She’s Sweetest when she’s naked

It was many years ago when I first began exploring eighteenth-century Scottish music. Having been steeped in the more typical Baroque repertoire for my instruments, I was always on the lookout for more esoteric musical fare; and as a first-generation Canadian with ancestry in Port Glasgow and Dundee, perhaps it was genetic. But my chief reason was that I found many old Scots tunes beautiful and very touching, qualities as admired nowadays as they were in the eighteenth century. I wondered how these tunes might have been played three centuries ago, and what other music had been composed for the flute and recorder. This recording offers a small sampling of the repertoire I came across; I hope you have as much pleasure in the listening as my colleagues and I had in the playing.

As seems to have been the case in most of Western Europe, the gulf between ‘art’ and traditional music in 18th-century Scotland was not as wide or un-navigable as it became by the early 20th century. Many Scots musicians, such as John Clerk of Penicuik who studied with Corelli in Rome in the late 1600s, composed in a typical Baroque style and produced sonatas, divertimentos and ‘setts’ of Italianate or French  influence. Most were also familiar with Scottish traditional  music, both vocal and instrumental, and many tried to blend both styles with varying degrees of success.

Most common was the attempt to arrange traditional airs in an ‘educated’ style, adding figured bass parts and/or secondary melodic lines; even non-native composers resident in Scotland, such as Barsanti, Schetky and Corri, made use of this approach. But adagios reminiscent of slow Scottish airs and reel-like allegros can occasionally be found in the sonatas of John Reid, James Oswald and others, bringing a distinctive Scottish flavour to what otherwise sound like typically Italianate works.

The collecting of Scots tunes began in the 17th century but blossomed following Scotland’s Union with England in 1707. The loss of their own Parliament spurred the Scots to protect their cultural heritage in whichever ways they could; and ironically enough, Scottish music grew enormously popular in England. For well over a century, the demand for Scottish instrumental and vocal music fuelled tremendous publishing activity in Scotland, England and abroad – the Scottish song arrangements by Haydn and Beethoven are some of the more celebrated examples. Some very large collections appeared, such as Robert Burns’s Scots Musical Museum and James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion, as well as collections by MacIntosh, McGibbon, Baillie, Foulis, Erskine, Macklean, Watson, Bremner, Ramsey, Rick, Craig, Campbell, Schetky and innumerably more.

Most of these collections were printed for voice or violin, and many included only the tunes, sometimes with variations. The Scots Musical Museum and various other publications included the song texts and figured bass parts; still others provided slow air tunes without words but set with figured bass for performance on the harpsichord or other instruments. However, it must be said that applying ‘educated’ rules of harmony and metre, not to mention tuning and temperament, significantly alters the nature of these tunes, and playing from these arrangements clearly produced a result very far removed from ‘traditional’ performance.

As for music written specifically for the flute, which was a popular wind instrument throughout the eighteenth century,  sonatas appeared by Munro, Macklean, John Reid, Barsanti; Oswald composed a set of divertimentos; and sets of flute duets were prepared by McGibbon, Schetky, Montgomery, Muschat, Oswald and others.

James Oswald was one of Scotland’s bright lights in the 18th century, making a career first in his hometown of Dunfermline and in Edinburgh before moving to London in 1741. Appointed chamber composer to George III in 1761, and a member of the Society of the Temple of Apollo, he worked as a musician, composer, teacher and music editor. His Caledonian Pocket Companion was a multi-volume collection of Scots tunes for violin or flute solo published between about 1742 and 1759. Variations on the tunes are often included, especially in the earlier volumes. Forty-seven of the tunes in the CPC also appeared in a version with figured bass around 1742 (a modern edition of this is available from Ut Orpheus, Bologna). This recording features seven of the CPC’s tunes as solos, and an eighth (Greensleeves) accompanied in an arrangement created by my colleagues. ‘A rock and a wee pickle Jon,’ ‘Lovely Nancy‘ and ‘My aprone dearie‘ are some of the most popular tunes of the time, found in many collections; ‘The Braes of Ewes‘ is a tune of Oswald’s own composition.

James Oswald also composed numerous works for various instruments, including two large sets of sonatas called ‘The Seasons.‘ Each ‘season’ consisted of several short sonatas, each named for a particular flower or plant. The selections on this recording come from the second set, published in 1747. I seem to have gravitated to some unusual botanical subjects: the Sneezewort is a species of yarrow once used as a substitute for snuff; the Duck’s Foot is more commonly known as the May apple; and blue Heather Bells are amongst the most beautiful of wildflowers in the northern U.K.

The short and sweet sonatas by Charles Macklean are two of the four specified for flute in his ‘Twelve Solo’s or Sonata’s,’ op. 1, published in Edinburgh in 1737. Macklean, who worked in Montrose, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, also set a number of traditional tunes as part of a collection published posthumously in 1770.

Nicola Matteis’s ‘Ground after the Scotch Humour’ comes from his Ayrs for the Violin (1685). Matteis was a brilliant Neapolitain violinist who came to London around 1670. During his early years there he performed very little, allegedly because he was ‘inexpugnably proud,’ but he was later described as ‘stupendious’ by Evelyn, and considered a second Corelli by North and Burney.

Not much is known about Alexander Munro, whose ‘Collection of the Best Scots Tunes Fited [sic] to the German Flute With Several Divisions, & Variation’ appeared in Paris in 1732. The publication contains twelve well-known tunes, each with a group of variations and set to a figured bass. ‘Fy gar rub her over wi’ strae‘ is one of the longer examples, featuring a group of divisions on the original melody followed by several versions of the tune in different metres, tempos and dance forms. The text of the original song extols the virtues of making hay while the sun shines, “afore auld age your vitals nip,”and in a highly politically incorrect fashion,  ‘Fy gar’ seems to be an Aberdeen colloquialism for ‘get a move on.’

For examples of slow airs set to 18th-century figured basses, arrangements by Barsanti and Edward Miller are included here. Padua-born Francesco Barsanti, who lived in Edinburgh from 1735 to 1743 and is better-known to recorder/flute players for his sonatas, adapted many Scottish slow airs in various arrangements for vocal and instrumental performance.

The Braes of Ballandyne‘ is taken from Edward Miller’s flute instruction method of 1799.

Captain Simon Fraser’s collection of ‘The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and The Isles’ was assembled between 1715 and 1745 but did not appear in print until 1816. A record of Gaelic songs as sung by his older relatives, the tunes were set in very simple keyboard arrangements, presumably to be useful to as wide a spectrum of music lovers as possible. The accompaniments recorded here, created by my colleagues, are significantly more inventive than Fraser’s.

Two tunes by members of the illustrious Gow family of fiddle players have also been included here, simply out of respect for their influence on Scottish music.

Bannocks of Beer Meal‘ is a melody featured in numerous collections, and the variations on it come from Robert Bewick’s manuscripts of tunes for Northumbrian small pipes. Bewick was a celebrated pipes player of the early nineteenth century, and also produced excellent  copperplate engravings.

The CD’s final tune comes from an anonymous 18th-century collection at Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland (MS 2833).

© Alison Melville, 2004