Pioneers of bagpipe notation

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The Glen shop pictured in 1977. Through the initiative of Professor Hugh Cheape, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland purchased the bagpipe collections from the family in 1983.

The literature of the Highland bagpipe
Pioneers of bagpipe notation – Angus MacKay (Raasay)

By Captain John A. MacLellan

Much of the early bagpipe music was published by the Glen family who came to Edinburgh from the Kingdom of Fife, just across the Firth of Forth. By the mid-1830s the brothers, Alexander and Thomas MacBean Glen had established themselves as musical instrument makers. Thomas’ business settled in and around the Edinburgh Castle area, where today in the Lawnmarket, the firm of J. & R. Glen is still is business [Note: at the time of writing, this was indeed the case but is sadly no more – Editor]. Alexander, who had originally begun business in much the same area as Thomas, eventually established his bagpipe-making business in the area now known as the Top of Leith Walk, in Greenside Place. This firm closed in 1949 and became incorporated in J. & R. Glen of the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.

The Glen shop pictured in 1977. Through the initiative of Professor Hugh Cheape, the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland purchased the bagpipe collections from the family in 1983.

The Glens’ contribution to bagpipe music is quite tremendous, As would be noticed in the last instalment of this series, Alexander Glen began by publishing books of ceòl beag for Angus and William MacKay, while Thomas appears to have begun his publishing career by republishing Donald MacDonald’s little book of ceòl beag. Thus, the Glens and their successors established a music publishing department which was to be of great service to pipers and which was carried on from roughly 1835 until present times, as Glen’s Tutor is still published by Mozart Allan in Glasgow.

Probably, the first book of bagpipe music to be compiled by a Glen was Thomas MacBean Glen’s Tutor about 1840-3. Roderick Cannon, in his Bibliography of Bagpipe Music says of this publication:

“I have not been able to trace a complete copy of the first edition of Thomas Glen’s tutor, but I have seen a fragment of it — ” He goes on to describe the dimensions of the book 3.7” x 9.9″ and makes the observations that some of the tunes were lifted from Donald MacDonald’s ceòl beag collection.

There was a second edition of this book; a copy of which is in the writer’s library which is entitled —

New and COMPLETE TUTOR for the Great Highland Bagpipe Second edition in Two Vols, Inlarged (Sic)

Volume 1 of this edition contains six Pages of instruction on reading music. A chart showing ‘Scale for the Scotch pipe’ and some examples of gracenotes, and like former bagpipe books published, a beginner would be hard put to it to learn the fingering from such instructions.

The notation for the tunes is very plain indeed and is illustrated by this example.

Volume II has an index in Gaelic and English, or so the index is titled, but in fact only eight tunes out of a total of 79 are titled in Gaelic. The style of writing is similar to that of Book I and no attempt has been made to give the music more embellishment. In both cases the gracenotes are written as semi quavers with the exception of two or three tunes in the latter part of the book where the grace-noting is more modern. There really is a surprising mixture because on one of these pages the Cameronian Rant (two parts) has but two gracenotes.

In 1854 Alexander Glen published The Piper’s Assistant edited by John McLachlan, late piper to Neill Malcolm Esq of Potalloch consisting of 120 tunes.

The standard of the music in this book is quite definitely more up-market than those earlier publications of his brother Thomas and more in keeping with that of Angus MacKay, which shows an approach of more experience in playing bagpipe music.

One can see a trend which reflects music with more expression, rather than the “ditty airs’ of the folk. Bonnie Ann by Daniel Ross is the only example of competition music shown and with the exception of more doublings, it is remarkable how this tune has remained virtually unchanged. There is of course a lack of pointing with the four note time groups being left undotted and uncut. However, there can be no doubt that when this collection became available to pipers they were presented with a music book, quite definitely in advance of previous publications.

David and Alexander Glen inspecting a delivery of African blackwood. (Thanks to Jeannie Campbell for this photo).

The first publication compiled by Alexander Glen himself was in 1860, when he published his Caledonian Repository, which went into three editions, the last of which had a most interesting supplement.

There are three pages of instruction, once again decidedly scanty and which appear to be lifted, in this case from Angus MacKay’s Pipers Assistant which was of course published by Alexander Glen.

There is a much more modern look to this book, although the size is still half that of present day publications, While much of the music is based on the songs and airs, a number of competition type tunes are presented. There can be no doubt that this collection has a more professional attitude to music than brother Thomas’ efforts.

The competition march makes its first appearance in this collection with the publishing of:

  • Balmoral Royal Highlanders
  • Charles Edward Hope Vere
  • The Craigs (sic) of Stirling
  • The Duke of Roxburgh’s Farewell to the Black Mount Forest
  • The Glengarry Gathering
  • The Edinburgh Volunteers
  • Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling
  • The Stirlingshire Militia
  • The Marchioness of Tullibardine
  • Boturich Castle

Tunes 1, 4, 5 are the work of Angus MacKay, tunes 2, 3, 7 8, 10 by Hugh Mackay (although Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling is not the tune which is known by that name these days). Duncan Campbell composed No. 6 and Charles Duff No. 9. All these tunes are still favourite music with the competiton March experts with the exception of Boturich Castle, of which the third part only is heard nowadays in Donald Cameron. An example of page 38 is shown below:

The third edition from which the above information has been gleaned was published in 1882 by David Glen, Alexander Glen’s son.

About 1870 the brothers John and Robert, Thomas Glen’s sons, published the first of a series of three books presented in similar size to today’s books of pipe music.

Each book is marked Part 1: Part 2nd and Part 3rd respectively.

The first part has some interesting textual matter before one comes to the index and the music. There are interesting illustrations of a Lowland, Highland, and Irish piper each playing their instrument. Following, is a Historical Sketch to the Scotch Bagpipe which describes the history of bagpipes in general from practically biblical times until about 1800 or so.

Next is a Complete Tutor for the Great Highland Bagpipe which is based on their father’s earlier tutor, but which is much expanded and more comprehensive.

The whole approach and presentation is a marked improvement on Thomas Glen’s work and there is little doubt that the progress in the playing of the instrument is reflected in the notation of the tunes, that, however are still ‘folky’.

There is no indication when Part 2 or 3 were published and the format is similar to Part 1 except there is no text matter prior to the indices or music. The steadily advancement of pipe playing is reflected throughout the material presented,

In Part 3 a number of tunes are marked (copyright) for no apparent reason, One such example is The Strathnaver March, a four parted tune which has the footnote “March of Sir Donald McKay’s Strathnaver Men in the 30 years War under Christian of Denmark 1620”.

It is difficult to understand why such old tunes are copyright, to whom? There are of course a number of Mauchline’s compositions included in Part 3 that would in fact be copyright. And so we pass to David Glen who has published more bagpipe music than any other piper in the history of bagpipe literature.

* From the June 1980 International Piper.