By Roderick Cannon
In 1651 a small book was published in London by John Playford, entitled The English Dancing Master. It contained the tunes and instructions for 105 country dances, and it was evidently successful, as it was quickly followed by revised and enlarged editions. The last edition was the eighteenth, in 1728 or thereabouts.
After the first edition, the word ‘English’ was dropped from the title, and throughout the series a good many Scottish and Irish tunes were included. It is in Playford that we find the oldest recognisable versions of Highland Laddie, Bonnie Anne, and other tunes still played today.
There has been a good deal of research on Playford’s books, and many of the tunes have been taken up into later collections. But until recently, the originals remained hard to find, and hard to read because of the antique styles of notation. In 1985 however, a complete collection of the dance tunes appeared, edited in modern notation by Jeremy Barlow and published by Faber Music Limited, London. It contains 535 tunes, with details of the alterations they went through, and the editions in which they are found.
I am writing to point out what seems to me a remarkable discovery: at least one of Playford’ s tunes turns out to be the same air as one of the classic pibrochs, the Lament for Duncan MacRae of Kintail.
There are two versions of this tune in the pipe literature. One consists of the ground and one variation only, and is printed in the Piobaireachd Society’s Book 4. The other has more variations, and exists in several variants, one of which is in William Ross’ collection as Colin MacRae of Inverinate’s Lament. The two versions are essentially the same in the ground:
The tune printed by Playford is called Washington’s March. It consists of four parts, of which the first two correspond very closely indeed to the pibroch:
Washington’s March first appeared in a supplement to the third edition of the Dancing Master, dated 1657. It appeared again in another supplement, 1665. The two supplements contain tunes only, not dances. Some of the tunes in the supplements reappeared as tunes for dances in later editions of the Dancing Master, but this particular tune did not. Each of the two supplements survives today in one copy only, so we are indeed fortunate to have this particular piece of piobaireachd history.
The date 1657 takes us well back into what is usually considered the cl al age of piobaireachd composition. There are not many examples known of pibrochs that also occur as tunes in other traditions, and this the earliest one I have come across.
The MacRaes of Inverinate, in Kintail, were a cultured family. One of the chiefs, named Duncan, was a bard and compiled an important collection of Gaelic poems known as the Fernaig MS. He lived from c.1640 to c.1700, so if he is the person referred to in Angus MacKay’s title for the pibroch, it would appear that the Lament for Duncan MacRae was not a new composition, but an adaptation of an older tune. There is no reason to suppose that this was an unusual procedure.
The word ‘March’ used in the title by Playford does not of course mean what it means today, a tune to be played on the road, with soldiers marching in step, but it does imply a piece of ‘martial’ music. Several pibrochs have march titles in English (Black Donald’s March, The Earl of Ross’ March etc.), and sometimes also in Gaelic (Marsah no Shisalach, i.e. the Chisholms’ March in the Campbell canntaireachd MS). I think it is significant that ‘Washington’s March’ is in 6/4 time (equivalent to a slow 6/8). A number of tunes collected from Irish pipers in the nineteenth century are also called marches and are in 6/8 time. Dr. G, Petrie published and commented on several of them in The Petrie Collection of Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin, 1855), and there are more in such collections as Francis O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903). O’Neill in fact has another version of the present tune, under the title Rory of the Hills:
The continuation of Washington’s March is as follows:
This, too, fits the nine-note chanter, and it seems quite possible that the tune came to Playford, directly or indirectly, from the playing of a bagpiper, though not necessarily a Highland or even a Scottish piper.
There is scope for a lot more research on piobaireachd history, and there plenty of questions still to ask about this tune. Who was Washington? What is the Irish tradition concerning the tune? Are there other versions of the tune, or other piobaireachd airs, lying undiscovered in seventeenth century collections? I hope these notes will be a useful starting point for further enquiries.
I first noticed Washington’s March in an article by Peter Stacey and Matthew Spring, in Chanter, the journal of the Bagpipe Society, Vol. 1, part 2, 1986-7. The Bagpipe Society, formed a few years ago, caters for players of every type of bagpipe, and many of its members are interested in reconstructing and playing older types of bagpipe. For information, contact David Van Doorn, 69 Valentine’s Way, Rush Green, Romford, Essex. For information on the MacRaes of Kintail I am grateful to Dr. David R. Hannay, who also contributed the historical note on this tune in A. J. Haddow, The History and Structure of Ceol Mor.
• From the November 1988 Piping Times.