Old, old tunes

Old, old tunes

There’s a particular Scottish march I like called "MacDonald of the Isles’ March to the Battle of Harlaw". I have a book with the dots that says the tune commemorates the battle of Harlaw in 1411, but that the tune was probably composed "some time after the battle". Does anyone know approximately how old this tune is? Also are there other tunes that are very old? I know that much of what we play is from the last 300 years or so. What of music before that?

Re: Old, old tunes

Some of these tunes have a very old feel to them. I think I remember reading somewhere that The Battle of Harlaw is composed in the late 15th or early 16th century. Don’t remember where though. I thought it was David Johnson’s ‘Scottish Fiddle Music of the 18th Century’ but the note in the Fiddler’s Companion seems to contradict this; it could have been in notes on a recording, so might not be that reliable.
Here’s the page from The Fiddler’s Companion with a note on the Battle of Harlaw.
http://www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/BARN_BB.htm

The Irish tune An Faire (which means "on watch"), which survives as the jig The Gold Ring, is supposed to be mediaeval in origin. The jig form itself appears to have been around in Ireland in the Middle Ages. Because written record is the only sure way of dating these tunes, we can’t be sure how long some of the old tunes (or earlier versions of them) have been about. But there’s good chance that many of the old tunes have been doing the rounds for many centuries. There’s a better written record of Scottish tunes and some of them have a very long history.

Re: Old, old tunes

The information about the Gold Ring is totally fascinating. Thanks for that tidbit.

I heard the tune played around the D.C. area about 30 years ago, when the Irish scene probably was in its "early phase" here. I think Frankie Gavin had recorded it, and people picked it up off his recording.

But I would actually may get a little thrill — just playing it by myself for a friend some day — and telling them that it is said to be midievil in origin. There’s something almost spooky about playing a tune against the backdrop of knowing it’s that old — if you can hold the awareness while you are playing it (I guess this is sort of a theatrical technique — getting into ‘character."

Because, if you let it — it can allow you to "time travel" a little bit.

Posted by .

Re: Old, old tunes

An Faire was originally a march I believe, it was among the harp tunes collected by Edward Bunting, and it means "THE Watch" of course (in the sense of being on watch before a battle).

Re: Old, old tunes

Derek Bell believed that "Give Me Your Hand" was the oldest extant Irish tune.

Re: Old, old tunes

I gather the Highland Bagpipes of Scotland were developed in the c15. The Irish Piob Mor - the same thing with one drone less - developed in tandem, players travelling from one country to the other to learn or improve their skills. By the time of Elizabeth I (late c16) it was in general use as an instrument of war in Ireland, and thenceforth proscribed as such by the English. This though was not very effectual till the mid c17, when Cromwell, unlike Elizabeth, succeeded in taking and holding the entire country.

So, some Irish tunes in the Highland Bagpipe nine-note scale, or some seeming outgrowth of this, may have come down from the C15-17 days of the Piob Mor. But it might well be impossible to determine if such a tune originated in Ireland or originated in Scotland, such was the music swapping between the countries.

Re: Old, old tunes

Of course a tune might be incredibly ancient, but we can’t prove it, so there’s the difference between the "oldest tune" and the "earliest datable tune."
I’m told notation got going about 1020 AD/CE with Guido of Arrezzo.
Does the latin name "Da mihi manum" predate the Irish and English names for "Give me your Hand"?

Re: Old, old tunes

There are plenty of tunes that appear as routine in current English sessions that were published in Playford in 1651, and that was a collection of pre-existing "old tunes"

Re: Old, old tunes

Tabhair dom do lámh dates to 1603, about the same time as cliff richard had his first hit (heroin, I think)

Re: Old, old tunes

I have a book of Irish harp tunes and in the foreword it says that brian borus march was writted for the soldiers to march to on thier way to the battle of clontarf and that was in 1014, making Brian Boru’s march 994 years old. Cool.

Re: Old, old tunes

I read somewhere that before the Highland Bagpipes were developed as a powerful martial instrument, harpers did indeed accompany clansmen etc. to war, singing songs intended to rouse their spirits. It does rather summon up the image of some forlorn Robin Williamson-like figure twangling and intoning ineffectually on a hillside while the soldiers charge off into the mist - but the people of the time must have found the best ways to make this practice work for them. The upright frame harp was definitely around in Ireland and Britain before Clontarf - it is depicted on stone crosses especially, though those carvings may not be concerned to communicate all the details or an instrument’s actual size. So Brian Boru may well have had one or more battlefield harpers with him.

