Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network


Welcome to our website! The Royal Society of Edinburgh funded Eighteenth-Century Arts Education Research Network (EAERN) is a ground-breaking enterprise that brings together practitioners and scholars to investigate new approaches in using eighteenth-century arts education materials.

Over the next eighteen months, we will be holding several events that bring scholars and practitioners together who work with materials related to eighteenth-century arts education. We will be keeping this website updated with links to events, resources, audio, video and information from our network members.



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Generous support!

This is a University of Glasgow based project and we have been generously supported by the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

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Colloquium 3 Round Up!

On Friday, 16th November 2018, the Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network held its final colloquium at Scotland’s first purpose-built concert hall – St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh. The day included a network meeting, where we discussed the next stage for the project, a tour of Edinburgh University’s fabulous instrument collection led by curator Dr Jenny Nex, an in-depth workshop on theatrical gesture delivered by Dr Jed Wentz from Leiden University, and a dinner at the Royal Society of Edinburgh where we unveiled the 3-D printed version of Anne Young’s Musical Game. Overall, the day reinforced the idea that there needs to be more practice-based research with a specific focus on historical artefacts and materials.

The network members highlighted many positive aspects of the project, particularly our integration of social media to promote the work of EAERN. One of the main successes of the project is that we have managed to get practitioners and researchers to speak and work together about how to use historical materials to construct or inform practice. However, throughout the project one glaringly obvious missing link has emerged: where are the opportunities for practitioners-researchers from different disciplines to work together? Unless there is a project that grants such an opportunity, clear methodologies for working across disciplines is sorely lacking, to the detriment of understanding the historical material. After all, performances are rarely disciplinary specific and often include acting, costuming, dance, gesture, music, oration, reading and a whole host of other practices.

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St Cecilia’s Hall was built in 1763 and had been originally commissioned by the Edinburgh Musical Society. It now belongs to Edinburgh University and houses part of the university’s collection of musical instruments. Though the tour of the instrument collection focused on its history, Jenny Nex also spoke about the change in curation methods since the last major renovation of St Cecilia’s Hall in the 1968, to its most recent in 2017. Previously, historical instruments were preserved in their museum state, with little consideration that they might be played in the future. However, the most recent renovation aims to restore these historical instruments to a playable state. This is in line with the changing ideas surrounding curation methods, where even institutions such as the National Trust for Scotland are wanting to provide visitors with a ‘living experience’ of their collections and heritage spaces, rather than a ‘look and see’ museum experience. This is a refreshing change of perspective, but with it comes necessary questions about the best way to maintain and restore collections including musical instruments. Should historical techniques be used in an attempt to maintain some amount of authenticity or should modern technologies be utilised? If the former, investigative work into historical practices is pertinent and we need to look beyond subject-specific knowledge.

Jed Wentz’s workshop ‘With muscles intense and a smile in the eye: finding 18th-century affects in our bodies today’, focused on acting and gesture, but he also discussed melodious speaking, where actors were known to use musical notation to write pitch changes when speaking. Wentz spoke of the extreme body positions 18th-century actors were expected to demonstrate; in part a practical solution to smoky, candle-lit environments. The cross-disciplinary links were immediately obvious. Looking to opera as an example, gesture was part of an eighteenth-century opera singer’s training, but if the face and body are contorted into extreme emotional depictions, this will have a direct negative impact on the voice. Perhaps the negotiation between stylised acting and singing is why great singers were commonly thought to be bad actors, while great actors were bad singers!

Following this dynamic workshop, we made our way to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, where we were treated to pre-dinner drinks in a rather grand setting. The Anne Musical Game was reconstructed from the copy in the possession of the National Trust for Scotland at The Georgian House and has been recreated by instrument maker Donald W. G. Lindsay using 3-D printing. This has given us the opportunity to unite Instructions for Playing the Musical Game published in 1801 with the game set itself. Before dinner, we were able to effectively play the first two games, but it will take a little more time and experimentation to get to grips with all six ways to play it. By 1803, Anne included a seventh game observing that the progression between certain games was a little too difficult. We will test if her observations were founded!

