The Niel Gow Mezzotint and Nathaniel’s gift to the nation

British Museum Gow

In a previous post I mentioned and reproduced the mezzotint of Raeburn’s famous portrait of Niel Gow published in 1816. Here is a little bit more.

This ‘memorail portrait’ print was prepared by William Say in 1814 and published in 1816 by T. Macdonald of 39 Fleet Street, London.

David Alexander has written:

What special circumstances led to a London publication has not been established, but the name of the publisher, T. Macdonald, naturally suggests that he may have had links with Scotland. Examples of this print are known printed in colours which makes the print probably the only example after Raeburn of what was known at the time as a ‘furniture print’, which was intended for decorative purposes. The sitter, though a celebrity in Scotland and London, was to be the only ‘man of the people’ painted by Raeburn whose portrait was engraved. [David Alexander, Viccy Coltman and Stephen Lloyd Henry Raeburn and his Printmakers (Edinburgh, 2006) p. 15.]

It was subsequently suggested by Stana Nenadic (with input from Mary Ann Alburger) that:

The reason for the print at that time was a new edition of Gow’s tunes published by his son Nathaniel, a successful dance-band impressario and sheet music entrepreneur, with retail premises in both Edinburgh and London. He also presented a set of engraver’s plates and proofs to the British Museum in celebration of his father’s musical achievement and memory. [Stana Nenadic ‘Raeburn and the Print Culture of Edinburgh, c. 1790-1830: Constructing Enlightened and National Identities’ in Viccy Coltman and Stephen Lloyd Henry Raeburn. Context, Reception and Reputation (Edinburgh, 2012) pp. 159-160. Note also Mary Ann Alburger ‘Musical Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century’ in Stana Nanadic Scots in London in the Eighteenth Century (Lewisburg, 2010).]

It is assumed that it was the engraver’s plates for the mezzotint that were donated to the British Museum rather than those for the new Gow collection. The museum certainly has a copy of the print (1852,1009.1285) but this was donated in 1852 by the engraver’s son Frederick Richard Say (fl. 1825-1860) who was also a printmaker.

I wonder if the engraver’s plates still exist.

Before the Fiddle 4a : Poland

Poland Drawing

A bit closer to home now. There has been something of a mini fiddle revival in Poland of late led by the enterprising musician Maria Pomianowska who has worked with organologists and luthiers to devise and play various ‘new’ instruments of the fiddle family based upon museum examples and iconography.


You can visit her website here.

Poland-3 Maria Pomianowska

See also this site. At least one of her revived instruments relies on the fingernail method and it has been suggested that the Pollish models might be the missing link between the instruments of the east and of times before the modern violin. The resulting instruments are certainly fascinating and the sounds endearing. Might this be how Scottish fiddle music might have sounded. Did the Scots play similar instruments? With the fingernail method? Why did the Scottish fiddle revival not go down this route? Should we play them now? Has the train already left the station?


Before the fiddle 3 : Playing on and at the side of the strings

My previous posts on European instruments that may have preceded the modern violin mention how some are played by pressing the strings down onto a finger board, how some require the strings to be stopped but not pressed to the wood and that with others the strings are touched from the side by the finger nails. These two videos demonstrate the first and last of these techniques on different forms of kemençe. . The first uses a Greek instrument and the second, which I thoroughly recommend to classical and early music players, is from Turkey:

Before the Fiddle 2b : The Gadulka of Bulgaria


During my Erasmus+ visit to Bulgaria last week I failed to hear any live gadulka playing due to the busy schedule. Nevertheless, I did encounter the instrument in a number of museums (below) and even on brooches in souvenir shops (above). What became clear is that the gadulka comes in a number of different flavours in terms of name, size, strings (some have sympathetic strings as well as the standard three), and tunings, although one form is now the standard.

Wee-Gadulka   Gadulka-Museum

I read in Grove that the first (highest) string is played by touching its side with the finger nails (as with the Cretan lyra) and that the other two strings are pressed from above but not right down to a finger board.

Musical Instruments in Bulgaria - Gadulka - Various Artists

I picked up a great CD called Musical Instruments of Bulgaria – Gadulka which has some interesting, if sometimes fanciful, liner notes. I’ve made a selection of my three favourite tracks using Spotify. In each it is possible to imagine how Scottish traditional music might sound on the instrument – I think it would be highly viable. Dobroudjanska Ruka is popular dance (see it danced on YouTube). It is played here by gadulka, bagpipe and accordion in unison. The slow tunes in the other two tracks remind me somewhat of the playing of Irish maverick fiddler Tommy Potts, which I love.

