On Da Capo Urlar Refrains

Da Capo Returns

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Occasionally throughout the H-A scores you will notice a squiggle of an obscure shape and meaning.  This puzzling sign, appearing where it does, indicates to the performer that a Da Capo urlar refrain is supposed to be played at this point in the tune.

The urlar refrain is never in a consistent place in the tune.  In most cases, it appears at the end of the tune, but in at least one case (Donald Grummach), the song ends (“Crioche”) without any indication the urlar is supposed to be played again.

Here’s a list taken from the available scores:

End of Great Bridge – after Siubhal Doubling, Taorluath Doubling, End

Young George – after Thumb Doubling, Fosgailte Taorluath Doubling, Siubhal Doubling, Taorluath Doubling[, End?]

Lock On Fingers – after Suibhal Doubling, End

Mary’s Praise – after Thumb Doubling, Dithis Doubling, unique Taorluath, Taorluath Doubling

Pursuit of Glenfrooin – after Thumb Doubling, Suibhal Doubling, Taorluath Doubling, End

Sister’s Lament – after End

Donald Grummach – after Suibhal Doubling, Fosgailte Taorluath Doubling

Sword’s Lament – after End

Too Long in This Condition – after Triplet Doubling, Siubhal Doubling, Urlar Doubling (!), End

Clearly, the urlar was expected to be heard in the longer tunes.  Donald MacDonald stated: “…as a chorus of a song is to the verses, so is the ground of a piobaireachd to its variations…”

The only reason the urlar refrain was eliminated (by the time of Angus MacKay, he shows their presence only before the crunluath variation) was to allow the original producers of the Edinburgh Competition in the 1820s to maintain a schedule while allowing as many competitors into their theatrical event as possible.

There is good reason to assume that the urlar return was played at the discretion of the musician for the purposes of providing an aural structure to the tune. As shown in the list, above, there was no set “rule” or requirement regarding where it was to be performed. But just as clearly, the list shows that it was expected to be performed.

We recommend you play the urlar where indicated. In some instances you may decide that doing so simply too much for the tune ([Too Long in This Condition] may be just such a piece for reconsideration).

But by doing so, you will experience for the first time the fullness of the music as it was intended to be played.