Auld Man's Mare's Dead (The)

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AULD MAN'S MARE'S DEAD, THE. Scottish, English; Strathspey ("Slowish"). England, Northumberland. E Minor (Alburger, Emmerson, Gow): A Minor (Johnson): A Dorian (Aird). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Aird, Alburger, Emmerson, Gow): AABB (Johnson). The composition is generally credited to one of the first famous Scottish fiddlers, Patrick ('Patie') Birnie of Kinghorn (for whom various dates have been given, including c. 1660-1730 and c. 1635-1721). Ramsay introduced him as:

Patie Burnie

The Famous Fiddler of Kinghorn,
Wha alaid the stick out o'er the string,
With sic an art,
Wha sang sae sweetly to the Spring, ... [Ed.: Spring=tune, melody]
And rais'd the heart.

An 18th century writer described Birnie as having a face that mingled "cleverness, drollery, roguery and impudence," which has certainly been captured in the one portrait of him that still exists (reproduced in Emmerson 1971), painted by William Aikman (1682-1731). For more on Patie, who seems quite a character, see Alburger, pp. 29-30. There are some doubts, however, that the tune we now know by the "Auld Man's Mare's Dead" title was Patie's composition. The only attribution to him is from Alan Ramsay, in his "Elegy on Patie Birnie" dated January 25th, 1721, and the tune itself does not appear until Aird's vol. II (1785), according to John Glen (Early Scottish Melodies, 1900). The song (without music) appears in The Scots Nightingale (1779), where it is attributed to a "Mr. Watts" (by what authority it is not known). James Dick (The Songs of Robert Burns, 1903) concluded Birnie was not the author of the song.

The title appears in Henry Robson's list of popular Northumbrian song and dance tunes, which he wrote c. 1800, and it is song number 485 in J. Johnson's Scots Musical Museum, the notes to which Stenhouse ascribes a date of 1660 to the song (although with what evidence it is not known). Collinson (1966) says the wide intervals (10th and 9th in the sixth and seventh bars) "points clearly to its fiddle origin."

The auld man's meer's dead
The puir man's meer's dead
The puir man's meer's dead
A mile aboon Dundee

She was cut luggit painch lippit
Steel waimit, staincher fitit
Chanler chafit, lang neckit
Yet the brute did dee!



Source for notated version: Dr. John Turner, director of the Jink and Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling, held yearly in Valle Crucis, North Carolina [Johnson/2003].

Printed sources: Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs), vol. II, 1785; No. 158, p. 58. Alburger (Scottish Fiddlers and Their Music), 1983; Ex. 11, p. 30. Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; No. 57, p. 148. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 6. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician's No. 10: Airs & Melodies of Scotland's Past), 1992 (revised 2001); p. 12. Johnson (A Twenty Year Anniversary Collection), 2003; p. 1.

Recorded sources: Fiddletree F2580, John Turner – "Fiddling Rogues and Rascals, vol. 1" (1981).




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