Mhairi Lawson - Soprano
Jamie MacDougall - Tenor
Chris Norman - Flute & Whistle
Elisabeth Dooner - Flute
Lucy Russell, Aidrian Chandler, Joanna Parker, Sarah Bevan-Baker - Violins
Katherine McGillivray - Viola
Alison McGillivray - Cello
Ninian Perry - Double Bass
Elizabeth Kenny - Guitar and Theorbo
Steve Player - Guitar
David McGuinness - Harpsichord
Then you whose Symphony of Souls proclaim
Your Kin to Heav'n, add to your Country's Fame,
And shew that Musick may have as good Fate
In Albion's Glens, as Umbria's green Retreat :
And with Correlli's soft Italian Song
Mix Cowdon Knows, and Winter Nights are long.
In 1721, when Allan Ramsay wrote this address to the Musick Club in Edinburgh, he little knew just how much these wishes would come true. John Clerk of Penicuik, no doubt a Club member, had already familiarised himself with Corelli's soft Italian song in Rome in the 1690s, and another Italian composer, Lorenzo Bocchi, had just arrived in Edinburgh. Over the coming decades, Bocchi would be followed by a succession of singers, musicians and composers from Italian green retreats - Barsanti, Corri, Pasquali, Stabilini, Urbani - and the musical fascination for all things Italianate was to continue in Scotland until the end of the eighteenth century.
Bocchi came to Edinburgh in 1720 with one Mr. Gordon, keen to establish a home for pastoral opera in Edinburgh, and his Scots Cantata to words by Ramsay is all that survives of his attempt. Ramsay was soon to have an enormous success with his own brand of pastoral opera, when at the request of Haddington Grammar School he added more songs to his verse drama The Gentle Shepherd, and in due course it became the biggest Scottish stage hit of the century. But in The Gentle Shepherd the music was resolutely Scots: perhaps Bocchi's rumbustious setting of Johnny's plaintive moan put Ramsay off any further Italian experiments.
Francesco Barsanti's eight years in Edinburgh from 1735 were certainly fruitful: he married a Scots lass, and he published an excellent set of twelve concerti grossi in 1742. But this has overshadowed another little book he produced in the same year, of Old Scots Tunes. The composer and publisher James Oswald had left Edinburgh for London two years previously, but the similarity of some of Barsanti's basslines to those in Oswald's Sonata of Scots Tunes (on Linn CKD 101) suggests that they may have collaborated, if not borrowed from one another's work. Who did the ‘borrowing' I won't dare to suggest. The tunes in Barsanti's book are heavily ornamented, which at first sight looks like the ‘Italianising' that native musicians later in the century came to deplore. But on closer examination it looks like a serious musical attempt to notate the tunes as he heard them played, rather like Percy Grainger's meticulous writing-down of the twiddly bits when he collected folk songs two centuries later.
The best of Barsanti's basslines lend themselves to serious session playing rather than polite chamber music, and in our versions we've used a combination of written down arrangements and improvisation. He was a flute and oboe player rather than a violinist, and his selection of tunes suit the flute particularly well. Keen musicologists may like to note that the opening basslines of Clout the Caldron and Johnnie Faa are virtually identical, and that Barsanti marked every tune in his collection ‘slow': this advice we have chosen to ignore.
We added Ramsay's words to Clout the Caldron and to Corn Riggs, which is the final number in The Gentle Shepherd, sung by Peggy after she is reunited with her sweetheart, the gentle shepherd Patie. The tune, which with Burns's later words now seems so characteristically Scottish, actually began as a piece of fake London Scotchery written by Thomas Farmer in 1680 to the words ‘Sawney was tall', for Tom D'Urfey's comedy The Virtuous Wife.
In Clout the Caldron, a traveller tries to charm his way into a kitchenware maintenance job (and more besides), with a combination of subtle innuendo, and some rather incongruous appeals to classical precedent. He is of course sent packing. Burns used the same tune for his tinker's song in The Jolly Beggars, and in our version the percussion sounds are the clouting of instruments, harpsichord and guitar being the loudest.