Mincho Mincho Naeyalkov

Mincho Nedyalkov’s final jig would not be out of place as a theme in a Celtic Connections New Voices commission.


Spotify Playlists

I have compiled a number of playlists of fiddle music on the Spotify streaming system that allow audition of sample tracks from some of the individual fiddlers and fiddle-featuring ensembles included in the blog. These will be added to the appropriate pages in due course. By way of an introduction here is a mixed selection:


More on F.I.R.E.

An earlier post introduced a published paper on the Scottish fiddle revival in the United States by Deanna Nebel. We can now read her full thesis: SCOTTISH FIDDLING IN THE UNITED STATES: REVIVING A TRADITION AND MAINTAINING A COMMUNITY here.

Tim Macdonald national champion Scottish fiddler

Here is an image of the current from the current champion of Scots fiddling in the United States who, interestingly, plays on a period instrument:

Tim Macdonald, the reigning national champion Scottish fiddler, is our guest musician this Sunday at Incarnation Church. He offers a set of “divisions” upon Greensleeves, as well as traditional pibroch (piobaireachd) and more. Tim won the U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Open in September. Tim Macdonald has especially caught the attention of the fiddling world because of his performances on a gut-strung historical Baroque-era instrument. Many of the classics of the Scottish traditional repertoire do in fact originate from before the mid-18th Century. Plus, Tim’s interest in this genre stems from not only the Macdonald family heritage but also his interest in Baroque performance practice. He is both a violinist and a harpsichordist.                 

You can learn more about (and hear) Tim at his website here.

Before the Fiddle 2a : The Gadulka of Bulgaria


I posted previously on the lyra of Crete as one of the potential rebec like predecessors of the fiddle in Scotland suggested by a number of historians. I now introduce a related instrument, the gudulka of Bulgaria.

According to the website

The instrument is held vertically and rested on the knee or in a harness which goes round the neck. It has a pear shaped body with both bowed and resonating strings. There is no fingerboard, with the musician’s nails stopping the string. It can be used for accompanying singers and other instruments, or as the lead melody line. The gadulka is a key instrument in traditional music throughout most of Bulgaria except Pirin Macedonia.

Later today I head off to Bulgaria on an ERASMUS+ training programme for people in the natural and cultural heritage sectors. I visited the country once before, in September 1974, and I was immediately struck by the music I heard there. I am hoping it might just be possible to hear some gadlulka music in the flesh again but meanwhile I offer this really lovely video taken from a television programme from the late 1970s or early 80s, I guess, which shows the instrument very well :

Here is how the instrument is used in conjunction with the voice, something only too rare in Scotland:

And in the standard ensemble setting:

Finally, I could not resist this duet of kaval players – the Balkan version of the D whistle now so fashionable in Celtic music:

I had just prepared the above post when I remembered the great Scottish musician Fraser Fifield’s performance and recording collaborations with the superb Nedyalko Nedyalkov Quartet, which features gudulka, back in 2007/8. You can hear a Tune Up podcast about their project at:




Balls in St Andrews and other Strange matters


Nothing to do with the fiddle revival but…

Recently, I, and some others, received a tweet from a member of the Bass Culture team, the 3-year AHRC-funded research project involving the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This seeks to challenge the assumption that British and European folk musics are based on melody, through an examination of the bass cultures which are represented in the historical sources of Scottish fiddle and pipe music. She asked if we knew anything of musical life in Regency St. Andrews. I replied that although something relevant came to mind I could not quite remember the precise details.

Some years ago I was visiting the studio of a painter friend in Edinburgh who showed me some copies of historical images from St Andrews showing a ball in progress. At the time I was absolutely fascinated but failed to make a reliable note and when I went back to the artist he could not remember what he had done with the prints or where he had them from. I had a hunch that they may have been from St Andrews University so earlier this week I checked their website to get contact details for an email and… there they were, posted only a short time ago on the library pages.

The excellent blog Echoes from the Vault hosted by the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews has a posting Fortune and Frivolity: Letters from home in the time of Jane Austen on the family letters to Lt Thomas Harriott (msDA536), who was serving in the Staff Corps of the British Army in the peninsular Wars between 1812 and 1814. There are a number of references to dancing in the south of England, including a reference to the new waltz that was “not much admired by the Parents of Children as it is thought too loose an accomplishment and apt to hurt their morals.”

The post is illustrated by images from the album of portraits and watercolours by John Cook (1771-1824) that dates from 1797 (ms38799).Cook was minister of the parish of Kilmany, Fife, from 1793-1802 and studied and taught at St Andrews University where he held chairs in Hebrew (1802-9) and Biblical Criticism (1808-24). Cook is also the subject of a separate post at Echoes from the Vault.

