vol 6, pp 135-6; and the Dictionary of National Biography.

Publication Data on the reverse of the title-page states that this is a reprint of Edition I, however, pages 23 and 24 have been omitted. ISBN 0-88305-410-8.

8     1976 

ISBN 10: 0841459908; ISBN 13: 9780841459908; Publisher: Folcroft Library Editions; Publication Date: 1976. 

The above information came from the Internet and the only details are as shown.


9    1977

A collection of Highland vocal airs: [to which are added a few of the most lively country dances or reels of the North Highlands & Western Isles and some specimens of bagpipe music]

Author: Patrick MacDonald; 

Publication Date: 1976; Norwood, Pa. : Norwood Editions, 1977.  This information is from the website http://www.worldcat.org.

10   1988 

ISBN-10: 0883054108; ISBN-13: 978-0883054109; Publisher: Norwood Editions (August 1988).

The comments for edition 8 also apply here.

11     2000 


p (1), title; p (2), imprint; p (3), index; pp 4-8, Preface; pp 9-14, essay ‘Of the influence of poetry and music upon the Highlanders’; pp 15-29, North Highland Airs; pp 30-35, Perthshire Airs; pp 36-45, Argyllshire Airs; pp 46-54, Western Isles Airs; pp 55-60 North Highland Reels or Country Dances; pp 60-61, Western Isles Dances; pp 62-68, Pibrochs; p 69, explanatory notes; pp 70-75, Notes on the Tunes; p 76, References.

  •  Geoff Hore’s Collection.

This edition was published in 2000 by Taigh Na Teud, 13 Breacais Ard, Isle of Skye, IV42 8PY, Scotland. ISBN 1 871931 77 0. The book, including the music, has been re-set using modern technology and faithfully represents the original.

There was no index in any of the early editions but one has been compiled in this book. The dedication and List of Subscribers have not been reproduced.

It is not stated from which edition this was copied but two comments on page (1) ‘First published Edinburgh 1784’, and ‘A List of subscribers to the original edition is available from the publishers at nominal cost’ imply that it may have been the first edition. The List of Subscribers only appeared in Edition 1.

Allan MacDonald and Roderick Cannon have been credited with helping with the notes on some of the tunes.


  • Rev 00 (9 September 2008)
  • Rev 01 (19 February 2009).  This revision corrects a few minor typographical errors.
  • Rev 02 (9 June 2009).  A scanned image of edition 1 and edition 7 are added.
  • Rev 03 (20 January 2015).  Details of advertisements for edition 1 are added, details of edition 9 added, edition numbering changed from Roman to Arabic, ISB numbers added and other minor corrections.

© Geoff Hore 2015