Gairdyn Manuscript

Location: GB-En

Reference: MS 3298 (Glen 37)

Date: 1700 - 1735

Size: Oblong Octavo (11x17cm)

Extent: 59 folios


The Gairdyn manuscript’s 413 musical items predominantly consist of short incipits for tunes, likely aide memoires for one or more professional violinists. The manuscript gives incomplete and imprecise versions of most of its tunes, but it offers a unique insight into the scope of repertoire of an occupational violinist in the first half of the eighteenth century, and shows the extent to which various genres made their way into an aural musical culture.

The Gairdyn manuscript is well worn, and the volume was obviously bound at a later date, with a far better-presented, possibly nineteenth century binding stamped with the title "Gairdyn M.S.”. According to a note on f. iv the manuscript was once owned by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, and was given by him to John Muir Wood in 1848. The volume later formed part of the (predominantly printed) Scottish music collection belonging to the musical historian John Glen, and a note pasted on its front endpaper describes its being donated to the National Library of Scotland in 1927 by Lady Dorothea Ruggles-Brise. Now part of the Glen Collection at the National Library of Scotland, digital images have recently been made available online.

The manuscript contains several dates given before or after the titles of particular pieces. These range from 1700 to 1735 but appear out of sequence, suggesting that sections were reassembled upon binding, or possibly that the volume was previously made up of several different gatherings of pages. The manuscript includes pieces that can be dated from other sources: “Madam Violanti's minuet by Mr McGibbon” on f. 56v is dated 1735 in another source, and likely formed part of the dancer and acrobat Madam Violante’s activities in Edinburgh in 1735-6; the melody of Thomas Arne’s “Rule Britannia” on f. 6v was originally composed for the masque Alfred in 1740, and was first published the following year.

Several names have been inscribed in the manuscript. On the front endpaper are the names “Mr Alexander att Edinburgh” and “Alexr Naughton, merchant in Rotterdam” On f. 42 the name “James Steuart” is written twice, and part of an inventory on the same page references the names “John Muirhead”, and “Daniel Mullion”. On the back of the final end paper is a faintly written list of four names: William Fin; Thomas F[?]; John Fairbairn; and Rob[er]t Paterson. The manuscript has been named for “John Gairdyn”, whose signature is written very clearly on the back of the final end paper, and his surname again on f. 7.

It has been possible to trace several of these individuals. There was a Scots-born merchant and leading freemason in Rotterdam named Alexander Naughton, who was married there in 1696, and died in 1742. It is possible that the manuscript’s compiler was employed by Naughton during a return visit to Scotland. Several other names are linked to Edinburgh musicians. A violer named John Fairbairn was married in Edinburgh in 1670 [Edinburgh OPR (marriages), GB-Enr 685/1/440/115], and according to McGrattan, a James Stewart became one of the Edinburgh waits in 1732. John Gairdyn appears to have been the individual responsible for compiling most of the manuscript and was presumably also an Edinburgh musician. It is possible that he was related to James Gairdens [Gairden, Garden, Garnes], apprentice to the violer and Edinburgh wait John Swanstoun in 1694, made an Edinburgh wait in 1711, and royal trumpeter in Edinburgh in 1725-40 (see McGregor, 146).

At first glance, the manuscript seems to predominantly consist of two different hands, first appearing in groupings on ff. 1-6v (Hand A), and ff. 7-15 (Hand B). The two hands feature a similarly shaped treble clef, but differ in their noteheads – Hand B tending towards white noteheads – and their writing scripts, with Hand B using more old-fashioned and ornate capital letters. However, there is a gradual transition between the two hands on ff. 18-40v, suggesting that these were by the same individual, writing at different points in their life, with the pages later reordered upon binding. Four additional hands have each copied between one and three pieces, each in an unbroken sequence, and always including full items, rather than incipits: three pieces on ff. 15v-16 (C); two pieces on ff. 16v-17 (D); a single piece on f. 17v (E); and two pieces on ff. 41v-42 (F).

Of the Gairdyn manuscript’s 413 musical items, 352 pieces are incipits, usually giving only the tune’s opening bars, almost always without time or key signature, usually with highly approximate rhythms, and either without barlines or frequent misbarring. Most of the remaining items give between one and four full strains, but with highly approximate rhythms, implying these too functioned as aide memoires. Only 24 items are full pieces with exact rhythms.

Apart from three vocal items – notated in full with lyrics on ff. 29v-33 – the most likely instrument throughout the manuscript is the violin, given the overall range of g to d’’’ (i.e. open G-string up to a d’’’ in third position on the E-string).

Many tunes are associated with vernacular ballads and songs, including numerous pieces listed under sections of song lyrics, rather than their more common title in printed collections. There are numerous early versions of tunes which emerged as part of the canon of Scots tunes in the 1720s onwards (e.g. “I Love My Love in Secret”, “Where Helen Lyes”, “Mary Scot”, “The broom of coudingknowes”, “Corn Riggs”) but apart from several “Scots measures” there is little sense of repertoire being labelled as Scottish. However, there are seven pieces labelled as "Highland tune" or "Highland Air", with a further two referencing the Highlands in their title, foreshadowing the more detailed attempt to record Highland styles in the MacFarlane MS of 1740.

A few song airs are given as full tunes (albeit with rhythmic inconsistencies) followed by variations. “As I went down yon burn So Clear” records the opening line to a set of lyrics for the song “Peggy I must love thee”. The Gairdyn version shows signs of aural transmission, with highly approximate rhythms and misbarring, yet its theme and first variation are clearly closely related to John McLachlan’s setting as found in Bowie MS and the Balcarres lute-book.

The 155 labelled dance tunes show the range of types an occupational violinist would have needed in their repertoire: a combination of country dances, reels, and other vernacular types, minuets and a small selection of other court dances. Whilst there is only a single tune labelled as a reel – the strathspey-like “Carick’s Reel”, notated in full on f. 52v – some fourteen additional pieces were either printed in later collections of reels, or clearly match the rhythmic pattern of the reel. By far the most numerous type of dance tune in the manuscript is the minuet, with 110 specific examples, predominantly notated in incipits.

The partial thematic index given here incorporates an index for the first 51 items, built from realised versions of the incipits, and further index for the other complete musical items in the manuscript.


Beaurepaire, Pierre-Yves, L’Europe Des Francs-Maçons, XVIIIe-XXIe Siècles (Paris: Belin, 2002), 13.

Johnson, “Bagpipe Music in Eighteenth-Century Violin Sources".

Stell, Sources, 87-93.

McGregor, Violinists and Violin Music in Scotland, 146.

McGrattan, Alexander, The Trumpet in Scotland, II, 344.

Links: NLS digitisation

View this manuscript's tunes in the full tune index