Johnnie Faa really is an Old Scots Tune: it appears in the Skene MS of the early 17th century as ‘Ladie Cassilles Lilt'. The ballad sung to it is The Gypsy Laddie, which tells of the Countess of Cassilis' elopement with her lover, Sir John Fall, disguised as a gypsy. When they are caught and brought back to Cassilis House, she has to witness the hanging of the entire gypsy community, Johnnie Faa included. Gilderoy, or Gille Ruadh tells of another rogue who met a sticky end, the red-haired Patrick Macgregor, a robber of some repute in Perthshire in the 1630s.
Barsanti's The Highland Laddie is not the well-known Jacobite song to the Canadian sea-chanty ‘Donkey-Riding', nor is it quite the tune for the song that begins ‘the Lowland Lads think they are fine', although it's fairly similar. Oswald included this tune in his Curious Collection of Scots Tunes of 1740, but he called it The Highland Lassie.
Francesco Geminiani never visited Scotland as far as we know - along with Handel he dominated much of London musical life in the first half of the eighteenth century, besides spending some time in Paris and Dublin. In the 1720s he was part of a Masonic musical society along with Barsanti, who published his own trio sonata arrangements of Geminiani's violin sonatas.
Geminiani's Scots song settings appeared in 1749 as illustrations of the art of refined musical ornamentation, in his Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick. Four years later, William Hayes wrote:
of late, he hath taken great Pains ... in dressing up Trifles; particularly the Scotch Songs: The most we are indebted to him on this Account, is, for putting good Basses to the original Tunes; for in Truth, all beyond this, is such mungrel Stuff, that, it is not probable, it will obtain that Degree of General Approbation, which he might expect.
The Treatise is really only a glorified table of ornaments, although harpsichordists have reason to be grateful for its detailed description of how to play extremely loudly, by the use of acciaccature. But the book's preface begins with an extraordinary paragraph worth quoting here in full. In his musical Apotheoses, the French composer Francois Couperin had allowed only two composers onto the divine heights of Parnassus: Jean-Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli, the supreme representatives of the French and Italian musical worlds respectively. Geminiani admits Lully for his mastery of the perfect simple melody, but he shares his heavenward journey not with the great Italian violinist, but with the enigmatic figure of Mary Queen of Scots' murdered secretary and rumoured lover ...
Two Composers of Musick have appear'd in the World, who in their different Kinds of Melody, have rais'd my Admiration; namely David Rizzio and Gio. Baptista Lulli; of these which stands highest in Reputation, or deserves to stand highest, is none of my Business to pronounce: But when I consider, that Rizzio was foremost in point of Time, that till then Melody was intirely rude and barbarous, and that he found Means at once to civilize and inspire it with all the native Gallantry of the SCOTISH Nation, I am inclinable to give him the Preference.
Now just who is Geminiani lionising here? Riccio was hardly a famous composer, if indeed a composer at all, although by all accounts he won his way into Mary's favours partly by his musical skill. By 1749, however, his name had taken on a peculiar significance. William Thomson attributed several songs to him in the first edition of his songbook Orpheus Caledonius in 1725, and various other publishers followed his lead, ascribing their more obscure, unattributable or just odd-sounding tunes to Signor Riccio. James Oswald may well have started the trend: even before he left Scotland, he was already passing off his own tunes in Edinburgh as new-fangled Italian sicilianos, and as works of historical antiquity. In his farewell epistle to Oswald in 1741, Allan Ramsay asked:
When wilt thou teach our soft Aeidian fair,
To languish at a false Sicilian air;
Or when some tender tune compose again,
And cheat the town wi' David Rizo's name?
By the middle of the 18th century the mythology was wearing thin, but even then it must have been an attractive idea for Geminiani to suggest that the pinnacle of French music had been reached by Lully, an Italian by birth, and that the seeds of a Celtic musical culture had been sown by another. Had he known of the great tradition of McCrimmon pipers, he would no doubt have delighted in pointing out their ancestry in Cremona as well.
His arrangements are most certainly mongrel stuff, as the tunes nestle amongst the most ornate of string and flute writing, and Geminiani divided each verse in two with a short interlude in the manner of London's theatre songs. He also misunderstood the double bar that conventionally separates each strain of the tunes, and turned it into a repeat, so that each half of each verse gets sung twice - a misunderstanding that we have corrected. But Geminiani knew what he was doing when it comes to creating musical atmosphere, and once we've abandoned any search for artistic racial purity (which is a very dangerous pursuit anyway), we can enjoy the curious coming together of musical cultures that he created. In any case, She raise and loot me in is another piece of bogus Scotchery, probably by D'Urfey and Farmer again. Ramsay carefully adapted the words to make them sound more convincingly Scottish, and he described it as ‘an old song' in Tea-Table Miscellany either in ignorance or, more likely, to cover up its Sassenach origins.
