Biography:John Riddell

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John Riddell

 Given name:     John
 Middle name:     
 Family name:     Riddel
 Place of birth:     
 Place of death:     
 Year of birth:     
 Year of death:     
 Profile:     Composer
 Source of information:     

Biographical notes

  From Biographical Sketches of Early Scottish Musicians and Musicsellers by John Glen, from a forward to The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music, Edinburgh, 1891):

The earliest name that has come down to us as a composer of Scottish Dance Music, is that of “John Riddell of Air,” as the name is spelt in the second edition of his collection, which was published by James Aird, Glasgow, in 1782. The late Dr. David Laing, in his Introduction to Blackwood’s edition of Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, gives the tile of the first edition as follows:--“A Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances and Minuets with two particular slow tunes, with a bass for the Violin, Violincello, or Harpsichord. Composed by John Riddle at Ayr, and Sold by Himself there; likewise by Mr. Robert Bremner in Edinburgh also at his Shope at the Harp and Hautboy, opposite Sumerset House in the Strand, London. Price 5s. Enter’d Stationers Hall. Wm. Edward, Scult. Dun Cameron Prints it Edinburgh.” The work is an oblong quarto of 45 pages, and Dr. Laing places the date of it about 1776, a date which is apparently erroneous. In the first Directory published by Peter Williamson in 1773, the name of neither the engraver nor the printer of Riddell’s work appears, nor does either occur in any of the subsequent issues. In all likelihood, Riddell’s collection was out ten or twelve years before the date assigned by Laing, and several of this tunes even earlier. In the “Introduction to the Ballads and Songs of Ayrshire, 1846,” Riddell is stated to have been the composer of “Jenny's Bawbee” and Stewarton Lassies,” and there is probably some truth in the assertion, although his name has not been found associated with these tunes by any other authority. The same introduction refers to several incidents in his life, and to some of his pupils, and states that it is believed Riddell was blind from his infancy. It contains no reference, however, to either his birth or death. In Cromek’s Reliques, Burns refers to the tune of “Finlayston House” in the following terms:--“This most beautiful tune is I think the happiest composition of that bard born genius John Riddel of the family of Glencarnock at Ayr.” Whether Riddell had any connection with the Glencarnock family has not been ascertained, but the names of his parents, as well as the dates of his own birth and death, are contained in Ayr Parish Register as follows:--“John, son lawful of James Riddell, wigmaker, Air, and Susanna M’Culloch his spouse, was born on Tuesday 2nd September, 1718.” “5th April 1793, Died John Riddle, Musician, aged 76 years and six months. Fever.”

  On computing the difference between the Old and the New Style, and comparing the dates, we may plainly see that both of these entries refer to the same individual. When Robert Bremner published in his Collection of 1757 “The Merry Lads of Air,” John Riddell was 39 years of age, a circumstance which strengthens the supposition that the first edition of Riddell’s “Collection” must have been issued considerably before 1776. Riddell’s name appears among the list of subscribers to the first and third Collections of Niel Gow’s “Strathspey Reels,” &c. John M’Gill, another Ayrshire muscian, born in 1707, and said to have composed the tune bearing his name (now known as “Come Under My Plaidie”), is said to have been associated with Riddell.

Bruce Olson notes: "Davidson Cook in Scots Musical Magazine, Oct. 1925, showed that Glen never saw the 1st edition of John Riddell's Collection, c. 1766-70, so it is the 2nd. edition, c 1782, that is referred to in Glen's list, and this contains 32 tunes not in the 1st edition. [Charles] Gore lists JRR1 and JRR2, but seems to have indexed only the latter as R5."