Maid of Isla

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X:1 T:Maid of Islay, The M:C L:1/16 R:Strathspey Q:”Slow” B:Alexander Mackay – A Collection of Reels, Strathspeys and Slow Tunes… B:Chiefly composed by Alexander Mackay, Musician Islay (c. 1802 or 1822, p. 12) B: https://digital.nls.uk/special-collections-of-printed-music/archive/104487947 N:Dedicated to the Right Hon. Lady Elinor Campbell of Islay and Shawfield. N:Mackay was born c. 1775 and was a fiddler-composer from Islay. Many of his N:tune titles are reflect Islay settings. N:Printed in Glasgow by J. MacFadyen, 30 Wilson St. Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:F F3Fc2A2 c2d2c2A2|F3Fc2A2 {A}d2cB A4|F3Fc2A2 c2d2c2A2|d3ef3d (dcBA) {A}G4:| f3gf3d c2d2c2A2|f3gf3c d2c2 A4|f3gf3d c2d2c2A2|d3ef3d d(cBA) {A}G4| f3g a(gfd) c3d d(cBA)|f2a2 g(fed) c2 fc A2c2|f3a d3f c2d2f3g|a(gfe) g(fec) d(cBA) {A}G4||



MAID OF ISLA(Y). AKA – "Maids of Islay." Scottish, Slow Strathspey. A Mixolydian (Cole, Gow); A Major (Köhler); F Major (Athole, Gow, Kerr, Lowe, Mackay); G Major (Anderson, Kennedy). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Cole): AAB (Anderson, Gow, Kennedy, Köhler, Lowe, Mackay). The Gows printed it twice, set in 'F' (Fourth Collection) and later in 'A' (Complete Repository). A note in Gow's Fourth Collection (1800) reads: "I am indebted to Col. & Lady Charlotte Campbell for this beautiful tune." See "Lady Charlotte Campbell's Reel (2)" for more on her. As "Maid of Islay", set in the key of 'A' major and played at a moderate pace, the strathspey is popular among Cape Breton musicians, and has been frequently recorded.

Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) wrote a poem called the "Maid of Isla", which begins:

O, Maid of Isla, from the cliff,
That looks on troubled wave and sky,
Dost thou not see yon little skiff
Contend with ocean gallantly?
Now beating 'gainst the breeze and surge,
And steep'd her leeward deck in foam,
Why does she war unequal urge?
O, Isla's maid, she seeks her home.

Scott's contemporary, composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), set the lyric in a "schottische Lieder mit Begleitung" in his "Twenty-Five Scottish Songs" (as "Das Islamädchen"), published in London and Edinburgh in 1818.

The reel was entered into the music copybook [1] of John Buttery (1784-1854), a fifer with the 37th Regiment, British army, who served from 1797-1814 and who late in life emigrated to Canada. The mistaken title attached to the tune in his ms. is "Milk Maid of Balentrue" by which he presumably meant "Milkmaids of Blantyre (The)," but that is a different tune altogether. Buttery's manuscript collection has also been identified as belonging to John Fife [1], with a suggested date of 1780. Fife was a family name, like Buttery, identified with the manuscript.


Additional notes



Printed sources : - Anderson (Anderson's Budget of Strathspeys, Reels & Country Dances), c. 1820; p. 18. Anonymous (A Companion to the Reticule), 1833; p. 27. Carlin (Master Collection), 1984; No. 147, p. 89. Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No's 128 & No. 403. Cole (1000 Fiddle Tunes), 1940; p. 128. G.H. Davidson (Gems/Collection of Scottish Melody), c. 1860; p. 34. Gow (Fourth Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 2nd ed., originally 1800; pp. 20–21. Gow (Complete Repository, Part 3), 1806; p. 22. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book: Reels & Rants, Flings & Fancies), 1997; No. 118, p. 29 (reel setting). Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 2), No. 197, p. 22. Laybourn (Köhler's Violin Repository, vol. 2), 1881–1885; p. 126. Joseph Lowe (Lowe's Collection of Reels, Strathspeys and Jigs, book 5), 1844-45; p. 17. Alexander Mackay (A Collection of Reels, Strathspeys and Slow Tunes…Chiefly composed by Alexander Mackay, Musician Islay), c. 1822; p. 12. Ryan's Mammoth Collection, 1883; p. 168. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 22 & p. 225.

Recorded sources : - Smithsonian Folkways SFW40507, Donald Angus Beaton – "Cape Breton Fiddle and Piano Music" (2004. Various artists).

See also listing at :
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [2]



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  1. Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, https://www.cdss.org/elibrary/Easmes/Index.htm