Pete Stewart looks at an early manifestation of a familiar tune and what can be learnt about how it might have been played when it was new.

The repertoire of Lowland music has grown slowly over the past thirty years, many tunes appearing for the first time for 200 years, others being reclaimed from highland sources. Among the first  publications to re-introduce many of these tunes was Gordon Mooney’s A Tutor for the Lowland Bagpipes and one of the tunes included in it was ‘Cuttymun and Treeladle’. The tune has been in the highland repertoire since at least the 1840’s and was included in Wm Donaldson’s collection published in 2006, in which Donaldson says he had been playing it for forty years, having first found it in Stewart-Robinson’s ‘Atholl Collection’ [1884] - where it is printed with high B’s as the second note in bars 4, 8 and 12. Donaldson has adopted the alternative high A as printed in McLachlan’s ‘Piper’s Assistant’ in 1854.

from ‘The Piper’s Assistant’

Cuttyman and Treeladle from ‘The Piper’s Assistant’ 1854; [grace notes removed]


from ‘The Piper’s Assistant’

Cutty Spoon [from David Young’s MacFarlane manuscript, 1740]

This tune, now played as a reel, has a much longer history however [indeed, McLachlan marks it ‘Very Old’], and this history reveals some intriguing aspects. There is a version in David Young’s 1740 MacFarlane manuscript [which on the face of it looks very similar to the later ones, but in fact contains passages that could not be performed at today’s reel tempo.
However, there is an earlier version from the very end of the 17th century where we find a dramatic difference. The tune titled ‘Cuttie spoon and treeladel’ [sic] appears in the Balcarres Lute manuscript, where it is described as ‘by Mr Mclauchlan’ whose work I discussed in the previous issue of Common Stock and about whom Keith Sanger has written in this issue.

from ‘The Piper’s Assistant’

‘Cuttie spoon and treeladel’ from the Balcarres MS, c.1695 [original key G]

When we look at the Balcarres music, however, we can see that something dramatic occurred between the date of this manuscript and that of David Young’s some forty years later; the Balcarres version is music of a very different character.
As is often the case when we compare older versions of ‘lowland’ tunes with their later manifestations, the melodic elements are ‘out of phase’.  But perhaps the most obvious difference is that the note values are double that of their later versions. Again, this is a familiar feature of these early settings, and it is more than a mere notational convention. Here it is even more apparent than in Young’s setting that, were we to transfer the sub-divisions of the melody in the Balcarres setting into the later ones, they would be unplayable at today’s ‘reel’ speed. This is music of a more relaxed tempo. And a particular consequence of this relaxation is a change in rhythmic character, what I refer to as the ‘dird’ of the tune, the kind of dance step it suggests.
I broached this subject in an article in Common Stock in December 2011 and I hope to return to it in more detail. However, it should be acknowledged that this is not the only conclusion that could be drawn from this evidence. None of these very early sources are presented in a context that would entitle us to consider their contents as ‘dance music’. The Balcarres lute book is clearly the work of a teacher for their pupil, and if the music in it was ever performed then it would have been in the context of ‘salon’ entertainments by the pupil within her own social group [these pupil lutenists of 17th century Scotland were almost all daughters of gentry]. What is more, those tunes that are of interest to us have titles which are clearly those of songs [and we can recover many of the words to these songs; even ‘Cutty Spoon’ has a few scraps surviving].
It is also pertinent to the argument to note that most of the passages that we are drawing our conclusions about tempo from appear, not in the basic setting of the tune, but in the later ‘divisions’, passages which could be understood to be ‘drawing room’ elaborations.
However, there are is evidence which suggest that these settings are not as divorced from ‘dance’ music as might be deduced from the ‘lute music’ context. We can find settings which, though less extended, contain similar passages of rapid notes, in collections of music specifically said to be for dancing - indeed, David Young compiled one such at the same time as his MacFarlane manuscript. Many of these contain dance instructions. It is from these sources that I suggest we can confirm that the tempo implied by the more extended settings from fiddle and lute sources do indeed provide valuable indications of how the dance music may have been played, and certainly give us exciting suggestions as to how it may be played today.
It’s also worth noting that the Balcarres setting has ornaments marked above some notes, as do many of the early fiddle manuscript sources - but that’s a subject for another time.

Pete Stewart