Of special interest here are two paintings, but there may be others. The first a view of a ball in progress (top) and the second a portrait of Mr Clarkson, Dancing Master (below, left). These are the same images that I remember seeing some years back.


There were two fiddling John Claksons, father and son. Baptie (Musical Scotland p. 31) tells us that the senior, who died on 12 Juanuary 1812 at St Andrews, was

Violinist, dancing-master and compiler. About 1796 he published Clarkson’s Musical Entertainment, being a Selection of Various Tunes and Pieces of Music, adapted for the Piano or Harpsichord, 2 vols. His son John was also a violinist and dancing master. About the beginning of this century he issued A Complete Collection of the Much Admired Tunes, as danced at the Balls and Publics of the late Mr Strange, Teacher of Dancing in Edinburgh. Further details wanting.

The Scots Magazine (Vol. LXXIV 1812, p. 158) notes that Clarkson Senior’s influence covered the whole of urban Fife, noting that he was for: “many years an eminent teacher of dancing there, and at Kirkcaldy, Cupar and Dunfermline.” According to the catalogue of the National Records of Scotland there is correspondence from late 1794 held in Perth and Kinross Archives that relates to the appointment of a music teacher at Perth. This includes references to Provost James Ramsay, John Clarkson, Junior of Stirling, J E Wells of Elgin, James Robertson of Perth and A Grant of Elgin. This material has still to be viewed but I wonder whether Strange was the candidate or an advisor. (National Records of Scotland, B59/24/6/113). It is no surprise that a copy of his Musical Entertainment is in the Finzi Collection at St Andrews (Cedric Thorpe Davie, Catalogue of the Finzi Collection (St Andrews, 1982), Item 65).

Clarkson Jnr.’s Complete Collection was published by John Hamilton of Edinburgh. David Strange is an interesting character who is worthy of further attention. He lived at Todrick’s Wynd, Edinburgh, in the 1780s and was known for his highly fashionable dance events. (Williamson’s directory for the city of Edinburgh, Canongate, Leith and suburbs, June 1784-June 1785). (Edinburgh, 1784).Mary Anne Alburger writes that Strange was from Ayrshire and she quotes a descriptive recollection of him by a former pupil, Mary Somerville  (Scottish Fiddlers and their Music (London, 1983), pp. 61-62). She also reproduces, from a private collection, an engraving of a dancing lesson at Hopetoun House that is thought to show Strange taking a class. There is short but brilliant description of a ball held by Mr Strange in J. Moir, The Edinburgh Budget of Wit and Amusement … Containing Also Allan Ramsay’s Scots Proverbs (Edinburgh, 1808) pp. 196-7.

JF Flett and TM Flett (Traditional Step-Dancing in Scotland, (Edinburgh, 1996)) suggest that Strange was “perhaps the greatest of the Edinburgh teachers of the time and became almost an institution” and how in the 1760s he had studied in London and Paris before introducing improved minuets and other material into Scotland. They also say he introduced vocal parts into the music of slow dances. Could this have been as an aid to learning and remembering?


Paganini in Fife

DLockhart small

Fiddler and artist David Lockhart, who died earlier this year, is featured in detail in a dedicated section of this blog. I recently obtained a copy of his autobiography (Lillian King ed., Unforgotten (Kelty, 2006) in which he throws some valuable light on learning to play violin in the Fife mining community during the 1930s. I know from direct experience how such communities in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Lothians and Fife, placed great store on musical participation and expression through brass bands, pipe bands, choirs and, of course, traditional dance music. There are many resonances with the testimony of Midlothian fiddler Chuck Fleming which, once transcribed, will be posted on his page.

The prime loss occasioned by this period [of childhood illness and hospitalisation] was one ultimately to be regretted all my life. I could not cope with school work and fiddle lessons. I’d had three years of lessons and was making good progress, but had to stop. Something had to go.

Broadcast and recorded music was well stablished by 1930, but my motherless home had neither gramophone or wireless. I suppose it was natural for my father to revive or sustain an old Scottish tradition. One day in 1932, a post card came through our door bearing the legend, The Paganini School of Music. At the top of the car was a photograph of a body of children with fiddles and banjo-ukeleles.

The system was simple and eat; lessons were one shilling and six pence a week for the first year, and one shilling a week thereafter. The first year’s extra sixpence paid for the instrument. My father scanned the card and turned to me saying, “Uh-hu, it’s time somebody wis playin something in this hoose – you’d better go tae that.”