Re: Old, old tunes

And there was me thinking that Brian Ború’s March was written by Maurice Lennon who definitely wouldn’t have been around in 1014! Seriously though, there’s a great version of this march on a CD put out by Maurice back in 2002 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Brian Ború’s coronation. The CD on the Tara label included some great compositions by Maurice including a lovely reel called the Stone of Destiny. Sorry for this digression but I’m just making the point that good tunes don’t always have to be "Old, old".

Re: Old, old tunes

Hmm, I find that a touch hard to believe nicholas8-)
Try O’Neils march as another oldy….
March of the King Of Laois…..

Re: Old, old tunes

According to my source, Pipers are mentioned in the 5th Century Brehon Laws.
There are also mentions of pipers from records of 1206 and 1256 in Ireland , and again in the statutes of Kilkenny, 1367.

Re: Old, old tunes

Of course, humans all over the world have been making bone whistles and flutes since the damn of man:

http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/1999/bnlpr092299.html

No one can really say what sort of prehistoric Western European Celtic sessions were raging ‘round the fire as the shamans painted the cave walls…

The Humours of Pangea? The Sabre-Tooth’s Lament? Mammoth in the Praetie Hole?

Re: Old, old tunes

"damn of man" ??? was that a typo or the truth? ha!

Re: Old, old tunes

Holy typo Batman! I’ve made Freud’s slip proud.

Re: Old, old tunes

LOL SWFL, I spotted that one allright.


I dont think Brian Borus march was originally composed for the harp. I always presumed that marches were composed to be played on the pipes (not uilleann). Particularly the war pipes and in reference to Brian Borus March I always presumed that this tune was composed to be played on the Brian Boru pipes, which could be played while marching.

I’ve been wrong before though.

Re: Old, old tunes

That sounds like I’m saying the war pipes couldnt be played while marching…. they can. :)

Re: Old, old tunes

Brian Boru pipes were a product of the "Celtic Renaissance" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They never really caught on but a few people still play them.

Those old references to war pipes are referring to the piob mor of the time. The Scottish Highland version of the piob more did not add a third drone until sometime around 1700. The Irish version never added a third drone and was extinct by 1750.

Re: Old, old tunes

It’s very likely that Brian Boru’s March was originally a harp piece, however old it really is, it was preserved as a harp piece after all. And I hear that around half the tunes in ‘Playford’s Dancing Master’ (1651) are Irish. If this is so they have quite a different feel from the modern repertoire. Most of what we play now is from the 18th and 19th centuries it appears.
(Incidentally, Brehon laws were written down rather later than 5th century, Gaelic was written down at all here (except for inscriptions) before the 7th century.)

Re: Old, old tunes

Brian Boru’s March is indeed do-able on the GHB, bar a high note in a third part I’ve heard people play.

Re: Old, old tunes

The dichotomy here is that whilr we are asking about an aural tradition, your only reference it a written one.

You will never know. Accept it

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

True enough Llig. This sort of thing is tough to dig into. For all the vastness of the Roman empire, if I remember right, we don’t have a single notated example of their music. Still, whatever references that can be found might shed light on the state of music in earlier times, and what if any continuity it has with present Irish and Scottish music. I’ll take whatever knowledge we have. :)

Also, thanks for these posts and keep them coming! I liked the link to the epitaph of Seikilos. Perhaps it’s time to introduce it into our session. Hmmm…….

Re: Old, old tunes

Roman music scores indeed seem to be non-existent - which makes one wonder if theirs was indeed almost entirely an aural tradition, but there are nearly 50 actual scores known from Ancient Greek sources. Most of the Greek sources are fragmentary, but a handful, such as the epitaph of Seikilos, are reasonably complete. The notation used was roughly similar to today’s "ABC" , but nothing like as elaborate, and marks were placed over the letters to indicate note lengths and accents.

Re: Old, old tunes

I gather from Wiki that there was a sort of Roman notation and the odd bit survives, but very little. Papyrus, preserved in dumps in the Egyptian desert and sometimes there (I think) bearing Greek music fragments, decayed easily in Europe, so there seems to be little chance of finding notation on this commonly-used material in Roman Western Europe. That is to say, accidents of preservation may affect the numerical proportion of surviving Greek musical fragments to Roman ones.

