CD A0148: The Scottish Harp

The Scottish Harp by Alison Kinnaird

CD Cover: The Scottish Harp by Alison KinnairdReleased in 1988, this is a compilation CD with tracks taken from Alisons previous three recordings - 'The Harp Key', 'The Harpers's Gallery' & 'The Harpers Land' - plus three extra tracks. Alison's records were the first to bring attention to the repertoire of the Scottish harp and to give the instrument a solo rather than an accompanying role. She continues to stress the importance of playingharp tunes rather than simply playing tunes on a harp. A must for all those interested in harp and for those looking for music that has charm and beauty.

'...a joy to listen to and a good buy for both the 'converted' harpy and those who may be a bit wary of buying an album of solo harp music' TAPLAS

Buy this album now    CD: £11.50 + p&p   

Track Listing & Audio Samples

1 Rory Dalls Port

2 Grantown-on-Spey (Baile Nan Granndach) Trad
3 Bas Alastruim (The Death of Alasdair) McAllistruims March Trad
4 Ellens Dreams R Morton
5 Carrills Lament Trad
6 The Keiking Glasse Trad
7 The Braidwood Waits Trad
8 The Kid On The Mountain Trad
9 McLouds Salute Trad
10 Cumh Easbig Earraghaal (The Bishop of Argyles Lament) Trad
11 Port Atholl Trad
12 Cro Cinn t-Saile The Kilbarchan Weaver Trad
13 The Conundrum PR Mcleod
14 Lady Lvingstone Dunkeld Steeple Trad
15 Balfour Village Shapinsay Polka B Groat / J Sinclair
16 Ring of Crystal, Ring of Stone A Kinnaird

CD Notes & Credits

Sleeve Notes

RORY DALL'S PORT   Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
Rory Dall Morison, the Blind Harper, was the harper to the clan MacLeod, and was employed in the chief's household at Dunvegan Castle. on Skye, at the end of the 17th century. This tune comes from an enormous collection of Scottish music published in eight volumes between 1745-59 as the Caledonian Pocket Companion by James 0swald. He was a flute player and composer himself. and a number of the tunes are either his own compositions or have variations by him added to them. This tune is probably one of these, though the theme may well be older. It is interesting, however, that the variations were supposed to be in the style of the old harpers and indeed seem to descend from the type of tune used as Irish clan marches. Whatever its origins. it makes a fine piece of harp music and its quality was also seen by Robert Bums, who used the first two parts as the original melody for his love song 'Ae Fond Kiss'.
From 'The Harp Key' - Temple SHOO1

GRANTOWN-ON·SPEY (Baile Nan Granndach) Trad Arr. A. Kinnaird
A six-part strathspey called after one of the main towns in the Spey Valley, the area in which this uniquely Scottish kind of reel was developed. This tune comes from James Stewart-Robertson's 'Athole Collection Of Scottish Dance Music'.
From 'The Harp Key' - Temple SHOO1

BAS ALASTRUIM (The Death of Alasdair) Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
Trad. Arr. A. Heymann- with Ann Heymann (wire-strung harp)
The subject of these tones is Alasdair Mac Cholla Chiotaich (Alasdair MacDcnnell) who led the Highland royalist forces in both Ireland and Scotland in the 164Os, He was chief of staff to Montrose in Scotland, but after Montrose's defeat he returned to Ireland and was eventually killed - it is said by treachery - at the battle of Cnoc na nDos in County Cork in 1647.

The first tune was given to Alison by Colonel Eoghan O Neill from an unpublished family manuscript dated 1780. Versions of it also appear in other collections and are usually played on the uillean pipes, although it has an unusual structure for a pipe tune. It seems it was a harper who brought the news of Alasdair's death to Scotland. We do not know his name, but he landed in Portpatrick from Ireland and told the sad tale to the poet lain Lom, who had himself been both guide and bard to Alasdair at the battle of Inverlochy in 1645.

