Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Brother

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NIEL GOW'S LAMENT FOR (THE DEATH OF) HIS BROTHER. Scottish, Air (6/8 time). G Dorian (Jones): A Minor (Johnson): E Minor (Gow). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Jones): AAB (Gow, Johnson). Attributed by some to Niel Gow (1727–1807), perhaps because his name appears in the title in the Gow's 2nd Collection (1788). It was, however, composed by Niel's son Nathaniel (1763-1831) and contributed to the 1788 volume. Composer credit was confusing even at the time, for poet Robert Burns demurred on the question of Niel's authorship, and wrote: "This air is claimed by Niel Gow, who calls it 'Lament for His Brother'. The first half-stanza of the song is old, the rest is mine.' Burns, according to Dick (The Songs of Robert Burns, 1903, p. 414), instructed that the tune's name be left out of Johnson's Scots Musical Museum and instead (generically) called a Gaelic air." The tune is the vehicle for the song "There's a youth in this city" (Scots Musical Museum, 1790, No. 258). Niel's brother Donald (whose birth and death dates are unknown) played the cello and often accompanied Niel for performances; when he died his place on the instrument was taken by Malcolm McDonald (who published a famous collection of his own).

Highland Wedding by David Allan, showing the Gow brothers.
Niel & Donald Gow, by David Allan (1744–1796), c. 1780.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Gow (Second Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 1788; p. 18 (3rd edition). Johnson (Kitchen Musician No. 5: Mostly Irish Airs), 1985 (revised 2000); p. 19. Jones [ed.] (Complete Tutor Violin), c. 1815; p. 20.

Recorded sources: Claddagh Records CC34, "The Whistlebinkies 3" (1981). SMD615, Pete Clark – "Even Now." Temple COMD 2093, Pete Clark – "Portraits and the Music" (2004).




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