The Lowland Mazurka

Last year I managed to pursude the Music Dept. of Edinburgh Central Library to purchase a copy of the recently published  edition of the Balcarres lute book. This manuscript, for so long unavailable for research, is a treasure house of Scottish music at its turning point at the very end of the 17th century. I was aware of many of the wonders it contains, but I was taken by surprise by two settings of a tune it calls 'Rothes Rant', and which comes nearer than anything I have yet encountered in the Scottish sources to being a mazurka.

[In the third, starting at  the 2nd G of bar 3, original is an octave higher]

The Balcarres MS contains another rant, Phil Porter's Rant, which has many of the same characteristics:

What fascinates me about these tunes is that they open up all sorts of possible ways of interpreting other tunes in the early sources - this second one here falls somewhere between a mazurka and that kind of tune most commonly referred to as a 'lilt' in the 17th century manuscripts; it could also be called a waltz, if it weren't for the fact that the 'waltz' didn't exist as a dance until the 19th century. These tunes might also be seen as minuets, a form which was familiar to the compilers of manuscripts at the time, though the spellings are wonderfull inventive, and clearly reflect the French pronunciation rather than the Anglized form familiar now.. In the 1760's Major Edward Topham, in his records of his stay in Edinburgh, left some vivid descriptions of the addiction of the Scots to their dancing - at one point he describes a dance as a 'galloping minuet'; I can't help feeling that the way the Scots embraced the dance was by giving it a particularly Scottish flavour, though exactly what that was is now lost.

You must be logged-in to post comments