On this track Alison is joined by Ann Heymann, the extremely talented wire- strung harp player from the United States. The wire-strung harp is completely different to the gut-strung harp and requires very different techniques. Ann had been playing the March for some time and she and Alison arranged it as a duet. It appears in Edward Bunting's collection, also O'Neill's (1850) and in Pat Mitchell's 'Dance Music Of Willy Clancy' (1976). According to Gratton Flood, it was played on the warpipes by Alasdair's troops at their leader's funeral.
From 'The Harper's land' - Temple TPOI2

In the old days one of the duties of the clan harpers was to play the household to sleep at night. Alison's husband, Robin Morton, composed this tune for their daughter, Ellen when she was small. It didn't have the desired effect on her, but it is a lovely melody with a rather fine Irish feeling to it-not surprising as Robin is Irish.
From 'The Harper's land' - Temple TPO I 2

CARRILL'S LAMENT Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
This tune comes from James Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion (1745-59). It seems to be named after the Irish harper o'Carolan but bears no relation to any of his compositions that I know of. It has the typically Scottish form of a theme with several variations, some of which are rather- reminiscent of pipe motifs.
From 'The Harper's Gallery' - Temple TP003

THE KEIKING GLASSE  Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
- with Lucy Carolan (harpsichord) and Brian McNeill (fiddle and viola)

The 17th century Skene manuscript from which this tune comes is one of the most important sources for early Scottish music. It is written in lute tablature but contains some harp music. The title is old Scots for 'a mirror'. As well as clarsach, in this arrangement we have used fiddle and viola played by Brian McNeill of Battlefield Band, and the harpsichord is played by Lucy Carolan, a specialist in Baroque music. She comes from Edinburgh but her family originally came over from the same part of Ireland as the famous Irish harper O'Carolan, so I am particularly delighted to have her as a guest on an album of harp music.
From 'The Harper's Gallery'. Temple TPOO3
Alison wrote this tune as a present for Robin, whose birthday falls on Christmas Eve.Waits' were travelling musicians.Chambers says, in his 'Book of Days', 'A remnant of this custom, still popularly called "waits",yet exist in the magistrates of the City of Glasgow annually granting a kind of certificate or diploma to a few musicians, generally blind men of respectable character who perambulate the streets of the city during the night or morning for about three weeks or a month previous to New Year's Day, in most cases performing on violins the slow soothing airs peculiar to a portion of the old Scottish melodies; and in the solemn silence of repose the effect is very fine.'
Braidwood is the name of a small group of houses on the edge of the village of Temple, near Edinburgh, where Alison and Robin live.
From 'The Harper's Land'- Temple TPOI2

THE KID ON THE MOUNTAIN  Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
-with Patsy Seddon and Wendy Stewart (harps)

A lison is joined this time by two other fine harp players, Patsy Seddon and Wendy Stewart. Patsy is currently playing with Sileas and Wendy, now living in the north-west of England, plays a lot of music down there. This tune is an Irish slip-jig. The Scottish and Irish traditions have been exchanging tunes for hundreds of years so we are just continuing the process. Catha! McConnell tells me that this is a very old tune, and certainly it flows over the strings of the harp so readily that it would be nice to think that at one time it was a harp tune.
From 'The Harp Key' - Temple SHOO1

McLOUD'S SALUTE  Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
The MacLeods were great patrons of the harpers, and were the last clan to employ a professional harper in the 18th century. There is a MaCrimmon piobaireachd of this title, but I don'y think it is related to this tune which comes from the small collection of harp tunes made by the Robertsons of lude, published in Bowie's collection of fiddle music. (By the way, the spelling of the clan name in the title is Bowie's).
From 'The Harper's Gallery' - Temple TPOO3

CUMH EASBIG EARRAGHAAL (The Bishop of Argyle's Lament) Trad. Arr. A. Kinnaird
There are versions of this tune in various collections including Daniel Dow (c1775), the Angus Fraser manuscripts and WalterMcFarlans(c1742).Alison's arrangement is of the theme and two of the variations from Dow's collection.(The spelling of the title is also Dow's).It is interesting that this  tune is probably the one named as 'Cumh 'n Easbuig' in a poem written by Sileas na Ceapaich between 1721-27. The poem is a lament for Laclan Dall, one of the harpen who used to visit her  home, and describes some of the tunes he used to play.