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Overall, this project has prompted many conversations about practice-research and historical research. These are all areas requiring further investigation. We are so pleased to have been able to facilitate conversations between practitioners and researchers and to record these for the website, where the conversation can extend beyond the live workshop.

Domenico Corri and his “innovative treatise

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland is a Lecturer of Historical Musicology at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is the music research associate for the AHRC-funded project ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’. She is part of the team who established the Eighteenth-century Arts Education Research Network, and her research centres on vocal education in the 18th century. In 2017 she was granted two travel fellowships to research 18th-century music collections in Sydney, Australia supported by the University of Glasgow Ross Fund. She also received Chawton House Library Visiting Fellowship supported by the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. She now serves as an officer of BSECS and it the music reviews editor for BSECS Criticks.

Domenico Corri’s (1746-1825) three-volume treatise, A Select Collection of the Most Admired Songs, is, from a 21st century perspective, a rare example of printed notation that shows the extravagance of the late 18th-century vocal style. Beverly Jerold (2008), Robert Toft (2013), Patricia Howard (2014) and Leslie Brown (2016) have all used Corri’s treatise to construct a more vivid image of vocal performance practice in the classical period, though these researchers have avoided commenting on its innovative format, which Corri boastfully declaimed in his introduction. He included over 100 arias and duets from operas and oratorios, as well as Scots and Irish songs, but also composed his own detailed examples of ornamentation and expression for each aria and song. He even claimed to ‘improve’ the written instructions for accompaniment on the harpsichord, though for this blog I will focus on the vocal instructions only (1779: 1). This ‘new’ type of treatise went against vocal performance practice conventions of the time. While the detailed notation is useful to modern researchers for understanding how ornamentation worked in context, it needs to be questioned why Corri foresaw his innovations as being met ‘with opposition’ (Ibid).

His main aim was to improve the science, claiming that the ‘manner of noting [vocal music] is quite insufficient to express the meaning, spirit, and peculiar delicacy of the composition’ (Ibid). What Corri proposed was a much clearer form of written notation that utilised many more musical symbols, removing the necessity of going to a music master to ‘correct the orthography’ (Ibid). Corri provided several options for vocal ornamentation, carefully written into each aria, with arrows to help singers navigate the oddly detailed musical notation. However, the page is overburdened with instructions, particularly when compared to cheap song sheets also available at the time.



Corri doesn’t state a specific consumer for his treatise, but the printing format of each aria, which includes the name of the professional performer best known to have sung it, is in line with publications intended for an amateur market.

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An example of an song sheet intended for amateur consumers. Carter, T. & Percy, T. (1790) Collection of favorite songs sung at Vaux-Hall Oh Nanny. [/>, Monographic. William Whyte,, ?] [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
By producing a publication such as this, Corri was responding to a growing demand for vocal treatises created to suit middling-ranked amateur musicians. Corri also had to solve a pedagogical issue which later treatises such as Gesualdo Lanza’s Elements of Singing (1809) would also try to address. Many amateur singers aspired to perform just like the professionals they heard in concert halls and theatres, but they did not necessarily have the money, time or tools to achieve the same effect. By providing specific notated examples, Corri’s treatise was offered as a solution. One of the arguments against this type of publication was that Corri committed specific examples of ornamentation to paper rather than giving users a robust set of rules that would allow the singer to create their own tasteful embellishments. The idea that vocal ornamentation should at least give the impression of spontaneous improvisation was very much upheld by professional performers throughout the 18th century. Elizabeth Billington (1765-1818), a singer known for her impressive adornments, became a victim of just such a prejudice. A famous tenor, John Braham (1774-1856), memorised Billington’s carefully rehearsed ornaments when they were performing together at an opera in Milan. He proceeded to perform them himself in an aria sung just before her entrance. When the soprano was due to sing she had no choice but to repeat the ornaments, tarnishing her reputation and appearing as an unskilful copyist (Potter, 2009: 24). This episode not only provides insight into the pressure professional singers were under to sing with precision, but also to maintain the illusion of being able to spontaneously improvise.

