Notes on the Gaelic Title
Slàn dhuibh(?) Slanfuive C2; Slan fuive C2 Index. Health to you / Cheers. This interpretation was suggested by Allan MacDonald in the above interview (Edinburgh, 2015-03-03). Slàn leibh (Health with you / Good bye) might be said to a person who was going away more permanently. The leibh form of this expression has a wider currency and was suggested by J. MacIver in ‘Remarks on the titles of ceol mor tunes from the Campbell canntaireachd collection.’ Piping Times 19, No 2: 7–11; No. 3: 6–8 (1966). Colin Campbell often uses ff as an alternative way of writing not only upper case F, but also lower case f in either initial or medial positions. As leibh would be a familiar word to Campbell and he regularly uses the letter l, the ff is perhaps better accounted for as an attempt to represent the non-English sound ‘dh’. Another equally likely possibility is that the sound ‘f’ is consistent with slàn dhuibh when pronounced in a dialect specific to Nether Lorn which has disappeared.
Notes on the Music
There is a delightful contrast in this piece between the Urlar and the Motions. In my analysis, Campbell’s setting follows the ‘Interlaced’ model – 1O1B O1OA (same as War or Peace) – with perfect regularity, except that the 4th and 7th Eighths halve in length as you progress. This helps to intensify the pace.
Personally, I would respect Campbell’s score, not amending it at all. I love the tension between an Urlar in 9/8 and Motions in 4/4 (I am computing it as 2 bars per Eighth, except for the Eighths which are half-length). This contraction from 18 beats to 8 beats per Eighth is part of the process of intensification which is developed further by halving the 4th and 7th Eighths. So, rather than label this piece as irregular, I suggest that it displays artistic competence: a less competent composer would not have made these reductions.
Here we have a case of the evidence not fitting the Victorian idea of how pibroch ought to behave. Angus MacKay would have been dissatisfied because the ‘Variations’ do not fit the Ground. I view it differently: as an intelligently and inventively through-composed piece of music, demonstrating artistic competence of a pre-notation or ‘oral transmission’ variety. I believe it displays both cultural authority, by following an established and recognisable background model (War or Peace was one of the most widely-known pibrochs), and individual autonomy, by not being constrained to the surface detail of any staff notation. This balance of authority and autonomy is at odds with our received notions about pibroch structure and reflects the wider transfer of authority during the 19th century from performer to printed page.
When viewed together with Campbell’s setting of Leaving Kintyre (PS 68) and many other pieces that display an overarching development, the fact that such settings have fallen into obscurity led me to suggest in a recent blog post that the narrow concept of Theme & Variation form, witnessed in lighter works by Handel and Mozart, has shot down the spirit of through-composed music-making which you find, alive and soaring, in scores like this.
Barnaby Brown 2015