When browsing through old collections of published music, the early 19th century highland pipe collections, say, or the 'Repositories' of the Gow family, it is not uncommon to see the words 'very old' above the music, where one might expect the composer’s name to be, and it is sometimes possible to confirm these words by reference to earlier sources. Seldom, however, is it possible to not only trace a tune to an earlier source but to follow its history from the earliest ‘very old’ source through the next four centuries.
Nevertheless, Scottish sources of popular music are enormously rich, perhaps uniquely so, and in once case at least this is possible. That the tune I want to consider here must have been well-kent by the closing years of the 16th century is suggested by its appearance in the midst of an extended composition for lute written down by the Cheshire musician Matthew Holmes. It appears in the first of Holmes’ lute manuscripts, copied between 1588 and 1595 . The ascription, in Holmes’ hand, is to John Whitfield (fl. 1588-1616) but apart from this and two other lute pieces, almost nothing is known of him. This extended composition, appears to have been artfully constructed using at least four different ‘tunes’, of which the section of interest here is the third. I have extracted the following section:

fyket A holmes c1595

An extract from the Holmes lute manuscript, (Dd.2.11, ff. 9v-10r) c.1588-95

Holmes’s piece is left untitled in his manuscript, but can be identified by comparison with later sources, as we shall see, to be a 'Scottish Huntsup'. The section above appears on its own in 17th century sources with a title in the form of 'A Scottish Jigg. It is worth noting that Holmes’ piece is contemporary with Shakespeare’s mention of a Scots jig in Much Ado About Nothing, “‘Wooing, wedding and repenting is is as a Scots Jig, a measure and a cinque pace; the first suit is hot and hasty, as a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical.”
By the early decades of the 17th century this ground was in use for a number of tunes, including 'Pitt on Your Shirt on Monday' from the Skene Mandora manuscript c.1615 and 'Corne Yards', from the Rowallan lute Manuscript, c.1620.

pitt on your shirt skene

Two strains of ‘Pitt on your Shirt on Monday’, from the Skene manuscript, c.1615. Much the same music re-appears in the fifth and sixth strains of the Leycester viol manuscript. Notice that by setting the them in three sharps (viol tablature makes these key signatures clear), Skene has changed the ground from AGAA to AEAA (or is it B minor?), a change that will reappear 170 years later.

fyket rowallan c1620

'Corne Yards', from the Rowallan lute Manuscript, c.1620.

 The basic tune went on appearing in various guises through the middle of the 17th century; here is the ‘Scotch Jigge’ that appears in Peter Leycester’s manuscript for the viol (from Cheshire, c.1640?), in the section for the instrument in the ‘bag-pipe’ tuning.

scotch jigge

 A copy of Robinson’s 1609 New Citharen Lessons, now in Tokyo, has the first few bars scribbled in by hand, with the same title (starting after the pause symbols that end the previous piece). That someone should trouble to write out this scrap in their book is perhaps a sign of its popularity at the time; a glance at the tablature will demonstrate that it was the work of a hurried and probably unpractised hand.

the scottish jigge robinson 1609

Around 1660 Priscilla Bunbury included the first few bars of the Holmes’ setting in her Virginal Book, with the title ‘A Jigg’, . Priscilla’s book also includes a long set of variations on the ground, titled ‘Rappack’s Jig’, of which these are the opening six:

rappaks bunbury Double

At some point between these two manuscripts, Janet Pickering was compiling her lute book, probably somewhere in Yorkshire (Pickeringe, ff.15v-16r). In it she included a ‘Scottish Huntsupe’ which bears remarkable similarities to the earlier Holmes one (sufficient for us to attach the same title to the latter), although it also has major differences. Like Holmes’, Pickering’s piece is an extended composition, apparently made up from material similar to Holmes’ but with significant differences. However one section is very close to its earlier equivalent, the one that contains the ‘Scottish Jigg’ tune. The matter of note values is somewhat obscured by the systems of notation used in these early lute manuscripts. I have transcribed these two ‘Scots Huntsups’ with different values, but in fact the two manuscripts use the same notation: the differences are the result of my interpretations at different times. In this case, the Bunbury keyboard notation is significant since it shows that the minim/crotchet values and the 2/2 time signature were understood to be the appropriate ones in the 17th century.

pickering scotch jigge

Scotch Huntsuppe fro Jane Pickeing’s lute MS c1640

I have yet to uncover any setting of the basic theme from the late 17th or early 18th century that includes the distinctive use of the 6th as the opening. However, that version of it that appears in ‘Pitt on Your Shirt on Monday’, and again as the 5th and 6th variations in the Leycester manuscript setting, does re-appear; first in 1680 in the Panmure fiddle manuscript, then in the Balcarres lute book and in Henry Atkinson’s fiddle book, both around 1695 and again in John Young’s 1720 Collection of Original Scotch Tunes.


