The works of Angus MacKay (Raasay) – Part 2


The literature of the Highland bagpipe

The works of Angus MacKay (Raasay) – Part 2
By Captain John A. MacLellan

Until 1838 the only book of Piobaireachd available to pipers was Donald Macdonald’s collection of Piobaireachd which contained 23 tunes.

In 1836 Angus MacKay released the prospectus for his book, which was as follows:

Prospectus of A. MacKay’s Music 1836: Highland Music

On or about the 1st of February 1836 will be published by subscription a Collection of the Ancient Piobaireachds or Pipe Tunes as played by the MacCrimmons and others, with historical notes to the Piobaireachds and a short account of the principal ancient pipers viz. the MacCrimmons, MacArthurs and Mackays. The Volume will contain 60 Piobaireachds with complete instructions for those desirous of acquiring a minute knowledge of the instrument and it will be altogether the largest and cheapest work of the kind ever offered to the public.

The first attempt at a work of this nature was made about 30 wears ago by Mr. Donald MacDonald of Edinburgh, the celebrated pipe maker. Mr. MacDonald published 23 Piobaireachds arranged for both piano-forte and the pipe. Circumstances however interfered with the continuation of this interesting collection and as in the present work the Piobaireachds will be arranged solely for the Pipe, — but at the same time in such a manner as to be easily adapted to the piano-forte, the space thus gained will enable the present editor to give his subscribers a much greater number of Piobaireachds at an expense very little greater than that of Mr. MacDonald’s work.

The leading object of the Editor is to preserve in its native simplicity and purity the ancient music of the country, by furnishing a fixed standard for future performers. The Piobaireachds have been collected and compiled with the greatest care and have in the state in which they are now offered to the public obtained the approbation of the best judges of performances on the Scottish Bagpipes and also of the most practised and skilful performers. Trusting that this object will meet with the approbation and the substantial support of all lovers of our national music, the Editor takes this method of making known the work in which be has been for a great length of time anxiously and devotedly employed.

Angus MacKay, Drummond Castle

The successful competitor for the prize pipe of the Highland Society at the general competition held in Edinburgh in July 1835.

Edinburgh. 8th August 1935.

Price of the Work

To subscribers — £1.7s.6d.

To non subscribers — £1.11s.6d.

It should be noted that Angus MacKay had signed this prospectus on August 8, 1835. Thus, at the age of 22 he had prepared a major book of piobaireachd for publication. Incidentally, Angus was born on September, 10, 1813. This is substantiated by an extract from the parish register of the Parish of Strath, Isle of Skye on February 14, 1855, that was shown to this writer in 1965 by Miss Margaret MacKay, Angus’ grand-daughter.

Eventually, the book was published in 1838. Angus makes due apology for the fact that the book was not published as intended in 1836. He states in the preface to the collection …

“He regrets that unavoidable obstacles have delayed the publication far beyond the period when its completion was anticipated; but he trusts that his subscribers will make allowance for the chief cause of its postponement — an anxiety to render the work as perfect as possible. Its late appearance is the more to be deplored on his part, inasmuch as it has prevented him the distinguished honour of dedicating the volume to His late Most Excellent Majesty, who took so great an interest in all matters relative to Scotland, and was graciously pleased to permit this collection of Piobaireachds to be inscribed to William IV. It is… “.

The book was eventually dedicated to the Highland Society of London.

The work was published by the Editor and could be had at McClarg’s Library, No. 32 St. James Street, London, MacLachlan & Stewart, South Bridge, Edinburgh and all Book and Music Sellers in the United Kingdom. Printed in 1838 at A. Molinari & Co., Lithographer, Established 191 Strand, Price £1.15.0d.

There are a number of parts to the collection —

(a) An account of the Hereditary Pipers.

(b) An account of the competitions of the Highland Society of London, 1781-1838.

(c) A history of the bagpipe, effects, former and present state of its Professors etc.

(d) A very basic tutor

(e) 61 Piobaireachds. (Five of which have a pianoforte score)

(f) Historical and Traditional notes ‘on the Piobaireachds.