Three weeks were spent on the necessary academic training before practical training started. Once the scale of D had been mastered, one returned each week with a sheet of music or a page in out text book marked for practice. I remain puzzled about the nature of this training. Each page contained a tune with its appropriate scale and extracts from the melody, which involved new difficulties i.e. exercises. And there lies the puzzle. Over three years of lessons, no exercise was ever made use of. An impressive repertoire of tunes was established but difficult work was avoided, and certain basic techniques never introduced in their appropriate time.

Did the instructor anticipate the Japanese system of building pleasure and confidence early on, or was parental support ensured by the large number of pupils returning home with a new tune each week. One can imagine a proud parent boasting, “See oor Wull. He’s fairly getting on, he can play twenty seven tunes noo…”

All this is idle speculation, the grim situation attendant upon my early time in secondary school prevented my beginning a fourth year of fiddle lessons. I didn’t importune, though I wondered then, but not now, at my father’s acquiescence. It was probably three-fold. Firstly, he was sensitive and loving enough to appreciate my struggle and spare me the extra; secondly, after three years, I was able to play for a company; lastly, a shilling was the price of two pints of beer. He liked a night out with dominoes and quoits. (pp. 79-80)

I looked into the Paganini School of Music and found that there was such an outfit based in Edinburgh at the Synod Hall Building, Castle Terrace in the early 1930s. Interestingly, the influential music teachers Ruth and Maimie Wadell also operated from rooms there at the time. (Edinburgh and Leith, Post Office Annual Directory, 1933-34, p. 789). I imagine the teacher(s) from the school would hold classes in a range of different locations within easy reach of Edinburgh as well as operating from their city base.

Fiddling with Scottish FIRE


Musical resurgence can occur in satellite locations quite remote and independent from the principal core revival. An excellent case of this is to be found in the organisation Scottish F.I.R.E. According to the group’s Facebook page:

Scottish F.I.R.E. is Scottish Fiddling Revival, Ltd., the North American association for
Scottish Fiddling and all of its regional styles. (Cape Breton, Shetland, etc.) The
goals of Scottish F.I.R.E. are to preserve and promote Scottish fiddling through
education, competition, and the support of aspiring and established Scottish fiddlers.
In order to help preserve the Scottish fiddling tradition, Scottish Fiddling Revival
maintains a list of active fiddling clubs around the world. We also maintain lists of
links to related sites.

The FIRE website has a Mission Statement:

Scottish F.I.R.E. is Scottish Fiddling Revival, Ltd., the North American association for Scottish Fiddling and all of its regional styles. (Cape Breton, Shetland, etc.) The goals of Scottish F.I.R.E. are to preserve and promote Scottish fiddling through education, competition, and the support of aspiring and established Scottish fiddlers.

One of the foremost ways Scottish FIRE helps to preserve the Scottish fiddling tradition is by fostering and sanctioning Scottish fiddle competitions. As a non-profit organization since 1975, Scottish FIRE sets the rules and sanctions the many Scottish fiddling competitions held in the US, Canada, and other parts of North America.

Scottish FIRE also certifies judges for local and national competitions, and monitors the annual U.S. National Competition held at a sponsoring Highland Games during the Games season. In order to help preserve the Scottish fiddling tradition, Scottish Fiddling Revival maintains a list of active fiddling clubs around the world. We also maintain lists of links to related sites. 

Details of the current FIRE sanctioned competitions and judges can be seen at this web site.

The existence and activities of such an organisation are clearly of interest in connection with this blog and therefore it is interesting to note this award-winning paper on the group’s activities:

Reviving Scottish Fiddling: An Ethnographic Study of Scottish Fiddling Competitions in the United States by Deanna Nebel of Kent State University.

[Nebel, Deanna (2014) “Reviving Scottish Fiddling: An Ethnographic Study of Scottish Fiddling Competitions in the United States,” Excellence in Performing Arts Research: Vol. 1, Article 3. Available at:]

Abstract: This paper examines the Scottish fiddling revival in America. Due to its rapid fusion into other fiddling styles, Scottish fiddling did not establish itself as a unique musical genre in the United States. One particular organization, titled “Scottish Fiddling Revival,” or “F.I.R.E.,” is largely responsible for the revival and has established all of the necessary elements within a revival framework to stimulate and maintain this style of fiddling. The organization sponsors official Scottish fiddling competitions, provides teachers to educate and maintain the style, and fosters a community to interact with the revival. This study examines the revival infrastructure and its implications according to an established framework for the continued development of Scottish fiddling in the United States.

I plan to refer to this again in due course.