It was rare for amateur singers to perform publicly, (though many would sing within the private, domestic setting) so they were not under the same amount of pressure to endorse performance practice convention. Instead, an amateur singer could simply memorise Corri’s written ornamentation examples, perhaps with slight adjustments or alterations depending on ability. Of course, it was entirely plausible that someone else may have purchased the same book and would recognise the ornamentation, but an amateur singer was not reliant on their reputation as a performer. In fact, it was arguably more appropriate for an amateur, particularly a female amateur, to attain a certain, moderate, skill level in singing, but not to create improvisations, since it was distasteful for her rank and sex (Leppert, 1993: 45). This promoted a new form of learning, which would come to dominate music instruction in the latter half of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century.  Instead of a shared experience, where the teacher provided a framework that would allow the student to construct their own musical skill, including ornamentation, Corri’s treatise was the first step towards book-based learning that encouraged a reliance on written notation. Such creations went against individualisation, both in performance and instruction. This led Corri’s friend and fellow vocal pedagogue Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) to state in his own treatise:

It has become lately a fashion (but more honoured in the breach than in the observance) to publish Songs with a great number of Embellishments and Graces; but let me ask how many can execute those Graces with perfection? (1808: 3).

Within the context of wider education, however, Corri’s treatise was a response to a growing demand for private vocal tuition within the middling-ranked populace (Robertson-Kirkland, 2018). The majority of these amateur singers would not have had a live-in music master who could oversee all of their practice. Rather, their tuition took the form of daily, or even weekly lessons, leaving them to attend to their own practice the rest of the time. The growth of literacy throughout this period encouraged Corri to develop a treatise style that could better communicate aspects of written notation and reduce reliance on the music master.

With a growing amateur market, who expected to perform more often, albeit in a private setting, more specific written instructions were an obvious way to equip amateurs with the necessary information to sing with tasteful expression and ornamentation, though not the tools to create for themselves. This wasn’t too problematic for an amateur performer, though the persistent popularity of solfeggio-based treatises such as Rauzzini’s 12 Solfeggio or Exercises for the Voice suggests that there was a bias against fully written out vocal ornamentation even among amateur performers. Even Corri would revert to a more conventional approach in his 1810 treatise The Singer’s Preceptor, which included solfeggi instruction and short arias as well as  songs without written ornamentation and expression. Ultimately, the functionality of A Select Collection of the Most Admired Songs was impractical and Corri’s ‘innovations’ did not survive the test of time.


Brown, L. (2016). Artful Virtue: The Interplay of the Beautiful and the Good in the Scottish Enlightenment. London: Routledge.

Corri, D. (1779). A Select Collection of the Most Admired Songs, Edinburgh: J. Corri.

Howard, P. (2014). The Modern Castrato: Gaetano Guadagni and the Coming of a New Operatic Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jerold, B. (2008). ‘How Composers Viewed Performers’ Additions’. Early Music, 36(1), 95-109. Retrieved from

Leppert, R. (1993). Music and Image: Domesticity, Ideology and Socio-cultural Formation in Eighteenth-Century England, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Potter, J. (2009). Tenor: History of a Voice. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rauzzini, V. (1808). Twelve Solfeggio or Exercises for the Voice. London: Goulding & D’Almaine.

Robertson-Kirkland, B. (2018) Music-making: a fundamental or a vain accomplishment? Women’s History, 2(10), pp. 30-34.