The Lass of Peaty's Mill is rightly one of Ramsay's most famous lyrics, and Bessy Bell and Mary Gray is one of his most notorious, because in his rewriting of the original ballad, preserving only its first four lines, he completely obscured the tale behind it. Bessy Bell and Mary Gray, the daughters of wealthy families in Perthshire, built their bower to escape the horrors of the plague in the 1660s, but they nevertheless caught the infection from a young gentleman of Perth who visited them regularly bringing provisions. The rumour was that he was the lover of one, if not both of them. The original ballad goes on to tell of their peculiar burial arrangements, but in his lyric Ramsay steers clear of anything so morbid. Scottish music purists will no doubt be offended by Geminiani's wonderful shoe-horning of the tune's double tonic into something approaching standard Baroque harmony.
Leader Haughs and Yarrow seems a strange choice of song for him to arrange, as its twelve verses, which describe the places, flora and fauna of the area around the River Tweed and Yarrow Water, would surely have meant little to his London audience. Maybe he just liked the tune.
Francesco Maria Veracini never visited Scotland as far as we know, but he appreciated enough of the London craze for Scots tunes to incorporate variations on the tune Tweed Side into one of his sonate accademiche. This rather forbidding title implies only that the pieces are for private concerts or ‘academies' rather than for the church or the theatre. Veracini's phenomenally successful career as a violin virtuoso took him from his native Florence to posts in St Mark's, Venice, the London theatre and the court of Dresden, and his departure from Dresden is shrouded in some mystery. He jumped from a third-floor window either to escape from a potential murderer, or, as suggested by the composer Mattheson (always a rich source of unreliable anecdote), in a fit brought on by extreme devotion to music and alchemy. He certainly had confidence in his talent, declaring ‘there is one God, and one Veracini'. The tune of Ramsay's The Lass of Peaty's Mill found its way into his last London opera, Rosalinda, and soon after leaving there in 1745 he was shipwrecked in the English Channel, losing a number of scores in the process. But he clearly recovered the Tweed Side sonata, as five years later we hear of him playing it in the presence of the British Envoy in Veracini's native Florence. Tweed Side was a popular tune for fiddle variations, and during his stay in Edinburgh in the 1750s, Nicolo Pasquali also wrote a cantata based on it, but this has not survived.
William Thomson sang as a boy soprano in one of Edinburgh's first public concerts, on St Cecilia's Day in 1695. Soon after settling in London, he published his lavish collection Orpheus Caledonius, or a Collection of the Best Scotch Songs set to Musick, in 1725, with a list of well-heeled subscribers and a dedication to the Prince of Wales. The texts of many of the fifty songs were taken directly from Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany, much to Ramsay's annoyance (‘he ought to have acquainted his Illustrious List of Subscribers, that most of the Songs were mine'), and the tunes were highly ornamented, presumably in the manner of Thomson's own singing. For the second edition eight years later, he expanded the book to 100 songs, restored some simplicity to the tunes, and improved his basslines, some of which had been rather crude. The result became the source-book for every composer and musician in London keen to exploit the fashion for all things Scotch. Geminiani, in his arrangements, didn't even bother to print the words for more than one verse of each song, as he could safely assume that the reader would have access to Thomson's popular book as well.
In Edinburgh, Allan Ramsay sanctioned and sold his own music book as a companion to his Tea-Table Miscellany, with the tunes simply if rather clunkily arranged by Alexander Stewart. Each of its six volumes is dedicated to a noble lady, although only the first four of these patrons have aristocratic titles, so perhaps Ramsay was running out of high-born customers as the series progressed. The significance of the dedicatees, and indeed in the title of his book, is that the songs were collected together to be sung by society ladies at table after dinner.
The Wanton wee Thing will rejoice,
When tented by a sparkling Eye,
The Spinnet tinkling with her Voice,
It lying on her lovely knee.
