Back to Afton Water
AFTON WATER. Scottish, Air (6/8 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. The air used today for this 1786 pastoral song of Robert Burns (1759–1796) is not the one he originally set the song tune, but was substituted by a later editor who thought it more agreeable. The later air was composed in 1850 by Alexander Hume, of Edinburgh, a self‑taught musician "who enjoyed an excellent reputation as a chorister and composer of psalms" (Neil, 1991). Burns' original setting was to the melody "Yellow-Haired Laddie (The)", and presented to James Johnston, the editor of the Scots Musical Museum, who printed it in 1792. Neil (1991) remarks that it appears to have been part of a collection of 12 songs the poet first presented in 1791 to an admirer named Mrs. Stewart of Stair and Afton, and that the Mary named in the song was probably Mary Campbell (Highland Mary), who was courted by Burns at the time the song was written. The River Afton  flows in Ayshire, Scotland, north from Alwaht Hill in the Carsphairn and Scaur Hills, joining the River Nith and New Cumnock. Burns's lyric begins:
Flow gently,sweet Afton! amang thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 5); Glasgow, 1797; No. 80, p. 32. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; Nos. 182 and 183, p. 237 (old and newer version).