Original Piobaireach Society Series – Volume 1

The first volume begins with a declaration of intent by the newly founded Piobaireachd Society: “To revive the study and play of ‘Ceòl-Mór’ and to record its History.” While clearly nationalistic in origin (“To repeat the deeds that made their forefathers pre-eminent among the soldiers of their time, it is only necessary that they should be animated by the same influences. The most powerful of those influence were embodied in their language and their music.”), it was an effort to revive what they saw as a diminishing art. To address this situation, they offered a proposal whose adoption continues to this day, over 100 years later.

The Preface lays out a plan of coordination among Highland Societies to use the publication of the PS scores to create a set list of tunes for competitors to perform. As the PS saw it, the conditions in which piobiareachd had flourished were gone. Competitions were key, but at that time the competitors picked their own tunes and routinely chose short, simple tunes “characterized by qualities of melody alone believed to suit the less educated capacity of judges and audience.”

Instead, the editors of the series proposed to produce an annual selection of certain tunes, tunes with “greater” musical and traditional merit. The advantages would be evident:

  • “The same tunes being played by all, comparison will be easier, and the rivalry…will be stimulated.”
  •  Young pipers, hearing the masters play the same tunes, “will thereby get instruction obtainable in no other way”
  • Unknown masterpieces “will become familiar, and taste and knowledge will be thereby diffused”
  • “[T]he correct judging of Piobairechd playing will be rendered possible”

Their foresight was remarkable. The later guardians of the Society continued this effort. Piobaireachd playing has survived, and today it even thrives. (Though we will set aside some of the unintended consequences that APC member know so well.)

Interestingly, however, the later guardians of the Society did not like what had been produced. Taking a look at differences between these first published settings and the later editions by PS, it may be instructive as to why.

The first volume published 6 pibrochs:

The Princes Salute – A possibly unique setting. Using MacKay’s appoggiatura cadences, but roughly following Donald MacDonald, by the second measure we see why this series was to be controversial: the scansion of common time is broken. And the same is true in the fourth measure. This was resolved by later editors by interpreting the first note of each measure as a toarluath and giving the following B a fermata while writing it as a cut note.

Siubhal follows MacDonald (and MacKay, to some degree); later PS revisions alter the setting by playing it and the doubling “up”.

Of course, all taorluaths and crunluaths in the first series are in the traditional full style, later to be published in the modern truncated style. This is true throughout the series.

And the later PS add an a mach.

John Garve MacLeod of Rasay’s Lament – Follows Angus MacKay’s book exactly, including the now-neglected dare to high G (which is not an embari nor a dari) in the final line of the urlar. Later PS Version is loosely based on MacKay, with the typical emendations made to crahinins and editorial changes of expression (and corrupt the dare).

It then turns to MacDonald for the Siubhal and its doubling (non-existent in MacKay), before moving to the Taorluath and Crunluath cycles. Later PS version forgoes the Siubhal and its doubling altogether.

Patrick Og MacCrimmon’s Lament – Is a nearly exact reprint of Angus MacKay’s book throughout (except where Angus’ typesetting goes wrong, e.g., Fs instead of high Gs in the first line of the Siubhal Doubling).

Later PS editors change typically alter low-G daris to embaris, modernize crahinins and alter hiharins, and once again corrupt the dare to high G in the Urlar. They introduce emended MacDonald versions of these movement before the Siubhal, and add a Crunluath a mach.

Isabel Mackay – Again, a verbatim reprint of Angus MacKay’s book. Astonishing, really: down to line breaks and parts split across pages. PS version is simply a typical emendation of hiharins and modernization of other crahinins acc. to the current “orthodox” style.

The Grant’s Gathering – Yet again, directly from Angus Mackay (not quite a direct reprint, but for all intents and purposes…). PS follows MacKay, but modernizes the crahinins and cadences.

Suarachan (The March of Clan MacRae) – Finally, another nearly verbatim reprint of Angus MacKay. Later PS edition modernizes the typesetting, but introduces thematic notes for expression in the Siubhal cadence from high-A and alters the breabach rhythm.

A quick comparative glance at what was produced in this first volume, and was produced later by the Piobaireachd Society, shows some interesting hallmarks of what was to follow:

  • A scholarly curated study of all primary source materials, later emended and typeset according to a dominant style;
  • A general favoriting of contemporary playing style, then defaulting to Angus MacKay, unless those other settings introduce new motions and cycles;
  • A standardization of movements and motifs according to a particular style, and, following Angus MacKay’s lead, simplifying elements available to the performer;
  • The introduction of additional Crunluath a mach where it was not recorded, possibly for purposes of stress-testing the competitors.

With the exception The Prince’s Salute, there is, actually, very little insight introduced by the publication of Volume 1 of the First Series. Most of the settings are pure Angus MacKay.  That said, Angus MacKay’s book was out of print and not easily attainable, so the production of these scores may have been an important cultural moment in the piping world.

But the idea of providing a Set Tunes list – that was revolutionary, as well as reactionary, and set the stage for modern pibroch performance and interpretation.

Feel free to analyze these scores for yourself.  I look forward to any additional insights, or corrections, in your Comments.


2 Replies to “Original Piobaireach Society Series – Volume 1”

  1. Huh…maybe should have just stayed with the Glen book. I always wondered what the relationship was between Glen and this group of high-minded preservers of the tradition. I read some clippings of Glen’s seemingly exasperated advertisements for his collection priced by the page, and not sure if Donaldson’s book looked into why the Glen collection was left behind. Many of the arrangements seem much more insightful than what was produced by the PS. More, well…fun.

  2. I agree. Glen takes a different approach, more idiosyncratically aesthetic, “pleasing”. Kinda like a master musician, picking his way through the manuscripts, maybe combining them here, supplementing them there. Very organic and “oral”, in a way.

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