The elusive appoggiatura

James Campbell and Archie Kenneth at the 1985 Argyllshire Gathering.

In the spring 2000 edition of The Voice, Dr. John A. MacAskill conducted an interview with James Campbell, the son Archibald Campbell of Kilberry. When MacAskill asked him what he considered to be his greatest legacy, Campbell replied: “… I have taken pride in my contribution in the Piping Times of June 1988 entitled The Elusive Appoggiatura.

This article was essentially James’ response to those, mainly David Murray and some leading pipers, who supported Dr Peter Cooke’s views on how the ‘double echo’ motifs found in ceòl mòr should be played. Cooke had reached his conclusions after extensive interviews with George Moss, a piper who lived near Inverness, which he published in The International Piper and which can be read here on Bagpipe.News.

James’ article illustrates the extent to which the literal reading of some scores, without an understanding of a particular device used in the writing of European classical music, has led to misinterpretation of the scores in many of the 19th and early 20th century ceòl mòr publications.

This article has, it could be argued, not received the attention it deserves, possibly because James did not make it plain his view of the implications for interpretation in those early scores – although he did so in private correspondence. James’ article is posted below:

By James Campbell

James Campbell

This reflection concerns David Glen’s collection of Ancient Piobaireachd, and the treatment by the compiler of three common ‘beat’ situations. Hiharin (cadence E followed by three As); hihorodo (cadence E followed by three Bs); hiharara (cadence E followed by three Ds).

Glen’s Ancient Piobaireachd as we know it is a series of seven books, containing a total of a hundred tunes and published at various times and in various editions between 1880 and 1907. It did not, however, start life as a series. The original Ancient Piobaireachd was a single volume, containing 25 tunes. Later these tunes were arranged in two separate books which formed Volumes 1 and 2 of the series. In the original book, and in the first editions of the two separate books, the compiler used a form of notation which was substantially the same as that used by Angus MacKay, in his published book, some 40 years earlier. And a feature of Angus MacKay’s notation was that the initial E in our three movements was written as a full note. Thus, in his early editions, we find Glen writing:

However, at some stage – and I do not know when – Glen changed his notation. And among other alterations we find a change in his depiction of our three ‘beat’ situations. The cadence E is written as a grace note, and the immediately following A, B and D (hitherto shown as semi or demi semi quavers) become dotted quavers. And his final depiction, found in his later editions, comes out as follows:

Now, read literally this seems to show an intention to indicate a timing consisting of a short E cadence immediately followed by an emphasised A, B, or D. Such, however, was not Glen’s intention. This is shown in his note to ‘The Blue Ribbon’ on page 29 of his Highland Bagpipe Tutor:

James’ original article did not include this image of the relevant note so we have included it here. Click on the image to enlarge.

The seemingly short E grace note was intended as an appoggiatura. This is a musical term which may carry more than one meaning but which was intended by Glen to describe a long grace note, played as a full note and taking its playing time by subtraction from the immediately succeeding ‘ground’ note (i.e. in our movements, the first of the three As Bs or Ds). The upshot is that the apparently short E cadence notes were intended to depict full notes, while the apparently long succeeding notes were intended to depict short notes. Thus there was no intention in Glen to suggest a style of playing different from that indicated in his early books, following Angus MacKay. What happened was that Glen became persuaded that this orthodox style of playing was best portrayed by a different style of writing – a style that in fact was well calculated to mislead.

How did this come about? The suggestion is that it resulted from an association with Dr. Charles Bannatyne. Dr Bannatyne was a musicologist who exerted much influence in the early years of this century. This influence is instanced by the adoption of his style of writing both by Glen and in the second and third books of the old Piobaireachd Society series. Dr. Bannatyne’s interest was to portray piobaireachd in scientific notation, and he deprecated the practice of Angus MacKay of depicting cadence Es as full notes. Such a practice he saw as objectionable because the cadence E is not a ground note, and is not carried into the variations. Therefore it is incorrect to write it as if it was a ground note. This interest, and this deprecation of Angus MacKay, is shown in a letter written by Dr. Bannatyne to my father on July 31, 1906. And for proof of Bannatyne’s association with, and influence on, Glen I am indebted to Dr. Roderick Cannon, who has recently come by a compiler’s copy of early editions of Glen’s first five books. This copy contains handwritten amendments many of which, including those relating to the subject of this investigation, are shown by internal evidence to have been made either by or on the advice of Dr. Bannatyne.

Bannatyne was not, any more than Glen was, concerned to influence the orthodox style of playing our three ‘beat’ movements. His introduction of the appoggiatura concept was a device to avoid what he saw as the musical inelegance of writing an ornamental note as a full note. Never mind that when played it had the length of a full note. Never mind that the device was, or could be, thoroughly misleading. Scientific notation required its introduction. And in doing so Dr. Bannatyne did not see himself as a pioneer. His belief, evidenced in a letter by him to the Oban Times of March 2, 1907, was that the concept had, some 80 years earlier, been put to the same use by Donald MacDonald in his published book. If this belief was well founded it would follow that Donald MacDonald’s similar portrayal of our three movements was not intended to indicate a timing different from what was later indicated with greater clarity by Angus MacKay. The reproach of pedantry, which can fairly be made against Dr. Bannatyne, would lie less easily against Donald MacDonald, who was operating under the patronage of the Highland Society of London.

The concern of the Highland Society was less with the education of contemporary pipers than with the preservation of the music in a scientific notation which would be intelligible to musicians. Features of MacDonald’s book that could have misled pipers would not necessarily mislead those whom, as appears from his Preface, he was seeking to accommodate – that is, players of the organ, the piano, the violin and the German flute.

A literal reading of Donald MacDonald’s depiction of these movements could found a belief that he aimed to record a style of playing alternative to and different from that which has reached us through traditional teaching. But the lack of the link of traditional teaching with any such alternative style could go to sustain any who are inclined to share Dr. Bannatyne’s contrary belief.

• From the June 1988 Piping Times.

* Changing styles in pibroch playing (part 1) by Peter Cooke.
* Changing styles in pibroch playing (part 2) by Peter Cooke.