MacFarlane Manuscript 2

Title: A Collection of Scotch Airs With the latest Variations. Written for the use of Walter Mcfarlan of that ilk By David Young W.M. in Ednr 1740.

Location: GB-En

Reference: MS 2084

Date: 1740

Size: Folio

Extent: 10 folios + 288 pages


The two surviving volumes of David Young’s MacFarlane manuscript are a milestone in Scottish violin sources. A commission by an antiquarian, these volumes were the first attempt at an encyclopedic gathering of vernacular Scottish fiddle repertoire. More than any other eighteenth-century source, the MacFarlane manuscript brings together a wide scope of different styles, including Lowland and Highland material, a variety of different dances and other genres, and repertoire showing influence from England and Italy.

The MacFarlane manuscript originally consisted of three volumes, of which volume 1 is now untraced. Volumes 2 and 3 are both folio-sized with rich eighteenth-century leather bindings. They have 154 and 153 leaves respectively, and are individually paginated, with a separate contents list following the title page of each volume. Whilst the books are well presented and show little sign of practical use, the thick wax-coated paper has disintegrated in certain places, leaving some pages incomplete or semi-legible. The volumes were donated to the Society of Antiquaries in 1782-4, with the accession record for volume 1 noting that it contained "243 airs". In 1838, Stenhouse noted that volume 1 had been borrowed from the Society of Antiquaries “many years ago” and had not been recovered. The surviving volumes were deposited at the National Library of Scotland in the early twentieth century.

The complete title page of volume 2 reads: “A Collection of Scottish airs, with the latest variations. Written for the use of Walter McFarlan of that ilk by David Young, W[riting] M[aster] in Ednr. 1740”. The title for volume 3 is similarly set out, but the bottom of the page has been damaged, and the date is now missing. The three volumes were likely a single commission but judging from the scope of their contents they might have been compiled over an extended period. It is likely that volume 3 was completed by 1742 given the lack of overlaps with variation sets from McGibbon’s first collection of Scots Tunes published that year.

Walter MacFarlane (c. 1689-1767) was chief of Clan MacFarlane, and 20th laird of Arrochar (Argyll) in the Scottish Highlands. Whilst he clearly had some interest in music – he was a subscriber to James Oswald’s Curious Collection in 1740, and was brother-in-law to the composer Thomas Erskine, Sixth Earl of Kellie (1732-81) – MacFarlane’s principal interest was as an antiquarian and scholar of Scottish history. Young was clearly recording contemporary, rather than entirely retrospective styles (“with the latest variations”), but MacFarlane’s more obvious motive was to document a musical repertoire that had only appeared in scattered collections or had never previously been recorded. Curiously missing from discussions regarding these manuscripts is that MacFarlane was likely the driving force behind the inclusion of much Highland and Gaelic material. A contemporary account by Tobias Smollett makes it clear that MacFarlane was a Gaelic speaker, and had an interest in Ossianic poetry:

"The poems of Ossian are in every mouth.–A famous antiquarian of this country, the Laird of Mackfarlane, at whose home we dined a few days ago, can repeat them all in the original Gaelick."

David Young was a writing master and tutor, known to have written at least four other music manuscripts: two collections of dance music made for the Duke of Perth in 1737 (Drummond Castle MSS 1 and 2) one containing Highland Reels, the other country dance tunes and dance instructions; another collection of country dances and music (1740) now at the Bodleian library, Oxford; and the McGibbon Manuscript (c. 1740) now at the University of California, Berkeley, containing Scots and Italian music, including embellishments of Corelli’s violin sonatas by McGibbon and McLean. Johnson suggests that Young was born c. 1707 in Aberdeen, and he was likely the "Dav. Young" who studied arts at Marischal College, Aberdeen in 1722-6. Young was operating in Edinburgh from at least 1740 to May 1743, when he married Catherine Campbell, and was back in Aberdeen in 1745-7, where the births of their three children were recorded. In 1748, he was one of the founding members of the Aberdeen Musical Society, serving as its secretary.

Volumes 2 and 3 of the MacFarlane manuscript contain 543 pieces. These represent the culmination of many developments over the previous 70 years of surviving Scottish fiddle sources, both in the range of genres, and the extension of tendencies prevalent in earlier sources, particularly long sets of variations and influence from Italianate repertoire.

Another significant element is that the manuscript gives the names of composers for many pieces, most often for settings of vernacular tunes. With the exception of the Balcarres lute-book, it is rare for sources from 1670-1750 to name musicians responsible for vernacular tune settings, and manuscripts generally denote only the composers of court music or concert repertoire. By gathering vernacular pieces attributed to celebrated performer-composers, Young gives the sense of a school of compositional style, celebrating the individual contributions of Scotland’s musical elite, including Lorenzo Bocchi, Adam Craig, William Forbes of Disblair, dancing master Peter Lamotte, Duncan and William McGibbon, Charles McLean, James Oswald, and David Young himself.

Young’s musical sources are only traceable for certain pieces. He clearly took advantage of printed collections of Scots tunes, notably incorporating material from collections by Alexander Munro, Adam Craig, and James Oswald. As Johnson notes, Young also seems to have had written exemplars for pieces by named composers that either never made it print, or were only published at a later date, including concert minuets by McGibbon and numerous variation sets by McLean and Disblair. For other pieces, Young must have had more direct aural sources, perhaps transcribing directly from the playing of other musicians, or incorporating material from his own repertoire. Nevertheless, there is little sign of the messiness in musical notation associated with transferral from aural sources, as for example in the George Skene MS. All the tunes seem to have passed through the hands of a skilled and highly literate musician, and even those not labelled as being by Young were likely influenced by his own playing and arranging style.

More than any other source, the MacFarlane MS shows the development of the long variation set and the use of Italianate writing. Out of its 96 variation sets and "variation sonatas" of at least five strains in length, 45 have at least 10 strains, and thirteen are between 20 and an enormous 32 strains long. These sets show a fluid relationship with earlier sources, adapting older material alongside newly-written variations. Settings are updated with Italianate musical language, new ornaments and articulation, and more advanced violin techniques.

The MacFarlane manuscript is also the first source to record a significant amount of Highland repertoire, with some 34 pieces with Gaelic titles or subtitles. Many of these are reels or song airs, some simply alternative Gaelic titles for songs also known in the Lowlands. The real significance of these pieces is that for the first time, a substantial amount of Highland and Gaelic material was recorded under the wider bracket of "Scottish airs".

Most significant amongst these pieces are the first ever notated piobaireachd, all set for the violin rather than Highland bagpipes. Volume 3 contains three full pibroch: “Cumh Easpuic Earra-Ghaoidheal” (“The Bishop of Agyll’s Lament”); “Cumh Mhic-Arrisaig”, subtitled “O’Hara’s Lament” and better known as “MacIntosh’s Lament” and “Failte Mhic-Gilleoin” (“McLean’s Salute”), also known as “May Johnny Return Safely”.


Alburger, Scottish Fiddlers and Their Music

Johnson, Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century

McGregor, The McFarlane Manuscript
The first detailed study. Includes an index and transcriptions of a selection of pieces

McGregor, Violinists and Violin Music in Scotland, 254-266, 461-7.
Includes transcriptions of a selection of pieces

Pollard, A. F. and Alexander Du Toit, “Macfarlan, Walter, of Arrochar [of That Ilk] (d. 1767), Antiquary and Chief of Clan Macfarlan,” Oxford DNB:

Smollett, Tobias, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (London: W. Johnston, 1771), III, 22.

Links: Ronald MacDonald’s edition of volume 2, NLS catalogue

View this manuscript's tunes in the full tune index