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David McGuinness's blog


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Saturday 16 September 2000

A useful couple of days' research. I spent Thursday morning in the Mitchell Library with their (possibly now unique) copy of Alexander Reinagle's book of Scots Tunes for harpsichord, and two different editions of McGibbon's tune books. The librarian tells me that their priceless collection of old music is sitting 'baking on a metal shelf' somewhere out the back, and muses on how nice it would be to be funded properly. The old card catalogue says they have two copies of the 1761 McGibbon book but an extensive search by two people only turns one of them up.

Anyway, it's very nice to be back in a great old public library, founded by bequest back in the days when at least some rich people thought that education was a good thing. I used to go there a lot in the evenings when I was about 14, and when most of my schoolmates were probably out drinking Bacardi and coke, trying hard to lose their virginity. The library had a great music and audio lending section, and I used to leave with Stockhausen scores under my arm, to go home and lay them out on the floor while listening to the records. My friend James and I were soon well acquainted with the works of Stockhausen, Cage and the occasional Dave Swarbrick album (more of which later). I suppose my interest in old music began with hearing David Wulstan's LP of reconstructed Gibbons verse anthems, borrowed from that library one rainy evening. Anyhow it's strange to go back after such a long time: I'm still wary of getting static shocks off the lift buttons, and the photocopiers still smell exactly the same.

Reinagle's book is more interesting than I'd expected. I'd pretty much stopped looking for good Scots keyboard music of the period as it usually turns out to be junk - this is mostly junk, but there are some great fun bits which make up for it, including some pointless flights of virtuosity. After Reinagle emigrated, he published the book again in Philadelphia, hence Olivier Baumont's interest for his CD. I think a Reinagle tune will find its way into our concert in a couple of weeks as an added extra.

While learning this at the harpsichord on Friday morning, I took the opportunity to play through Oswald's collection of 'the best Scotch and English Songs', which I've somehow never got around to. There's a huge pile of folders on my study window-sill containing masses of photocopied material from various libraries' collections, waiting for me to work my way through it, and this one's time had come.

Going through Oswald's publications is a frustrating process. He was an astute businessman, which sometimes meant that volume of product took precedence over inspiration - put bluntly, a lot of his music is crap. I'd got about halfway through the book, and I'd just got irritated at the lazy banality of his harmony for 'Rosline Castle' and was about to give up, when I found his version of 'Wat ye wha I met yestreen'. His arrangement is so utterly bizarre that I didn't even recognise the tune (which I knew originally from an old Dave Swarbrick album - thanks to the Mitchell Library again). Oswald's Airs for the Seasons are the same - trawling through 96 sonatas, you're just about to lose the will to live when he plays a blinder and comes up with something really inspirational. Anyway, Wat ye wha etc. is the one song missing from the music printed at the back of the 1788 Glasgow edition of Ramsay's ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd, so I must look and see if Ramsay's words fit Oswald's strange harmony. One of many long-term repertoire projects is constructing a score for the opera based on various 18th century sources - Corn Riggs (an .mp3 of this is elsewhere on this site) is the finale.