It’s often pointed out that today’s smallpipes are a re-invention. So what can be said about the ‘old’ Scottish smallpipes?

Keith Sanger’s article sent us looking for an answer to this question. The implication seems to be that the bellows and the ‘small pipe bag’ were for a pre-existent ‘small’ pipe. If there were such instruments to be had in Scotland by 1633, then we would have to assume that it was not a new thing, even if the bellows were.
The idea of using bellows to blow up a bagpipe was far from new by that time - it had been in use in Italy to inflate the bags of both the Phagotum and the sordelina from the middle of the 16th century, and one of the oldest surviving bagpipes is a bellows-blown smallpipe (now in the Museum of Art in Vienna), which appears in an inventory from Ambras Castle, near Innsbruck, dated 1596.

julian ambras castel pipes

(Image from Anuamo da Gaita, 2007, courtesy of Julian Goodacre)

A noticeable characteristic of this instrument is that it is very small - the chanter measures only 19cm (the span of my fingers totals 17cm), The bag is of similarly small size.
This is a characteristic of all the depicted 17th century smallpipes, starting with that shown in the Syntagma Musicum of Michael Praetorius, which was first published in 1619. It shows what Praetorius calls a ‘Dudey’ which, as he explains, ‘has three small drones, on e' flat, b' flat and e" flat.‘ This Dudey is not bellows-blown, but the musette that Praetorius depicted is.
The nominal key of E flat seems to be the standard for these pipes.

praetorius musette

Smallpipes from Praetorius’ Syntagma Musicum 1619: above, the Musette; below, the Dudey (top) and the Hummelchen (bottom)

dudey and hummelchen

Praetorius’s ‘Dudey’ and Hummelchen are mouth-blown. The Hummelchen appears to be the instrument that is depicted in a painting by Hendrik van Balen, dated 1605 (now in Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow - thanks to Adam Sanderson for this)

1605 hummelchen. detailjpg

Editor’s note: While collecting these images for publication, I came across a bagpipe from Praetorius that I had not seen reproduced elsewhere; it is amongst the stringed instruments, and has a double chanter. I know of no other depiction of a smallpipe with two separate chanters.

double chanter hummelchen praetorius de organ

1616 hals detil

The smallpipe in Frans Hal’s ‘MerryMakers at Shrovetide, 1616/17; the (two) drones can be faintly seen at the left of the picture


Detail from a painting by Pete Wtewael, Utrecht, 1624


This is the bagpipe depicted in numerous paintings of the ‘vanitas’ genre, but it is not until 1685 that what seems to be a bellows-blown pipe appears. By this time, James Talbot must have been compiling his manuscript of musical instruments in which he describes two ‘bagpipes -scotch’, both of which are bellows-blown.

detail tilius 1685

Detail from The Bagpiper, by Jan Tilius, 1685/1688; what appears to be a bellows blowpipe can be seen behind the drones

Paul Roberts has shown that bellows bagpipes were present in mid-16th century Italy, (see Common Stock, December, 2013) and can be assumed to have been well-known in Britain by the mid-17th century, if references in literature and masques can be taken as evidence (though I have reservations about his assumption that the phrase ‘bellows and bagpipes’ in association with ‘wind’ can be included in this evidence) But it can be acknowledged that by the mid-17th century it does seem that bellows and bagpipes were directly connected in Britain.
What all this means is that the record that has been described in Keith Sanger’s article is remarkable. It dates from the very beginning of the period when the notion of using bellows to inflate the bag seems to have arrived in Britain.
The record itself also happens to coincide with the visit of Francois Langlois to England in 1637, bringing with him his bellows-blown musette, as depicted in the famous painting by Van Dyk. Keith Sanger has shown, however, that these bellows were actually acquired at least four years earlier, so the Langois musette is unlikely to have been their inspiration.
There does appear to have been two separate traditions of smallpipe, one Italian/French and the other German/Dutch. The first of these had bellows from the mid-16th century onwards, though not universally. The second did not have bellows until more than a century later - or so we thought until now. But there is another difference, one of equal interest. The French musette was pitched in G; the German dudey was in Eflat. Given the potential of changes in the actual frequencies these terms relate to, these are the equivalent pitches of the 18th century Scottish smallpipe, and the Northumbrian smallpipe.
The oldest surviving Scottish smallpipe is the so-called ‘Montgomery smallpipe’. (See Hugh Cheape’s article in Common Stock, December, 1989; the Montgomery in question was the 11th Earl of Eglington, descendant of the Earl who figures in Keith’s article as the commander of the regiment the purchaser of the bellows served in.) The chanter of these smallpipes, which are now on display in the Museum of Scotland, is not much bigger than that of the Austrian one from 1596 - 198mm. The pipes as they are now are mouth-blown, but Cheape suggests that this may not have been their original set-up - there is evidence that the blow pipe is not original.


When Julian Goodacre copied this set, he found that it needed only slight adjustments to the reed to set it up to play in D. The reeds he first used produced a chanter pitched more or less in E. (Recall the remark in George Skene’s diary of 1729, where he describes a set of pipes as being ‘so flat that they tune to the violin’ - presumably to the D string.) Julian’s presentation on the making of these pipes, and his measurements, are in Common Stock, December, 1991. Without any further evidence, it is tempting to assume that this was the Scottish tradition, and that William Jack’s smallpipes were similarly pitched.
What the Rutherglen Burgh records therefore suggest is that smallpipes were being played with bellows, not only much earlier than hitherto assumed, but at a time when it was unusual in the Netherlands and Germany..

We shouldn’t leave this discussion without a mention of two other ‘remnants’ of the early days of the smallpipe in Scotland. The first dates from the 1590’s; it is from the painted ceiling that was found at Rossend Castle in Fife (now in the National Museum of Scotland). Most of the designs in the ceiling are taken from Claude Paradin’s: Devises heroïques, first published in Lyon in 1551, and in London in 1591. The Rossend artist has significantly enhanced the original, particularly by the addition of a second row of finger-holes, making this perhaps the earliest depiction of a double-bored chanter. He has also painted a very different kind of chanter stock, and a matching drone stock - all of which suggest that he was familiar with a bagpipe of this kind.

 rossend ceilingpipes

Above :: part of a panel in the ceiling from Rossend Castle; Below ; detail of Paradin’s emblem. Below left, the piper at No 1 Duck Row, Jedburgh.

paradin 1557 musette


The second depiction, rather different in character, is the piper that sits on the gable of Number 1, Duck Row in Jedburgh. The house has a ‘marriage lintol’ over the door with date 1604 (possibly to be read as 1609)


This figure has often been taken as playing a standard set of ‘border’ pipes; Unless the artist chose to allow his work to be totally restrained by the risk of damage, he was in fact depicting a smallpipe, and most likely, one with the kind of shuttle drone depicted at Rossend. Both these pipes, of course, are mouth-blown.

1984 cover

Bellows- and mouth-blown Scottish smallpipes being examined in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in Edinburgh. The photograph was apparently taken in the mid-1930s.
It was reproduced (with the above sentence as caption), on the cover of the second issue of Common Stock, November, 1984

mary tudor june 1999

A detail of satirical sketch in Colville’s Account Book, 1540, which shows Mary Tudor playing has been thought to be a mouth-blown smallpipe. This image was printed on the cover of Common Stock for June 1999, and a an image of the full page from the source is on page 33 of that issue. However, it seems that what has been taken to be a pipe bag is in fact part of the figure’s clothing.