Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of His Second Wife

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NIEL GOW'S LAMENT FOR THE DEATH OF HIS SECOND WIFE. AKA and see "Miss Graham’s Delight." Scottish, Slow Air (6/8 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Cranford/Holland, Gow, Hunter, Johnson, Neil): AABB' (Perlman). This air is one of the most celebrated compositions of the famous Scots fiddler and composer Niel Gow (1727-1807). His second wife was Margaret Urquhart of Perth, to whom he was happily married for three decades, the wedding having taken place in 1768. Although all Niel's children were the issue of his first wife, Margaret Wiseman (1730-c. 1766), Margaret Urquhart was welcomed by the family and maintained affectionate relationships with all her stepchildren. Nathaniel Gow's (1766-1831) composition "Long Life to Stepmothers" attests to this. After her death in 1805 Niel was grief-stricken and stopped playing for a while, until encouraged to pick up the fiddle again by his family. When he did so, he produced this air. A note below the air in the Gows' Fifth Collection (1809) reads: "They lived together upwards of thirty years; she died two years before him. She had no issue."

Purser (1992) is of the opinion that the lament "is one of the loveliest tunes ever is full of tenderness, and grace, and beauty." Gow composed the tune with three turns of the second part, each with a different ending, "the last one overflowing sorrowfully into the repeat of part of the first half as though reluctant to relinquish her memory" (Purser, 1992). Charles Gore points out that the melody is closely related to the Irish air "Ketty Tyrrell/Kitty Tyrrell (1)," published several times in Scottish collections under its Irish title and labelled as "Irish." The Irish tune seems to have been adapted for Malcolm MacDonald's "Miss Graham’s Delight." MacDonald played cello for Niel Gow after the death of Gow's brother Donald, his former accompanist, and MacDonald published his "Miss Graham" in 1789, so there seems to have been ample opportunity for the musical material to have been available to Niel. Perlman (1996) notes that Prince Edward Island fiddlers play the second part with a condensed ending on the first repeat.

Source for notated version: Peter Chaisson, Jr. (b. 1942, Bear River, North-East Kings County, Prince Edward Island) [Perlman].

Printed sources: Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 551. Cranford (Jerry Holland: The Second Collection), 2000; No. 318, p. 114. Gow (Fifth Collection of Strapthspeys Reels), 1809; p. 2. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 19. Johnson (The Kitchen Musician No. 5: Mostly Irish Airs), 1985 (revised 2000); p. 19. Martin (Ceol na Fidhle, vol. 1), 1991; p. 15. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 98, p. 133. Perlman (The Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island), 1996; p. 207. Purser (Scotland's Music), 1992; Ex. 7, p. 205.

Recorded sources: CAT-WMR004, Wendy MacIssac - "The 'Reel' Thing" (1994). Culburnie Records CUL118D, Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis - "Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle vol. One" (2000). RC2000, George Wilson - "The Royal Circus" (2000). Redwing Music RWMCD 5410, Abby Newton - "Castles, Kirks and Caves" (2001). Scottish Records 33 SR 135, Ron Gonella - "Scottish Violin Music from the Gow Collections" (1973).

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]
Jane Keefer's Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]

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