Bowie Manuscript

Location: GB-En

Reference: MS 21714

Date: 1695 [circa]

Size: Oblong octavo (19.5x14.8cm)

Extent: 83 folios


This is the earliest source associated with a specific Scottish-based professional violinist, Edinburgh musician John McLachlan (d. 1702). He married Margaret McKenzie in 1699, daughter of the Edinburgh violer Kenneth McKenzie, and was employed in 1699-1700 by Patrick Hume, 1st Earl of Marchmont, then Lord Chancellor of Scotland. Alongside many pieces attributed to McLachlan in the Balcarres lute-book (c. 1695), the material in Bowie allows study of the repertoire of a single performer-composer whose work crosses vernacular and courtly idioms.

Well-presented and in excellent condition, the Bowie manuscript appears to be its original leather binding. On the first complete folio there is a handwritten note by musicologist Francis Collinson, who donated the volume to the NLS in 1972, stating that the manuscript was bought by his father-in-law at an Aberdeen bookshop in the 1920s. On the stub of a missing flyleaf immediately preceding this is the name "Geo[rge] Bowie", from whom the manuscript gained its nickname. Presumably this was the same individual who wrote a receipt on f. 1:

At edinburgh the 11th day of october 1705
I G: B: grants me to have borowed from
M: M: ye soume of 12 pounds scots of which
I justly oue to ye said M: M
[signed] G B

This receipt has led to the manuscript erroneously being dated 1705. However, the initials "M M" correspond to McLachlan’s spouse Margaret McKenzie, so the manuscript’s blank opening folio seems simply to have been a convenient place to write a receipt years after McLachlan’s death.

The majority of the music in the manuscript is copied in a single hand, appearing on ff. 1v-6v, 8v-16v, 19v-20v, and 21v-34v. It is likely that this was the hand of John McLachlan himself (or someone intimately familiar with his work), copying seven pieces with attributions to "J Mc" "J McL" or "J McLac", and fourteen pieces closely concordant to versions in the Balcarres lute-book, where they are directly attributed to John McLachlan.

Another six hands appear in the manuscript, all of which have copied between one and three pieces. Described in more detail by Stell, each of these hands is competent and relatively neat, most likely belonging to other professional copyists or performers.

The principal hand looks like that of a professional, consistently neat and competent, using a thick-nibbed pen, and largely free of errors. Together with musical elements, particularly the reworking of earlier pieces later in the manuscript, the source suggests an extended period of development and refinement, perhaps indicating the shift from pupil to master. This hand uses a variety of decorative flourishes after pieces, opening with an elaborate "flower" motif on ff. 1v-4 (with similar patterns at ff. 11 and 13), then experimenting with line and dot patterns, before settling on a single flourish from f. 15 onwards, featuring a series of vertical lines that coalesce into a horizontal flick. The opening pieces feature thin-lined, small, and carefully written treble clefs, gradually giving way to larger, more confident, and thicker clefs by f. 14v.

Of the manuscript’s 56 musical items, 50 are set for solo treble instrument, probably all violin, with one piece, "I love my love in secret" (no. 52) in violin scordatura tuning of a e’ a’ c♯’’. Four pieces have both treble and bass parts, with bass reversed so that the two parts can be read in tabletop format. A vocal piece on f. 21 (no. 34), Henry Purcell’s song "Tho’ you make no return" is taken from Thomas Southerne’s 1693 play The Maid’s Last Prayer: Or Any Rather Than Fail. Several other pieces also show a cosmopolitan character, including a setting of another Purcell song (no. 29), a piece from Playford’s The Division Violin of 1684-5 (no. 23), and several court dance tunes by McLachlan. Most of the manuscript consists of vernacular tunes, including reels, jigs, hornpipes, Scots measures, and Scots tunes, many with variations. Many of these are concordant with versions in the Balcarres lute-book, where they are attributed to John McLachlan.


McGregor, Violinists and Violin Music in Scotland, 233-246, 398-430.
Includes a full transcription of the Bowie MS

Spring, Matthew, ed. Balcarres Lute Book, I, xxi-xxii.
Discussion on John McLachlan and concordances between Balcarres and Bowie.

Stell, Sources, 47-53, 320-5.
Includes transcription and facsimile of several items

Links: NLS Catalogue

View this manuscript's tunes in the full tune index