Annotation:Minstrel of the Macdonalds (The)

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MINSTREL OF THE MACDONALDS, THE. AKA - "Smeorach Chlainn Domhnuill." Scottish, Slow Air (3/4 time). A Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). ABC. "This is a Highland melody, of a beautifully wild and solemn cast, totally unfit for any single instrument possessed in that country, and merely suited to a voice of sufficient length of tone. The editor's progenitor had various sets of words to it,--but the organ is the instrument to display it" (Fraser). The piece also appears in Patrick MacDonald's 1784 collection of Highland vocal airs. It is considered by some to be an example of a fiddle pìobaireachd (an extended musical theme and variations first played on the bagpipes).

The tune is mentioned, unlikely enough, in W. G. Burn Murdoch's Modern Whaling & Bear Hunting: A Record of Present-day Whaling with Up-to-Date Appliances in Many Parts of the World, and of Bear and Seal Hunting in the Artic Regions (1917, p. 307), in which he hears a version of the melody in Norway:

'Another haunting folk-song I heard here years ago--I must put it down to preserve it--at Vibstadt, Namsen Valley, on a hot midday I heard the bonders' daughters sing it as the weeded lettuce in the blaze of light. They called it "Barden's Dod" (The Death of the Bard), and we have the same air in our Highlands; it dates back to prehistoric times; and we call it "The Minstrel of the MacDonalds." No one that I know sings or plays it now at home. But a year or two ago, on the top of a mountain in southern Norway, as we rested at lunch, a Norse hunting companion began singing it, and I started and he smiled and explained his wife was one of the little girls who had given it to me in Northern Norway twenty years before. The Norwegian words, I am told by a Norwegian antiquarian, belong to the Viking period.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Davidson (Davidson's Instrumental Gems), 1853; p. 77. Fraser (The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles), 1816; No. 86, p. 32.

Recorded sources: INVER228, Pete Clark & Ron Shaw - "Jig Of Chance" (2013). Maggie's Music MM220, Hesperus - "Celtic Roots."

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