Though many of the Irish harpers ccmposed variations on their music, these usually show the influence of classical musicians, particularly those from Italy, whose music became popular in the late 17th and 18th centuries. In Scotland, however, there is what seems to be an older tradition of elaborating on the melody. This is eloquently demonstrated in the ceol mor of the bagpipes and is also foood in Highand harp music. The variations depend on decorations and rhythmic changes of the basic theme, and the form and treatment of the music springs from different roots than those of continental classical music.
From 'The Harper's Land'- Temple TPOl2
PORT ATHOLL Trad. Arr. A Kinnaird
This is one of the compositions attributed to Ruairi Dall O'Cathain, an Irish harper who travelled throughout Scotland in the 17th century. He played for many of the great families, including several in Perthshire. This tune may have been composed by Ruairi Dall for John Murray, fifth Earl of Atholl, who died in 1642. The Murrays also employed a Scottish harper named Alasdair Reid in their household. a family tradition  which continued until 1709 when their last harper was John Robertson.
From 'The Harp Key' - Temple SHOOl
CRO CINN t-SAILE Trad Arr. A. Kinnaird
A. Kinnaird
These two tunes were written and performed by Battlefield Band and Alison Kinnaird for a Channel 4 television series about the National Trust for Scotland. The first is the melody of an exile's song longing to return to Kintail (Cinn t-Saile is the Gaelic name for Kintail). The second is a simple tune composed by Alison to accompany the movement of a hand-operated loom in the Weaver's Cottage at Kilbarchan, south-west of Glasgow. Here the Trust celebrates the way of life of the woven of the 18th and 19th centuries.
From 'Music In Trust' - Temple TP022
This is a pipe march written by Pipe Major Peter MacLeod, and here Alison is joined by ex-Battlefleld member Duncan MacGillivray on the Highland pipes.
From 'The Harper's Gallery' - Temple TPOO3

LADY LIVNGSTONE Nathaniel Gow Arr. A Kinnaird
DUNKELD STEEPLE Niel Gow Arr. A Kinnaird
The Gow family from Perthshire was the most famouse family of Scottish fiddle players. Neil Gow, born 1727, was not only a fine player but a prolific composer, as was his son, Nathaniel. They played for many of the great families in Scotland, and often named tunes in their honour, as with the slow air here. The second tune is intended to resemble the bells sounding from the steeple of the nearby Church of Dunkeld. Niel Gow was, it seems, largely self-taught as a fiddle player. However, his mother's maiden name was McEwen. The McEwens were the hereditary pipers to the Robertsons of L.ude, near where Niel Gow was born and brought up. Perhaps she came from a musical family and it is from her that his talent was inherited. Certainly the tunes lie comfortably On the clarsach.
New Recording
John Sinclair
Alison learned these two tunes while making a documentary film for television which included scenes of Orkney.The Orkney tunes flow delightfuly on the harp and these two polkas were particularly attractive.The first was composed by Bob Groat, and the second by John Sinclair, both fine flddle players and both born and still living On Shapinsay, one of the Orkney Islands. The music for these tunes (and more by other Shapinsay musicians) can be found in a publication produced by the Shapinsay Community Council called 'The Sound Of The String - Music Of Shapinsay)'.
New Recording

This tune was composed by Alison to accompany a piece of glass she engraved for an exhibition, which was a series of crystal blocks like a circle of standing stone. The form seemed to call for theme and variations, like the piobalreachd of the bagpipes, and we know that the harp too played this form of music. The 'ground' (or theme) - a three-part melody - was constructed so that the typically Scottish variations could be played on it. These do not relate to the type of variations which  occur in the classical music tradition. The variations explore the possibilities of decorating the main notes of the melody with progressively more complicated grace notes and rhythm changes until the tune re-emerges rhythmically altered as a dance tune. The theme is finally re-stated.
New Recording                                                          

ALISON KINNAIRD has made three records which draw on her historical research into the Scottish harp, her deep knowledge of traditional music and her insight into the expressive nature of the instrument. These records were the first to explore the clarsach as a solo instrument. They were received with critical acclaim and formed much of the basis for a growing appreciation of Scottish harp music.

