Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Introducing Balcarres

With Burns Night fast approaching, we are pleased to post an article with a Scottish theme. Recently the University Presses of Glasgow and Aberdeen published the long-awaited Balcarres Lute Book as part of the Music of Scotland Series. Described as a ‘beautiful production’ by the Times Literary Supplement, it is intended both for the lute player with a facsimile of the tablature and extensive notes and concordances, and the scholar with a introduction on the background and context followed by a full transcription. Here, editor Matthew Spring provides some background to this important discovery:

The Balcarres manuscript is the largest and arguably most important post-1640 British source of lute music. The collection is also possibly the most extensive and interesting of all Scottish late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century instrumental manuscript sources, whether for lute, keyboard, violin or lyra viol. It contains 252 pieces of Scottish, English and French provenance, written or arranged for the 11-course lute. It may have been copied out by or for Margaret, the fourth wife of The Earl of Balcrarres. Along with native Scottish music, Balcarres contains arrangements of violin music, English popular tunes and French baroque lute music by mid- and later seventeenth-century masters.

Although its date of compilation cannot be pin-pointed, nor its early provenance traced, it clearly does not date from before the last few years of the seventeenth century and it more probably originates from the first years of the eighteenth. Hence it is contemporary with and comparable to the group of Scottish instrumental manuscripts that date from the period 1680-1725. These were the years before the trickle of printed collections of Scots songs, fiddle tunes and dance music produced for the English and Scottish market became a veritable flood. Seventeen twenty three/four saw the publication of Ramsey's The Tea-Table Miscellany and 1725 Stuart's Music for Allan Ramsey's Collection of Scots Tunes, both published in Edinburgh, and the first edition of William Thompson's Orpheus Caledonius in London. The popularity of such books, and those that followed, ensured that Scots songs were staple fare for music publishers aiming at the popular market in the eighteenth century.

The sheer number of publications that continued throughout the century and into the next which included, or purported to include, old Scots melodies, largely ensured that the living and changing body of popular Scots melodies was gradually replaced by tunes that were full of the ‘highland humours’ that the general British public expected, in 'tasteful' eighteenth-century arrangements calculated to sell. Balcarres is representative of the pivotal years when manuscript circulation, which was clearly responsive to oral tradition, was being increasingly undermined by the scale of popular publications.

Writers on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scottish music who have mentioned Balcarres have all assumed that the book originated from the household of one of the Lindsays of Balcarres. Certainly it survives today as part of the Crawford-Lindsay family possessions. The manuscript has the shelf mark, English MS 970.201 on the front cover. This refers to its cataloguing as part of the library at Haigh Hall, near Wigan, Lancashire, the residence of the Lindsay family after the merger of the Balcarres and Crawford branches in 1808. There is nothing within the manuscript’s contents to substantiate this, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that it was acquired by the Lindsay family after completion. However given that it survives as part of the family papers, and that it formed part of the Haigh Hall library in the nineteenth-century, it is likely that it did originate with a family member, and was kept after its period of use because of the family connection. It is called the Balcarres Lute Book presumably because it came from Balcarres House, and had belonged to the Earls of Balcarres.

Margaret Campbell, Colin, third Earl of Balcarres’ fourth wife, is the most likely candidate as author of the Balcarres lute book. There are a number of similarities between her known hand and that of the book’s compiler. While these similarities are insufficient to make a positive identification they certainly admit a possibility.

One of the most striking characteristics of the book is that almost every piece has a careful attribution that names one, or often two, individuals. These attributions set the manuscript apart from contemporary music books, and give the best clues as the musical world from which it comes, and the manner in which the book was put together. In 85 pieces a certain Mr Beck is given sole credit for pieces as ‘by mr Beck’, or ‘mr Beck’s way’. This man turns out to be a certain John Beck, a musician working in the Canongate area of Edinburgh in the 1690s.

A second important character mentioned frequently in the title is Mr McLauchland. Through the research of Sally Garden a geneology of McLauchland has emerged. He married Margaret McKenzie, on 19th April 1699 in Edinburgh, the marriage record listing him as ‘musickmaster’ in the city. His wife was the daughter of Daniell McKenzie and Eupham Miller. Birth records for Margaret McKenzie show that Daniell McKenzie was active as violer in Edinburgh in 1680, and that he lived in or around the Canongate. Witnesses to this birth suggest that the family was from the artisan class and well settled in the area.

John McLauchland’s testament and inventory dated 30 July 1702 shows that he had died earlier in 1702, and had drawn up a marriage contract on 24 March 1699 with Margaret McKenzie. The considerable number and variety of beds, furniture, blankets and bedding, plates, cutlery, and drinking utensils might suggest that John McLauchland, his wife, and father-in-law, were running an inn. The inventory lists 8 instruments; 5 violins, a bass violin, a viol and virginals. His compositions alone suggest he was an important figure in Edinburgh musical life at the end of the eighteenth-century and one that was developing a distinctive style of violin composition that brought together native folk melodies and art music variation techniques.

The manuscript was produced at the point in the development of Scottish instrumental music when the folk and art traditions were closely linked, when oral and manuscript circulation of music were predominant, and before printed music had begun to dominate the circulation of Scottish melodies both in the Lowlands and in England. The music contained in the manuscript reflects this background. Thus it includes French art music composed by celebrated lute masters, pieces drawn from Playford’s publications for the violin and much native folk music in various arrangements, many of which can only be found in this manuscript and were clearly locally produced by musicians known either to Mr Beck or the original owner.

It is a magnificent manuscript both in its execution and in the rich diversity of its contents. It deserves to be better known by both lutenists and by those interested in the national music of Scotland.

The Balcarres Lute Book, edited by Matthew Spring, is available from all good music booksellers.

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