The book was republished three times between 1839 and c1899 and finally in 1972 when a facsimile production of the 4th Edition was published.

When Logan and Company republished the collection about 1898-99 the following review was published:

Pipe Music: a Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd, by Angus MacKay. (Aberdeen, Inverness and Elgin: Logan & Co.) We can ensure this re-issue of Angus MacKay’s book of pibrochs a most hearty welcome from every player of the piob-mhor. There are several collections of Piobaireachds in existence but Angus MacKay’s though issued originally in 1838 still holds the field and no piper will consider his collection of pipe music complete without this handsome volume. As a test, the reviewer took the trouble to go over MacIntosh’s Lament as given here alongside a copy of the tune in manuscript, and compared both with the setting of the tune in other collections. In cases where they differed he has no hesitation in saying that the superiority lies with Angus MacKay’s presentation of the music. Here we have all the best of the old piobaireachd, sixty one tunes in all, many of which, it may be remarked in passing, are adapted to the piano. We need only mention such well known and favourite pieces as Patrick o’g MacCrummen’s Lament, Struan Robertson’s Salute, MacIntosh’s Lament, The Glen is mine, Cogadh na Sith (War or Peace), The Piper’s warning to his Master, The MacKay’s Banner and the Massacre of Glencoe to show the value of the

collection. Short histories are given of the various hereditary pipers. Messrs Logan & Co. would have laid bagpipe players under a lasting debt of gratitude had they given the prize list of the Northern Meeting at Inverness during the last twenty years. Angus MacKay’s short history of the bagpipe will be welcomed by many young pipers in quest of information about their favourite instrument. In an eloquent passage he says; “The piob-mhor or great highland bagpipe appears to be the only national instrument in Europe; and it is sacred to Scotland, to whose inhabitants it speaks a language which no others can appreciate, and excites a feeling in their breasts to which others are strangers. The sound of the highland pipe has stimulated to heroism by the sonorous notes of the loud piobaireachd; and by its soft and wailing strains it has subdued the rougher feelings of our nature; it has melted the lion-hearts of sorrowing clansmen as they bore the body of their chief to the resting place of his fathers or brought back to remembrance the virtues and misfortunes of departed friends. Its sprightly tones have enhanced the happiness of the Highlander at the festive board of social fire-side and beguiled the tedious hours of his winter’s solitude. Its notes solace the shepherd on the lonely heath, and charm the guileless maid in the occupation of a pastoral life. When assembled on the green the Highland youth, forgetting the toils of the day, meet from their distant hills and straths and mix in the sprightly and exhilarating dances with an ecstasy, which to strangers is surprising. Every face brightens with delight, every heart glows with kindly feelings, and the nerves of the old and young thrill with unaffected joy as they respond in graceful and invigorating evolutions to the enlivening notes of the pipers chanter. What a fine spectacle is beheld in the intrepid march of a man in advance of his companions and in the face of a well appointed enemy, with no weapon in his hand, labouring enthusiastically with great physical exertion and musical talent, to encourage his comrades to deeds of hardihood and glory, pealing forth those martial strains which distant generations have heard with burning hearts — which are so congenial — so soul stirring to every Highlander. The long sounding airs, composed in consequence of unprovoked attacks or revengeful and sanguinary inroads on unoffending clans, may by the ultra sentimental be thought unworthy of preservation, but clans of older times could allege as good reasons for going to war as modern politicians, although their arguments were not so refined and sophisticated.”

At the end of the volume will be found some interesting and valuable historical notes on the piobaireachd. The music is most beautifully printed, the grace notes being delightfully clear and distinct, and the book is handsomely and strongly bound. We cordially commend it to the notice of every lover and player of the national instrument.


Comparison with Donald MacDonald’s Piobaireachd book, International Piper October ‘79 Vol. 2 No, 6 shows various differences in writing certain conventional ornamental gracenote combinations.

MacKay writes HIHARIN as

which shows a longer E than MacDonald with the following notes, except the last one all the same length. An observation that can be legitimately made is, did he mean those notes written in gracenote fashion to be shorter than the A’s they embellish, or were they all to be of similar length?

