Sources for Gaelic harp music

Balcarres lute manuscript

National Library of Scotland Acc.9769/Personal papers 84/1/6; formerly John Rylands Library, Manchester

Written c.1695-1701, probably in the family of Lindsay of Balcarres, Fife, perhaps by Lady Margaret Campbell, the 4th wife of Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres. The manuscript is still owned by the family, and is deposited by them in the National Library in Edinburgh.


Balcarres facsimile edition

Matthew Spring (ed.)
The Balcarres lute book
The Music of Scotland / Ceòl na h-Alba, volume 2, The Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen, 2010
An edition in 2 volumes, with introduction, facsimile, transcriptions, and critical commentary. Available now from the Emporium.

Early Gaelic harp tunes in this source

f5v / p.10 / no.13 Port Atholl, John morrison’s way, by mr Beck
Transcriptions: PDF tablature by Wayne Cripps; Ronn McFarlane, Highland King p.22 (tab) p.23 (staff)
f52r / p.103 / no.161 Port Atholl, mr Mclaughlands way, by mr Beck
Transcriptions: PDF tablature by Wayne Cripps
f77v / p.218 / no.245 Port Atholl, with 1st string tuned up half a note, mr lesslies way, wrong marked
f78r / p.219 / no.248 Port Atholl, with the 1st string, tuned up half a note, mr lesslies way, right marked
Other versions: Dow: Port Atholl; Bowie: Port Atholl
This is different from the tune titled ‘Port Atholl’ in Oswald & Bunting (that is Carolan’s ‘Seabhac na hÉirne’)
The three settings of Port Atholl in the Balcarres manuscript differ in interesting ways. Mr. Mclaughland’s is a baroque fiddle style version; John Morrison’s is also Scottish baroque style; while Mr. Lesslie’s seems to be an older style, perhaps closer to the original Gaelic harp idiom.

f18r / p.35 / no.67 The Dukes Port mr Becks way
Other versions: Dow: Port Lennox; Bowie: Port Lennox. Also ‘Duke of Lennox Port’ in the lost Blaikie ms of 1692. (Dauney 1838 p.145)
Transcriptions: PDF tablature by Wayne Cripps

f24r / p.47 / no.81 Port Gordon, by mr Beck
Other versions: Bowie: Port Gordon; Maclean-Clephane: Port 2nd
Transcriptions: PDF tablature by Wayne Cripps
This is different from the tune titled ‘Port Gordon’ in Oswald, Dow, Bunting, Neal, & Maclean-Clephane

f55r / p.109 / no.168 Da mihi manum, mr mclaughlans way, by mr Beck (more info...)
Other versions: This is a baroque violin style interpretation of the 17th century set of Da Mihi Manum which appears in Wemyss. Other, similar baroque (fiddle?) variants appear in Dow and MacFarlane,. The somewhat different standard 18th century version of Da Mihi Manum appears in Neal, Oswald, Thumoth, & Bunting as well as many other 18th century Irish and Scottish mss and printed books.
Transcriptions: PDF tablature by Wayne Cripps; Ronn McFarlane, Highland King p.54 (tab) p.62 (staff)

What else is in this manscript?

The Balcarres lute book contains over 250 tunes, English, French and Scottish. Most of the Scottish material is Scots; there are only a handful of Gaelic pieces. Most of the pieces indicate who the setting was from; many are arranged by, or have variation sets by, Mr. McLaughlan. According to Keith Sanger (‘The Right Mr. McLachlan’, Common Stock, vol 30 number 1, June 2013, p.33), there were two Edinburgh musicians of this name at the time. One, James, died in 1701-2. It’s often assumed that he was responsible for the Balcarres tunes. The other, John, died in 1710. Whoever he was, he was clearly an important figure in the Edinburgh musical scene who seems to have been seminal in the development of a native baroque style in Scotland

How to read the manuscript

Click here for some information on how to approach the music in the manuscript.

Simon Chadwick