A History of Piobaireachd, Part 9
The most famous of these perhaps is the 1st variation of ‘Padruig Og MacCrimmon's Lament.’ Another tune the ‘King's Taxes’ has one of the same character but these two tunes appear to be unique in this respect. Another unique 1st variation is that of Donald Gruamach. One of the most beautiful is that of ‘Donald Ban MacCrimmon's Lament’ which has 1st cousins so to speak in the variations of the ‘Earl of Antrim’, ‘The Big Spree’, ‘Donald Dougall MacKay’, ‘The Lament for Queen Anne,’ another is ‘Lament for the Children.’ It resembles the 1st variation of the ‘Salute for Rory Mor MacLeod’ and the ground of ‘My King has landed in Moidart.’
A very curious one is the 1st variation of ‘Marion's Wailing’ and something like it occurs in ‘Grain in hides and corn in sacks’ also ‘A flame of wrath for Padruig Caogach’. There is no rule apparently that a piobaireachd must have any particular number of variations but if one kind of variation be used, it often means that the next variation must not be one of a certain, or must be one of a certain kind.
Most tunes have Taorluath and Crunluath variations, but some tunes are so long that it is sometimes supposed that Taorluath and Crunluath were added to them in later days, simply in order that they could be played for competitions. In any case there is a sprinkling of tunes which have been handed down to us without Taorluath or Crunluath variations, and I have heard an expert, the late J. MacDougall Gillies, say of several other tunes that he regarded them as finished before the beginning of the Taorluath. It is correct to say, as a general proposition that each variation must correspond with ground both in structure and in melody. By correspondence in structure, I mean that the phrases must be correspondingly arranged as in the ground. In many tunes the correspondence in melody is obvious. In others it is less prominent, but it is there all the same. In a few it is most difficult to date, and in one or two it appears to be absent. Why, we cannot tell.
Two of such cases are the ‘Desperate Battle’ and ‘The Lament for the Union’. In neither do the variations correspond with the ground either in structure or in melody. Although in both the several variations correspond strictly with each other yet the Desperate Battle is a very favorite tune nowadays and ‘The Lament for the Union’, a still more curious production, was a great favorite in past days. Angus MacKay played it when he won 1st Prize at the Highland Society's Competition in 1835 and other eminent pipers constantly had it in their Competition lists. The Ceol Mor version is not what the old pipers played. Gen. Thomason has involved an arrangement of his own which may be more in accordance with the general rules of Piobaireachd construction. But there is no proper authority for it.
It is not perhaps feasible to lay down any general rules about how a piobaireachd should be played but a few suggestions can be made. Some piobaireachds are Laments, Salutes, some are Gatherings or Marches, some are Battle Tunes and some are miscellaneous tunes and what Joseph MacDonald would probably call rural pieces. One rule applicable to all is not to drag the variations, it is a mistake to think that a Lament cannot be played too slow. A Lament is supposed to be expressive of grief and sorrow and like every other emotion rises and falls. It may rise from a dull sense of pain to a violent and passionate and it may smile again to resigned apathetic stupor. The ground of a lament may be slow but this does not mean that variations should be slow too, or that they should be played at the same pace. In certain Gatherings and Salutes all the variations should be animated without being hurried. This is one of the difficulties in playing the music.
In this connection it is necessary to warn the present day piper against being influenced in his method of playing by the names which are attached to the tunes nowadays, there are good reasons for making this statement. The late Alexander Cameron told me that he considered the tune nowadays known as MacLeod of Raasay's Salute to be a Lament. He was also firmly convinced that what is called Kinlochmoidart's Salute (and is so called in the Ceol Mor) is also a Lament and he regarded the Big Spree as a Lament and to be played as such.
The late Dr.Bell used to speak of the Little Spree as one of the saddest Laments in pipes. My advice to a piper would be that if after studying a so-called Lament, he thinks it in the character of a Salute or the other way round he should play the tune according to what the composer intended it to be.
Generally speaking the expression given to the ground is what marks the piobaireachd player and the secret is largely in the treatment of the short notes, which we usually find written as semi-quavers. There is considerable art in playing these quickly without cutting them and in bringing in various shades of shortness, the same note maybe a little shorter in one place than it is in another, or a little longer.
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