Our version of Tweed Side uses the arrangement from the second edition of Thomson's book, except for the third verse and the playout which are by Oswald. Ramsay did write his own lyrics to the tune, but these words by Robert Crawford always remained the more popular.
Contemporary with Ramsay in Edinburgh was William McGibbon, who was probably born in Glasgow. He was sent to London to study with the violinist and composer William Corbett, who also took him on his travels to Italy, and when McGibbon returned he became a well-loved pillar of the Edinburgh musical establishment, leading the orchestra of the Edinburgh Musical Society for thirty years. He published an exceptionally good set of Scots tunes in three books, and his chamber music includes this neatly crafted miniature homage to Corelli, with another new-fangled Italian siciliano for its third movement. On McGibbon's death in 1756, the poet Robert Fergusson wrote with an admirably blunt finality:
Macgibbon gane, a' waes my heart:
The man in music maist expert,
Wha could sweet melody impart
And tune the reed
Wi' sic a slee and pawky art,
But now he's dead.
Domenico Corri's time with the Edinburgh Musical Society was to come later - he arrived in Edinburgh from Rome in 1771, and his variations and tambourin on the song Duncan Gray are the fruit of a flowering of commercial music in the late 18th century which David Johnson memorably described as ‘a free fight ... to see who could write the most effective trash'. Trash it probably is, but it's certainly very effective - an Italian composer writing a French dance on a Scots tune.
Portraits of Corri's family now hang in St Cecilia's Hall, where he put on concerts for several years, and when he left Edinburgh for London, he went into business with the Bohemian composer Dussek, and became the Scottish agent for Broadwood's harpsichords and pianos. So, recording Corri's music in the concert hall he knew, on an instrument that he may well have sold, built by an exiled Scot, was particularly synchronicitous.
Made in 1793 when the piano had largely become the keyboard of choice, the Russell Collection's magnificent harpsichord by John Broadwood is the last surviving last one to come from his London workshop, and the only one signed by him alone. It has a bewildering array of large brass knobs that operate the registers, a lute stop, and a pedal-operated machine stop for automatic registration changes, which engages with a satisfying clunk, heard here in Duncan Gray before the 7th variation. To compete with the new pianos, it also has a Venetian swell that enables the sound to get gradually louder or softer. It's like a wooden Venetian blind mounted horizontally above the strings, which is opened and closed by the action of another pedal. Corri's variations contain copious (and bizarre) dynamic markings, but they still look very much like harpsichord rather than piano music, and we know that patent harpsichords with similar gadgets to Broadwood's were current in Scotland at the time, as they were advertised for sale in the Glasgow Mercury in 1787.
The tune Pinky House has a perfectly serviceable if conventional set of words ‘By Pinky House oft let me walk', so it's a measure of how decadent the approach to Scots tunes had become in the London of the 1760s, that James Oswald chose to set this more melodramatic text, and arrange it for the Italianate combination of voice and trio-sonata group. His approach to Hamilton House some twenty years earlier is much more straightforward.
Finally, Alexander Reinagle has no obvious Italian connections but his life is such a brilliant expression of ‘Mungrel Stuff' that it's impossible to leave him out. His father, who may have served in the Hungarian army, was Edinburgh's state trumpeter, and Alexander's book of Scots Tunes was published in Glasgow in 1782, although it says ‘London' on the title page. Reinagle was working in Glasgow largely as a harpsichord teacher, and on his subsequent European travels he befriended CPE Bach, before emigrating across the Atlantic, to become involved in the setting up of opera houses in Baltimore and Philadelphia. He gave piano lessons to George Washington's adopted daughter, and his sonatas in the style of CPE Bach were the first real American piano music, but his most unusual achievement is perhaps that the Philadephia edition of his little book of Scots Tunes was the first secular music publication in America.
The appetite for Scottish music in the New World was well established. Already by 1730, a Dr Bannerman had written to Allan Ramsay concerning the success of his Tea-Table Miscellany across the Ocean.
Here thy soft Verse, made to a Scottish Air,
Are often sung by our Virginian Fair.
Camilla's warbling Notes are heard no more,
But yield to Last Time I came o'er the Moor;
Hydapses and Rinaldo both give way
To Mary Scot, Tweed-side and Mary Gray.
For him at least, the Scots had the musical edge on the Italians.
David McGuinness: 2001