Toft, R. (2013). Bel Canto: A Performer’s Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Music education as a civic concern in eighteenth-century Stirling

Elizabeth Ford is one of EAERN’s research assistants and the 2018-19 Daiches-Manning Memorial Fellow in 18th-Century Scottish Studies at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. Her Ph.D. thesis on the flute in eighteenth-century Scotland won the 2017 National Flute Association Graduate Research Award.


In April, I visited the Stirling record office, looking for evidence of coffee houses and coffee house culture in eighteenth-century Stirling, for a project I was working on for the Dunedin Consort.  I didn’t find much on that topic, but I did find a wealth of information regarding music education as a civic concern in the city.

All references to the records are given by the date in the borough minutes.

Starting in 1694, the town council wanted to appoint Alexander Hoom as Master of Music.  For a variety of reasons and trial periods, he was not appointed until January 29, 1700.  His success is not documented in the records.

Music was again a subject of debate in the 1750s.   On November 20, 1752, William Gordon, schoolmaster at Fochaber, was appointed Precentor, music master, and the always-intriguing “etc.” after sending “full and ample intermissions that he is a person of discretion, Christian behaviour, diligence and application such as begets his authority.”  Getting Mr. Gordon to Stirling, however, seems to have taken some time, as he was advanced four pounds towards his travel from Fochaber in March of 1753.

On April 6 1754, Mr. Gordon, listed as “writing master” was given 1.1 pounds “in consideration of the Character of a true patriot Neatly delineated in writing presented by him to the council and cause it to be framed and glazed and placed in the council room.”  He was allowed 12 pounds per year for providing a schoolhouse.

Things may have begun to get complicated for Mr. Gordon and the council a few years later.  On March 5, 1757, he asked to be on the same footing as John Livie, Rector of the Grammar School, a more prestigious position.  Gordon was installed as Precentor Music Master, writing master, teacher of arithmetic and bookkeeping.  There is some confusion here as the minutes indicate that Mr. Gordon was hired and appointed as Precentor and Music Master in 1752.

By August 5, 1758 the situation was bad: there were complaints that Mr. Gordon was neglecting the boys and not giving enough of his attention to the grammar school.  The council voted to admonish Mr. Gordon as the “enquiring committee s[aw] fit.”  The minutes from March 5, 1759 show that Mr. Gordon resigned effective May 1, 1759.  The position was to be the Edinburgh Evening Courant and the Caledonian Mercury.  Candidates were expected to be able to teach vocal and instrumental music, writing, arithmetic, and bookkeeping.  A replacement was quickly found in James Inness of Aberdeen, who on August 2, 1759 was hired.

In 1791, James Smith of St. Andrews was offered the position of teacher of writing, arithmetic, bookkeeping and mathematics, but music was no longer combined in this position.  In the 1800s in Stirling music seems to have broken off into an ornamental accomplishment for young ladies and was perhaps no longer regarded as a necessary part of the education of young men.  On November 15, 1806 Miss Copland and her sister were given five pounds towards establishing their school for the ornamental branches of education to young ladies.  This establishment lasted until at least 1810, when it the Misses Copland were teaching English, needlework, and music.

What I find interesting from these records from eighteenth-century Stirling—in addition to the passing mentions of the town bull escaping and the town drummer being fired for “riotous behavior”—is that music education was of importance and concern to the town, and that at some point later in the century it changed from being necessary for boys, to becoming an ornament for girls.  What factors led to this change, and how widespread this was, demands further research.  The wide range of seemingly unrelated subject expertise required of the teachers is also intriguing, though perhaps not surprising given the wide range of skills required of musicians including good penmanship, organization, managing one’s finances and other records, and mathematics.  Clearly the Stirling council in the eighteenth century knew that musicians had a variety of skills to impart to pupils.

For more on the music education-related materials in the Stirling Archives, see:

David Johnson describes music in schools elsewhere in Scotland in Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the Eighteenth Century (Edinburgh, 2003): 28-32.