The music has been arranged in a style which is not an antiquarian attempt to recreate the music as it might have sounded 200 years ago, but which reflects the living tradition of Scottish music. The difference in character between this approach and arrangements made by classically trained musicians is delightfully defined by Joseph Elouis - a Swiss harpist who lived in Edinburgh for many years at the turn of the 18th century: 'That neither talents nor ingenuity can render such Accompaniments compatible with the Scottish Airs is strongly exemplified by those of the great composer Haydn, which although replete with merit, give no idea of Scottish music; and (or that reason, may be compared to a portrait exquisitely painted. but deficient in resemblance.' Alison hopes you will recognise the sitter from the portrait. and will find the music pleasing to your ear.

This collection is a compilation from her three records plus three new sets, one of which she composed herself.


Albums by Alison Kinnaird:
'The Harp Key' - Temple SHOOl
'The Harper"s Gallery' - Temple TP003
'The Harper's Land' (duo with Ann Heymann) - Temple TPOI2
'The Harp Key' - Kinmor Music ISBN 0 95 11204 0 9

All tracks  produced by Robin Morton
Recorded at  Temple Records  Studios Scotland
except tracks 1, 2, 8 & 11 recorded at Castle Sound Studios, Edinburgh

Front cover painting, graphics and sleeve design by John Haxby, Edinburgh 652-0198
Photograph of Alison Kinnaird by Robin Morton
Photograph of 'Ring Of Crystal, Ring Of Stone' by Ken Smith

UK: Temple Records, Shillinghill, Temple Midlothian EH23 4SH, Scotland
US: Distributed by Flying Fish Records, 1304 West Schubert, Chicago 60614, Illinois, USA
© 1988 Temple Records
® 1988 Temple Records

Warning: copyright subsists  in all Temple Recordings. Any unauthorised broadcasting. public performance, copying or re-recording of  Temple Records in any manner whatsoever will constitute an infringement of such copyright.
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Made in Switzerland

Album Information

Instruments:   Most tracks solo harp either gut-strung or wire strung
Some tracks accompanied see Sleeve Notes for details
Genre: Scottish Traditional
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0148
Label: Temple Records
Year: 1988
Origin: Manufactured in Switzerland

Artist Information & Contact Details

Photograph of Alison KinnairdALISON KINNAIRD is one of Scotland's leading clarsach players. She was born in Edinburgh and first studied cello from the age of seven. She was a founder member of the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra, and was offered the opportunity to pursue a solo career on that instrument. Instead she chose to concentrate on the small harp and studied with the late Jean Campbell from the age of fourteen.

Over the years she won the major harp prizes at the National Mod and the first Pan-Celtic Festival in Killarney. Through listening to other traditional music, and research into the Scottish harp repertoire, she gradually became dissatisfied with the music she was given to play. Most of it had been arranged by pianists and concert harpists, and did not express the character of the clarsach as a traditional instrument. She felt that it was important to establish a repertoire which had been composed specifically for the clarsach. During many years of subsequent research, she uncovered many tunes that could be claimed for the harp in the repertoire of other traditional instruments, or in old collections or manuscripts.

It is not possible to say exactly how the old harpers played their music hundreds of years ago. However, in the nature of traditional music, the idiom changes and evolves in a continuous process. It is possible to see how the instruments which have carried the tradition express the music. and to arrange the harp music in a way which relates to their style. Traditional music is not fossilized, and it is important both to play the old music and to compose new tunes which are relevant to today's music in order to reflect the strength and dignity of the harp's place in the cultural life of Scotland.

Recently Alison published a book of her arrangements and compositions titled 'The Harp Key', which also includes background information and historical notes. Many of the tunes on this album also appear in the collection.

Alison is also a leading glass artist and engraver with her work represented in major collections throughout the world. It is always difficult to judge how the one art overlaps with the other but illustrated here are two examples where the relationship is a direct one.

Alison is married with two children and lives near Edinburgh.

Contact Details Please use form on Alison's web site click here
Artist Web Site

Also from Alison Kinnaird

Available from Creighton's Collection:
Sheet Music & Books
Tree of Strings The Small Harp Tutor The Harp Key North-East Collection The Lothian Collection  
Tree of Strings The Small Harp The Harp Key The North-East Collection The Lothian Collection  
Compact Discs
Click for further details Click for further details Click for further details Click for further details Click for further details Click for further details
The Harp Key The Silver String The Scottish Harp The Harper's Land The Quiet Tradition Harps. Pipes & Fiddles