Biography:Carl Volti

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Carl Volti

 Given name:     Carl
 Middle name:     
 Family name:     Volti
 Place of birth:     Glasgow
 Place of death:     Glasgow
 Year of birth:     1848
 Year of death:     1919
 Profile:     Composer, Musician
 Source of information:,2852939&hl=en

Biographical notes

CARL COLTI [Archibald Milligan] (1848-1919.) 'Carl Volti' was the professional name assumed by musician and composer Archibald Milligan of Glasgow, Scotland. Dave Reynolds researched Carl Volti as part of his blog "The Wizard and the Typhoon"[1] and found one source [unnamed in the blog] that stated that Archibald's father and several maternal uncles were fiddlers, among them one of the best fiddlers in Scotland at the time, George Hood. Reynolds writes: "We’re told that the young Archie was greatly influenced by his uncle’s visits to the Milligan house. His first instrument, reportedly, was the tin whistle. He and his friends started a whistle band, with Archibald being the leader and teacher. Having exhausted the possibilities of the tin whistle, Archibald’s father, James, had his old fiddle fixed up for the youngster, and upon it the first piece he learned was “High Road to Linton”."

Thorpe Davie's article entitled "A Fragment of Autobiography"[2] quotes Archibald's own words:

Many, many years ago when I was a schoolboy, I desired to play some musical instrument, and as we had no piano at home my father bought me a violin. We knew nothing about the local teachers, but the name Carl Volti was familiar. So we presented ourselves at his address, hoping to make arrangements for lessons. We were received by an amiable bearded gentleman who spoke with a very familiar Scottish accent. My father commented on this and Carl Volti reveled himself as [Archibald] Milligan--one-time hansom cab driver in Glasgow.

He was a violinist of sorts, and having decided to take up teaching as a profession thought a change of name desireable--as no doubt it was. Besides dealing with a number of pupils, he arranged groups of Scottish songs for violin, with simple pianoforte accompaniment, which were published locally under the title "Highland Wreath"--if my memory is not at fault. We arranged to have violin lessons, and after some exercises on the open strings, and a few scales and arpegios, I was launched on a course of "Highland Wreaths," and so became familiar with a large number of Scots songs which were of great service to me in later years when I turned from fiddling to song.

The Post-Office Annual Glasgow Directory for 1908-1909 lists Carl Volti as a teacher of violin and pianoforte at 20 Abbotsford Place. A. Maurice Volti is also listed as "a teacher of violin (at Carl Volti's) 20 Abbotsford place." Both are still listed the next year, 1909-1910. A 1901 census shows that Milligan/Volti, "Teacher of Music", was living at Abbotsford Place at that time and the his family included a wife and a son, also Archibald Milligan. Archibald Jr. would have been about age 29 in 1909 and it is entirely possible that he followed his father in the family business and also took the family non-de-plum, becoming "A. Maurice Volti". There is also a difference in their advertisements at the time: Carl is listed as a "Composer of Music" while Maurice is a "Teacher of Music." In fact, both names appear on numerous popular arrangements and compositions, primarily for the violin and chiefly published by the Glasgow based Kerr's music publishing company. For one example, the title page of Kerr's popular dance music for the violin. Book 4 records that the contents were "composed and arranged by Carl Volti."

Volti was transparent about his original name and the reasons for his professional persona, as recorded in an interview in The Falkirk Herald of 17th November 1909[3]:

Despite the wealth of melody that Scotland can call her own, there have been times (says writer in the “Weekly Welcome”) when it seemed as if our grand old airs were to be superseded by modern inventions, and allowed to be forgotten altogether. To-day there is little evidence of such a national calamity. We have again awakened the value of this heritage of song that our forefathers have bequeathed to us, and to no-one are we more indebted for reawakening the lore of Scottish music than Carl Volti.

