The Lowland Jig

Blanche of Middlebie III

Robert Riddells' setting of this tune looks so much like a pipe setting, and sits so well on the pipes, it is easy to forget that his collection is described as for violin, hautboy or german flute. This is important because it contains indications of ornaments which we have to assume are references to fiddle technique, not to piping. These ornaments come in the form of 'tr' [trill] added to the crotchets [and to the first quaver of bar 3] in the first strain. George Greig pointed out to me that the use of the 'tr' sign is not unusual in early highland pipe collections [Mackay and Maclachaln both use it and MacLachlan writes out its interpretation]


That, is, MacLachlan's trills are a shorthand for what are in the main, doublings, as far as one can tell. However, I am not convinced that this is how a fiddler would interpret them, or at least, not all of them. This depends chiefly on just how we intend to perform the piece.All the evidence suggests that the tune was, in its earliest manifestations, a dance tune. But what kind of dance might it have been that Blanche of Middlebie did? Riddell describes it as  'a jig or Cumberland' but this is no real help, since he has previously ascribed the 'Jig' or 'Cumberland' to the tune 'Simon Brodie' [of which more later, hopefully].

I mentioned in my previous post that Riddell's tune has much in common with the well-known highland tune 'The Old Maid of the Mill-Dust'; there is a valuable [though the transcription features typing of more or less the sakme standard as mine] HERE. This is a mysterious 'pantomime' dance for a man and a woman; Riddell's dance appears to be a solo. Carmichael stresses the movements [which, despite his vogiorous description, seem to involve no more thatn in and out, cross-over and round]. The solo dance, however, one might imagine was more about stepping than movement [if Riddell's story dates the tune to the reign of Charles II then we can e fairly sure that it did not involve the elaborate movement patterns that eveolved during the Baroque period]. Matt pointed us to the performance by Ben Power's sean nos group dancing the Irish step dance 'The Priest in His Boots'

For want of any better guidance this seems a reasonable place to start. the tempo is around 110 dotted crotchets per minute.

 Here is my performance of the first strain as unembellished as I can make it [using covered fingering long sustained phrases without the low A are quite a challenge].

and now here is my attempt to play only the embellishments Riddell notates, interpreting the trills according to MacLachlan as 'doublings'.
 It seems to me that this is not a piper's performance. It is almost impossible to resist introducing further embellishments at certain points, though where thse points are may differ depending on your approach.

 Here is my interpretation of those trills- I am employing a more relaxed approach to the dird and introducing the trills 'at the end of ' the notes, a kind of slide into the following note. I'm not convinced that this is how I want to play this piece, but it is an indication of alternative approaches. One of the things that is bothering me is that 'low A'  in bar 2, not ii: I keep finding myself playing a D, as in bar 6, - it seems to lead in to the followin ECA more happily. This may be the result of playing it on the smallpipe where the low A tends to dissolve into the drone, resulting in an interruption in the phrase and leaving the ECA hanging, trying unsuccessfully to belong to the following phrase.

An alternative is to include some kind of doubling of these low A's. The 'dotted' rhythm that this introduices naturally extends itself into the quavers in bar 6 iv, v & vi or bar 7 i, ii & iii.

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