(I was always led to believe that waterlogged sites, as in or near Roman London and York, preserved organic matter well; and so in general they do - wood, leather, etc.; but maybe papyrus doesn’t play by these rules.)

Re: Old, old tunes

You miss the pint about the dichotomy - "the division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups".

Even if you had perfectly preserved papyrus dots, you still wouldn’t have a bloody clue what it sounded like.

Maybe some very clever boffin of the future will invent a device that can so accurately measure vibration in molecules that the results could be filtered through a ridiculously powerful supercomputer and an echo from the past could be retrieved. I’d be interested in that.

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

point (maybe I have pints on the mind)

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

You’re right, Michael. We’ll never know what music sounded like in the age(s) before recordings. And the aural tradition changes constantly, so it’s radically different now from what the music was like 500 years ago, 200 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago … even 20 years ago. And I remember it 40 years ago, and it *was* different.

As an example, I’ve just tried this week in 2 different sessions, 2 tunes whose names I can’t remember which used to be common session tunes 30 years ago or so. And nobody in either session knew them, and these are reasonably knowledgeable people. And that’s just the tunes, let alone the style, pace etc etc

But we can still get clues as to what music might have been like in the past from historic notation. And top musicians have always, and still do, ‘resurrected’ tunes from old, purely written records and ‘brought them back’ into the tradition. Good thing to do, in my opinion.

Re: Old, old tunes

Yep,

Though I think "resurrecting" is not really the right word. Maybe "re-inventing" is more accurate. They are not really resurrecting, i.e., digging up. It’s more like a frankenstien thing where you’d stitch bits of things together and breath new life into them. I’m not knocking it, some lovely music has come out of it. But a resurrection is the old life coming back. You simply can’t do that with music that has died.

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

Neither can you do that with other traditions and cultures that have died either. That’s the sad part about it, and that is why they should never be allowed to become lost in the first place.

Re: Old, old tunes

aural, oral traditions and cultures

Re: Old, old tunes

I have a book of Irish harp tunes and in the foreword it says that brian borus march was writted for the soldiers to march to on thier way to the battle of clontarf and that was in 1014, making Brian Boru’s march 994 years old. Cool.

# Posted on January 26th 2008 by session savage

And naturally the tune starts with and ends with a bodhran.

So much for O’Riada "inventing" bodhrans in 1958.

Re: Old, old tunes

Well I play the wirestrung harp, and there is no way on this earth that anyone is marching to the sound of this thing, unless maybe there was one hundred of them. Ten men stamping their feet would drown it out, never mind ten thousand.
Derek Bell claiming that Tabhair Dom Do Lamh is the oldest extant tune is odd, since it was the Chieftains harp album that claimed the oldest to be "Dierdres Lament For The Sons Of Usnach"

Tabhair, or Da Mihi Manum was written by Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin.

Earliest tune that is documentably Irish comes from a never published manuscript "My Ladye Nevells Notebook" written in 1591, and is simply called "Irishe March". (Got that from Aloys Fleischmann’s incredible double volumed ‘Sources Of Irish Traditional Music’).

If there is anything claimed to be older, I think it is pure conjecture.

Robert

*

apparently ‘The Complaynt’ has lyrics ~ no melody.

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

Clear Drops aural & oral traditions go from one generation to next in the absence of other media
~ written language, musical notation, printed material … The best story tellers are illiterate. We whittle a bit of the aural tradition each tme we logon. Rather we could pass along to the young generation how the tunes sound. Perhaps it is possible to have both ~ but to which do you devote most of your energy? You do not hear anything & if you did it would be digital.
Consider something as recent as vinyl LP’s with their covers & liner notes. Now it is mostly cds or maybe just an mp3 heard through earbuds.
Aural tradition ~ does anyone do that?

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

… not necissarily "in the absence of other media". The media, in any case, is just the means (medium) by which traditions can be transmitted now-a-days. The music, stories, traditions etc can still continue to be transmitted and kept alive (the most important thing), although the interpretation and expression of them inevitably evolves and is open to distortion in the light of the media used. … and some of the best story tellers are STILL illiterate.