His life-work has really been to foster a love for Scottish music, and his success can be well gauged by the popularity of his “Highland Wreaths” —a eries of Scottish selections that is known to every amateur orchestra in the country, and which is called upon to provide items for the programme at every church social and Saturday evening concert from John o’ Groat’s to Galloway.

From his pen have come practically the only Scottish selections suitable for amateur bands, and it is often matter of comment amongst fiddlers that it should have been left to a foreigner perform such a valuable service to Scottish music.

Despite his cognomen, however, the gentleman in question is Glasgow boy born and bred, and has spent the last fifty years of his life teaching music within a few minutes walk from the Jamaica Bridge.

My, real name is Milligan,” remarked Carl Yolti in the course a crack I had with him the other day in connection with his work on behalf of Scottish music, but I was forced to change it to get the public interested my musical publications. It is rather amusing how I came call myself Volti. The first composition published, “The Undine Polka”, bore my own name, “A. Milligan”, but it was not a success. A music seller in the city suggested that the commonplace name of the composer was responsible for that, and advised me to publish under a nom-de-plume.

I thought the idea a good one, and started to manufacture a name on the spot. Noticing a copy Carl Czerny s 101 exercises for the piano standing on a desk, I asked him what he thought of Carl for a start. ‘Capital!’ he said. ‘But what next?’ ‘I don’t know; let’s try the musical dictionary.’ I picked up a copy that was lying on the counter, and went over the half of it without finding anything to please me. Impatiently turning to the last page the word ‘Volti’ caught my eye. ‘What you think of Volti?’ I cried. ‘Just the very thing. Carl Volti will be a splendid name.

It was decided to use it for next composition, ‘The, Citizen Galop,’ and whether the name did it or not, this piece turned out a big success, and could be found in almost every house that had a piano.

What led you think of the ‘Highland Wreath’ series?” I had an orchestra of my pupils, but I bad great difficulty in getting suitable selections for them, especially Scottish selections. There was not such a thing on the market. I arranged two selections. The first is now No. 3 of the “Highland Wreath” series, and includes “Auld Robin Gray” (my favourite Scottish air), “Charlie is my Darling”, etc., and the second is now No. 2 of the same series, which also includes another favourite air of mine, “O’ a’ the Airts”. To save pupils copying the manuscript, I endeavoured to have them printed. They were first of all refused by a Glasgow firm, and afterwards a London publisher undertook to publish two of them.

Ere many months elapsed I had a request for another nine numbers, to make a dozen in the series, and this was gradually added to till it now comprises forty-eight numbers. Of course, l am an ardent admirer of Scottish music, and have always made a point of fostering a similar love amongst pupils by teaching them, along with their other work, those grand old Scottish airs, our reels and strathspeys.

I have had pupils, though, who looked down upon such music. I met one recently. who told could not listen to “The Blue Bells of Scotland”, and I told him the “Blue Bells” would be blooming long after the grass was growing green over him.

Music teaching has changed considerably since you had your first pupil, Mr Volti?” is now almost fifty years since I began teaching. There were few professors of the violin about then. The bulk of the fiddlers never thought of taking lessons, but were quite content to peg away themselves, and a great many of them could not read music. The tunes they learned by hearing them played by some other fiddler. As for ladies playing the fiddle it was quite out the question altogether.

Although Carl Volti is best known bv his orchestral arrangements of Scottish music, he has also done much to enrich its poetry, and only the other day he published a selection his poems, prefaced by some of his racy reminiscences as a fiddler. As a poet he has been honoured by the post of bard of the Carlton Burns Club, and as a water-colour painter is well known in Glasgow art circles, his pictures having decorated the walls of the premier West of Scotland exhibitions.

The book referred to in the last paragraph was published in 1909 and is called Reminiscences and Verses."

  1. Dave Reynolds, "The Wizard and the Typhoon: Revealing who Thomas Edward Bulch wasn’t? (Part 1)." Blog, Sept. 28, 2018 [1]
  2. The Glagow Herald, Nov. 27, 1954
  3. Quoted in Dave Reynold's blog. ibid.