Title page from Puirt-á-Beul-Mouth-Tunes.
Ninety years ago, in 1931, Puirt-a-beul – Mouth-tunes, or Songs for Dancing as Practised From A Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland was reprinted with “few minor corrections” from its 1901 first printing. The song book was “collected and arranged” by Keith Norman MacDonald, a medical doctor in Scotland with an interest in Highland music. MacDonald is chiefly remembered for three works: The Gesto Collection of Highland Music (1895); The MacDonald Bards from Mediaeval Times (1900) and Puirt-a-Beul – Mouth-tunes: or Songs for Dancing as Practised from a Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland (1901).
An advertisement for the puirt-à-beul collection states that the volume includes, “120 Tunes, and in many cases several sets of words are given all sung to the same tune.” Puirt-á-beul is the Scottish Gaelic for “tunes from a mouth.” Although often used for dancing without instruments, contemporary performance often includes instrumental accompaniment.
Advertisement for Puirt-á-Beul-Mouth-Tunes.
One example of puirt-à-beul music is the tune Ruidhle Mo Neighean Dhonn, or The Brown Haired Lass/Maid. The tune and lyrics from MacDonald’s book is provided and can be followed with this 1952 reel-to-reel recording from the digital sound recording archive Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, a site that includes oral recordings made in Scotland and further afield, from the 1930s onward.
Reel notation and lyrics to Ruidhle Mo Nighean Dhonn.
On this date in 1803 was born the composer Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine.
Millicent Ann Mary Kennedy-Erskine; Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine. Stipple and line engraving by Thomas Anthony Dean, published 1833. National Portrait Gallery. NPG D36555.
She was christened Augusta FitzClarence, however her names and titles developed over time. Several of these are brought together in her entry in VIAF, the Virtual International Authority File.
Lady Augusta Kennedy-Erskine in the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF).
The Loeb Music Library recently digitized a volume containing four sets of printed scores by English women composers, the first of which is a set of songs by Augusta Kennedy-Erskine. The volume belonged to John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland (1784-1859), who also adopted a new name: until 1841 he went by Lord Burghersh. He had a long career as a diplomat, soldier and politican, co-founded the Royal Academy of Music in 1822 and owned many music books. His collection is now scattered among music libraries worldwide (browse WorldCat for Fane, John to see some of their new homes).
Mus 505.5. Loeb Music Library, Harvard University.
Earlier this year, we added this important book to RISM, the International Inventory of Musical Sources. An astute RISM colleague immediately got in touch to let us know that another item bound into the volume, a set of songs by the composer Mary Radcliff Chambers, is actually cited in an auction house’s description of a collection of materials belonging to Chambers, to which the dealer has given the title The Banker’s Daughter: family archive illustrating the consequences of bankruptcy. Following a family tragedy, Chambers took to the stage to support her family. She also published her compositions. The collection Simple Ballads was apparently produced in both an unadorned version (“just a single copy in institutions worldwide, at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library”) as well as in a luxe edition prepared specially for Queen Victoria.