Common Stock December 2013

A closer look at two familiar tunes yields some surprises…

The December 2012 issue of   Common Stock included the  setting from the George Bowie fiddle manuscript of ‘Where Shall Our Goodman Lie’, a tune that appears in a number of late 17th and 18th century collections and which may well date from the mid-16th century if not earlier. One feature of this setting which was not commented on, but which cannot have escaped anyone who attempted to play it, is that though the opening strains suggest a familiar tempo, later strains make it clear that this setting at  least must be played considerably slower. Here are strains 1, 2 and 4:

The effect of this reduction in tempo has on the whole piece is dramatic, but this kind of clue is not uncommon in these early settings of Lowland tunes, implying that we may often make misjudgments about tempo if we are unfamiliar with them. Here, for instance is the first strain of ‘The Malt Grinds Well’ as it appears in David Young’s MacFarlane MS. of 1740:

Tackling this familiar tune in a way which allows Young’s semi-quavers to be played at a sensible tempo results in a very different kind of ‘dird’, one which, incidentally, lends itself to the introduction of ‘pointing’ to the quaver groups, which in itself generates a tune very reminiscent of Northumbrian hornpipes. Nor should these settings be considered as ‘chamber music’ - very similar clues to tempo appear in collections of dance music - their lessons re tempo are well wroth considering and can open up surprising new interpretations of what at first glance are familiar and straightforward tunes.