‘The Farther Ben the Wellcomer’ John Young, Collection of Original Scotch Tunes, 1720

When the full theme does re-appear, in Bremner’s A Collection of Scots Reels (1756) it has undergone changes which will persist from now on. Here is Bremner’s setting, with the rudimentary bass part omitted.

fyket bremner

Firstly, the note values have halved, and a 4/4 time signature introduced, with the result that what was a four-bar strain has been fitted into two bars, creating the opportunity to add another two bars, by repeating the ground but amending the last bar with a form of what Mat Seattle has termed ‘the Elsie Marley pattern’.
These changes are common in 18th century versions of earlier tunes; Simon Brodie is a good example. In the majority of 18th century extensions of older tunes the opportunity is taken to add a further 8 bars. When this first began in the late 17th century, it was common to simply repeat the same bars an octave higher, with perhaps some slight variation. In Bremner’s tune, however, we can see that the second strain has been built out of material that had appeared in earlier variations (strain 3 of Rowallan’s Corne Yards, perhaps, or strain 5 of ‘Rappack’s Jigg’).
Two more changes have occurred, both of which were to persist through the rest of the tune’s 250 year’s history. First, it has gained a title, ‘The Fyket’. The word essentially means something like Fidget; the Dictionary of the Scots Language does not give any usages earlier than the early 18th century, so it is not possible to say whether this title had been applied to earlier popular songs. The entry in the dictionary for the word’s etymology does suggest Old Scots: c.1500, so it is in theory possible.
But the most important change is in the form of the ground on which the music is based. The pre-18th century settings we have seen (and this applies to other tunes based on the same ground such as ‘Put on your Shirt on Monday) can be described as AGAA (one letter to each bar). When the tune first appears in the 18th century it has been ‘shifted 180 degrees’ to be AAAG (now one letter per half-bar) with the ‘Elsie Marley’-type pattern variation in the final bar. It would be most natural to view this (since the tune does have all the appearances of being a pipe-tune) as the tune ending in the sub-tonic key, G, against the A drone. However, it is clear that from Bremner on, publishers who include a bass part differ greatly in how to place the tonal root. Though they all choose the same bass notes (A and G) examples can be found of three different key signatures, 1, 2 or 3 sharps resulting in different choices of accidentals. Bremner opted for one sharp, presumably inspired by the final G triad, allowing himself C# when it appeared in the A triads. One sharp was also the choice of William Vickers when he set down his own version, around 1770, together with another closely related tune, Mopping Nelly (Notice how this latter tune seems to revert to a ‘variation’ that had not appeared since the very earliest of our settings here). Matt Seattle has shown how many of Vickers’ choices of key signature seem based on the final notes rather than any attempt to describe the pitches of the notes.

gow strathspey2

The Strathspey version from First Book of Niel Gow's Reels

Some 50 years after the Gow versions, Davie’s Caledonian Repository also included two versions; Davie, however was consistent in his use of one sharp as the key signature. Davie’s setting of the reel is closely related to Gow’s, with some surprising innovations. His strathspey differs from Gow’s only in the key signature and in the treatment of the repeated quavers.

davies repositryo

The reel version from Davie’s Caledonian Repository, 1830,

In 1854 John McLachlan’s The Piper’s Assistant included this fine setting:


McLachlan also included the first strain of Gow’s ‘strathspey’ though he labelled it ‘March’


This setting of McLachlan’s is probably the first to appear in a collection specifically for bagpipes. As such it sidesteps the issue of key signature which had perplexed previous editors of the tune, and which was to go on doing so through the 19th century (Surenne, for instance, in 1880, published a setting almost identical to that of Gow). The contention arises from the question of how the tune is to be forced into the straitjacket of an alien concept of modality. Matt’s article in this issue on Caber Fei shows the same problem. Both Haydn and Beethoven had similar problems in harmonizing Scottish tunes but the challenge had already been recognised at the beginning of this tune’s history. In 1597, Thomas Morley, in his Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke had remarked “I dare boldly affirm that, look which is he who thinketh himself the best discanter of all his neighbours, enjoin him to make but a Scottish jygge, he will grossly err in the true nature and quality of it.

Towards the end of the 18th century a number of tunes clearly derived from the Fyket appeared in published collections. ‘Fill the Stoup’, for instance, first appears in the first part of Gow’s Repository and it continued to be included in collections throughout the 19th century. While it stays close to the basic ground, the odd bars are based on the B minor chord (or is it E7?) rather than the A/G of the Fyket. Other related tunes, such as ‘Greig’s Pipes’ (in the same collection) are rather further removed from the Fyket as far as the distinctive opening notes are concerned.

gow stoup

The 20th century appearance of the Fyket begin with David Glen’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music, first prsinted at the close of the 19th century and last printed some time after 1911 and before 1926. Glen’s setting seems to be derived from McLachlan’s 1854 version, though the second strain contains only McLachlan’s last four bars.


The Fyket, from the 9th part of David Glen’s Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music

To finish, here is what I believe to be the most recent publication of this tune in any piping collection; it is a setting by Russ Spaulding and appeared in his collection Something Old, Something New published in 1994, four hundred years after its first appearance. (I have removed the gracings from the original setting)
Notice that this is not just a reproduction of any of the previous versions; Spaulding has made a new arrangement of the ground so that, although he retains the 18th century pattern for the first two bars he returns his second two bars to the tonic A triad; after four hundred years the tune is still being reinvented.
I can’t be sure that this tune is unique in Scottish tradition in being able to display its continuous reinvention over four hundred years, but I would be extremely pleased to hear of any other.

spaulding edited

The Fyket, from Russell Spaulding’s Collection Something Old, Something New.
Thanks to Jeannie Campbell for pointing me to this resource, a copy of which is in the Otago Street Library, National Piping Centre