Back to MacIntosh's Lament
MacINTOSH'S LAMENT (Cumha Mhic a h-Arasaig). AKA – "McIntosh's Lament." Scottish, Slow Air/Pibroch (3/4 or 6/8 time). A Mixolydian. AEac# tuning (fiddle). AABB (and 6 variations). A scordatura setting in the original by James Oswald (1710–1796), appears in the tenth book of his Caledonian Pocket Companion (Book 10, 1760, pp. 18–19), and was "obviously based on bagpipe material" (Alburger). It was, at one time, a popular and familiar piece in the Highlands, and Christine Martin (2002) points out that it was contained in at least four 18th century collections of Scottish music, although the first fiddle pibroch version appears in Patrick McDonald's Collection (1784), given in both pipe settings and a fiddle version (like Oswald, in scordatura tuning). "Old," remarked Nathaniel Gow in the Sixth Collection (Edinburgh, 1822), and indeed, the lament was said to have been composed in honor of Lachlan, the 14th laird of MacIntosh, in 1526, or, as some have said, for William, the victim of a homicide in 1550 by the Countess of Huntly. It was predicted the Lachlan would come by his death by way of his prized black horse. Indeed, on his wedding day Lachlan chose this spirited and beautiful mount to ride to the church, but the animal proved so enervated as to be unmanageable, and Lachlan pulled his pistol and dispatched it, and remounted on a piebald horse to finish the journey. Once the ceremony at church was complete the party set forth for their new home, albeit bride and groom traveled separately, with the groom and his friends following somewhat behind the bride and her party. When Lachlan passed the body of the black horse, the piebald shied violently, throwing Lachlan and killing him. In a letter from the Rev. Alexander MacGregor, Inverness, to Mr. Alexander Carmichael, Cregorry, the former wrote:
Tradition also relates that the afflicted widow of the MacIntosh...not only composed the beautiful air of the Lament, but chanted it as she moved forward at the head of the bier at her husband's funeral, and marked the time by tapping with her fingers on the lid of the coffin. This, it is said, she continued to do for several miles, from the family castle at Dalcross to the burying-ground at Petty, and ceased not until she was torn away from the coffin, when it was about to be lowered into the grave.
Source for notated version: "Communicated by Mr. Campbell of Ardchattaan" [McDonald].
Alburger (Scottish Fiddlers and Their Music), 1983; Ex. 32, p. 35.
Gow (Sixth Collection of Strathspeys, Reels and Slow Tunes), 1822; pp. 2–3.
Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; pp. 30 & 63.
McDonald (A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs), 1784.
Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 10), 1760; pp. 18–19.
Riddell (A Collection of Scotch, Galwegian & Border Tunes), 1794; pp. 32–33.