Despite this, the basic tenent of passing on traditions can still work but via an altered communication medium. Well, I’d like to think so, anyway. Otherwise the future looks bleak indeed! and we are heading for some horrendous mono-culture with no links to the past. Surely, to know the way forward there is a need to know from whence you came, your own story. When these links to the past have been cut in the past, people have become lost and no longer know who or why they are. This is very sad.

Its communication technology that has done the exploding, so the question then is whether to use modern technology to pass traditions on, or whether to retain the traditions within the risky generation to generation limited transmission that might be seriously affected (killed) by, say, the untimely death of an knowledgeable elder, or an act of genocide, emigration, a war, a natural disaster, or whatever other catastrophy might befall a small population with a limited geographic distribution.

The trouble is there is just way way too much ‘stuff’ available via the internet now-a-days, and the network is expanding expodentially at a frightening rate (even if I am really thankful that it makes getting what I want, that is ITM, possible where otherwise it would be very difficult to obtain). Its getting impossible to keep up with all the ITM stuff available at the rate people are putting it up. Talk about overkill.

Oh help! I’ve got into deep water over stuff like this before. But blow it, might as well say it anyway.

Re: Old, old tunes

sorry, the first link doesnt work anymore. only the vid does.

Posted by .

Re: Old, old tunes

Sorry, That link didn’t work for me either.

Re: Old, old tunes

Planxty recorded a piece written by the c16 English composer Byrd called "The Irish Marche"; the tune doesn’t correspond to any Irish tune I’ve heard, but as Planxty play it it’s an agreeable enough piece of music.

Re: Old, old tunes

Yep, I’d go with the "re-inventing" or even "re-constucting" instread of "resurrecting".

I tend to think it’s - to a greater or lesser degree - what we do with every tune every time we play it, but of course it’s more so when all we have is some old written record of the tune.

Re: Old, old tunes

Jasonb 1985 asked: "What of music before that?"
In a small voice - I hate to tell you guys, but Indigenous Peoples around the globe have been keeping tunes, songs and ceremonies alive through generational transmission for many thousands of years. Just because they didn’t write them down doesn’t mean they didn’t /don’t exist. Same goes in the context of Irish or other European musics, the tunes all came from somewhere before there was history, but in Europe the links are more likely to be lost.

If you were looking for genuine old, old tunes, the place you would be most likely to find them alive today is in Indigenous cultures, hey?

Re: Old, old tunes

Interesting though, Ms Drops, although it would be hard to tell how true it was, wouldn’t it? I mean they *might* have been keeping sonds/tunes etc alive, varied to a greater or lesser extent, but, without some record of some sort, you wouldn’t know, would you? Tunes handed down through the generations may have mutated beyond recognition, or, indeed, may have got lost, and new ones handed down, as has happened in European cultures too.

Re: Old, old tunes

Er … "Interesting thought"

Re: Old, old tunes

Muse

As best I can tell the Complaynt Of Scotland , being a poem, only mentions that the Battle Of Harlaw was a popular song.
It is listed by Francis Child as Ballad #163
"Frae Dunideir as I earn through,
Doun by the hill of Banochie,
Alangst the lands of Garioch-
Great pity ‘twas to hear and see,
The noise and dulesome harmonie,
That e’er that dreary day did daw.
Crying the coronach sae hie,
"Alas! alas! for the Harlaw!"

Being a ballad, it is most likely that the tune was borrowed from other songs that were popular at the time. The Complaynt was written c.1549 so the song was obviously already known at that time. The actual battle being 1411 gives you a 138 year window as to its origin. For this time period, that is actually pretty accurate!

The oldest known WRITTEN Scottish music MS are the Skene and the Straloch, which contain what is believed to be harp music.. including the earliest Gaelic harp tune in print: Port Ballangowne.

That’s really all I know.. good luck with the search. It’s fun, innit.

Robert

Re: Old, old tunes

The Scots had tenor drums that sounded like bodhrans and GHBs that sounded like Ulilleans - I have seen them on Braveheart so it must be true!

Re: Old, old tunes

I have not seen ‘Braveheart’
I do hope there are more accurate accounts of the music
in Wallace’s time.

Posted .

Re: Old, old tunes

I heard that it was The Return to Fingal that Brian Boru’s troops played on the way back from the Battle of Clontarf ( does that make it more accurate? ). Then again, maybe I read it here http://www.thesession.org/tunes/851.

Posted by .

Re: Old, old tunes

The return to Finglas more likely. They still have battles there.