The Echoing beats on B and D have the initial E as a quaver with the following notes timed practically as they are timed today:

He is, however, flexible for in The MacKays’ Banner he times the B echo as:

Notice should be taken of the fact that the second low G in all these instances are of the same note value as the first one. Once again a difference from the way of playing at present.

The Echoing beats for the top hand are basically the same and in each case the gracenote between the first two notes is timed as a D/S/Quaver:

The thrown on D in every instance is shown as:

The low G is to be distinctly sounded while the embellishment on D is a touch to C.

The Taorluath and Crunluath movements are written with what is nowadays termed a redundant Low A., with the exception of those embellishments after D when the extra A is omitted.

All the Crunluath Fosgailtes are played ‘closed’?, the final E and F gracenotes being on low A, while Donald MacDonald had these ‘open’.

EMBARI, the trill to high G is written with the base gracenotes as low A, e.g.

although in two tunes, The Lament for the Viscount of Dundee and Lady MacDonald’s Lament the base gracenotes are low G. As the latter is a MacArthur composition this last example is perfectly in keeping with the MacArthur/MacDonald style.

Darodo is shown with two of the low G gracenotes being given extra emphasis, e.g.

whereas MacDonald makes all low G gracenotes D/S/Quavers.

Finally, as far as gracenoting combinations are concerned there are conflicting examples between the examples of the various variation types given on page III and those employed in the main musical texts throughout the book. These were numbered earlier in this article.

  1. These are shown as on page III
  2. On page III he gives both ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ fosgailte examples.
Angus MacKay’s wife and son, John.

Some other relevant facts of Angus MacKay’s life were that he married Mary Johnstone Russell in Edinburgh on May 26, 1841 in the Church of Canongate, Edinburgh. They had four children, John, Donald, Jessie and Margaret Elizabeth, none of which were known to have taken up the bagpipe.

He was piper to Campbell of Islay and eventually to Queen Victoria in 1843.

His book contains the following tunes:

Abercairney’s Salute,
Chisholm’s Salute,
Clan-Ranald’s Salute,
Davidson of Tulloch’s Salute
Donald Duaghal MacKay’s Lament
Glengarry’s Lament
Hector MacLean (the son of Allan nan sop’)s Warning
Isabella MacKay,
I got a Kiss of the King’s Hand
King George the III’s Lament
Lady Doyle’s Salute
Lord Lovat’s Lament
Lady MacDonald’s Lament
MacKenzie of Gairloch’s Lament
MacKintosh’s Lament

MacKenzie of Applecross’s Salute
MacNeil of Barra’s March
MacLeod’s Controversy
MacCrummen will never return
MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament
MacLeod of Rasay’s Salute
Menzie’s Salute
MacLeod of MacLeod’s Lament
My King has landed in Muidart
Prince Charles’s Lament
Patrick Og MacCrummen’s Lament
Strowan Robertson’s Salute
Sir James MacDonald of the Isles’ Salute
The Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Sheriffmuir
The Bells of Perth
The Carles with the Breeks, Lord Breadalbane’s March
The Duke of Perth’s March
The Earl of Ross’s March
The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute
The Gordons’ Salute
The Glen is mine
The Grant’s Gathering
The Half-finished Piobaireachd
The Highland Society of Scotland’s
The Lament for the Harp, or Harp Tree
The MacDonalds’ Salute
The MacGregors’ Salute
The MacKays’ Banner
The MacKenzies’ Gathering
The MacLeans’ March
The MacLeods’ Salute
The MacNabs’ Salute
The MacRaes’ March
The Massacre of Glencoe
The Marquis of Argyle’s Salute
The Munros’ Salute
The Piper’s Warning to his Master, or the Piobaireachd of Dunyveg
The Pretty Dirk

The Red Hand in the MacDonalds’ Arms
The Vaunting
The Viscount of Dundee’s Lament
The Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute
War or Peace

* From the February 1980 International Piper.

• Part 1
• Part 3
• Part 4