Colloquium 2 Round Up!

We held our second research colloquium on 6 June 2018 at the University of Glasgow. Bringing together network members, researchers, and collaborators, it was an exciting day.

Professor Alexander Broadie set the tone for the day with Thomas Reid and ‘Some common sense about music’. Common sense philosophers tended to think along post-Reformation lines on music: it was not for enjoyment. Thomas Reid felt a ‘natural’ way of judgment fed into all arts. Representations are of people ‘looking their best’: graceful poses, smiles, causing a naturally positive reaction in viewer. For music, this judgment is down to human nature, or the way that we are. Some people just happen to have a beautiful voice; words are only part of how we interpret information: oratory skills, gesture, facial expressions all a part as well. Music, as an imitative art, consists of two parts. Melody is akin to individual speech; harmony is conversation, including duets, complex counterpoint, with stands of conversation worked upon. Sounds we like come from an individual, alongside pauses for effect, and tension building. An imitative, expressive art arises, one that represents emotions. Composers are not just writing whatever emotion they are feeling at the time; they’re tapping into the natural understanding of peaceful or angry sounds. They can portray an angry character through musical language, rather than being angry while writing. Consequently, listeners in concert hall are not responding to anger; they are passively understanding the writing of anger in the music.

Dr Sally Tuckett on ‘Cloth, Clothing and Control at the Orphan Hospital, Edinburgh’ talked about how the day at was split between learning and manufacturing, with reading and writing a secondary concern for these children. Interestingly, clothing taught the children their place in society. ‘O’ badges on boys’ uniforms branded them orphans.

Our third speaker was Dr Mark Burden on ‘The Role of Music in Dissenting Education, 1662-1871’. Various Dissenting ministers objected to music, and attempted to use to use biblical arguments against its use, with little success.There was a surprising lack of denominational music in the repertoire of Dissenting composers or their sons. Music was seen as a means to an end, rather than an end itself in musical education, primarily to be able to sing hymns.

Our afternoon session started with PhD student Alice Little on John Machair’s art students. His ‘Observations on Landskipp Drawing’ are rules for beginners and teachers. He taught beginners in grand houses throughout Oxford, while collecting tunes from them as well. Students would give him both paintings they had made and tunes they knew.

Malchair made an appearance in Dr Matthew Sangster’s talk on ‘The Romantic-Period College in Poets’ Spheres’. The Scottish Enlightenment caused an increase of professionalization in Scottish universities, although university is rarely used in poetry.

Our last speaker was network member Dr Karen McAulay on her project Claimed from Stationer’s Hall, what happened to the music St Andrews library received. The 1827 Ladies’ Thorough Bass by Latour contains discussions on posture, harmony, and not grimacing while playing for fear of putting off the audience. Because this book survived, it indicates someone thought it useful; and it is useful to us for cultural and pedagogical research

The day ended, as last year, with a dance. We invited back two of our previous workshop guests–Aaron McGregor and Steve Player— to collaborate, as they have done previously, on historical footwork. This workshop combined analysis of dancing manuals with the steps and figures and social customs (ladies were discouraged from whistling at men across the room to summons them to dance) followed by practical work. We were able to review their previous workshops, and managed a reel of three with some success. This workshop really focused on EAERN’s main underlying principle: uniting historical theory with modern practice. Participants left energized, and wanting more. The workshop footage is avaiable to watch here.

Our thanks to Andrew Bull for manning the Twitter all day, and taking care of all other practical concerns.

Guest Blog: James Beaton, Foghlaim na Pìoba – the training of pipers in the 18th century Highlands

James Beaton is Librarian of the National Piping Centre.

The 17th century witnessed the emergence of the piper as an important musician in the houses of the Gaelic aristocracy of the Highlands of Scotland. Writing for the Welsh linguist and antiquary Edward Lhuyd (1660-1709), Rev James Kirkwood (1650-1708/09), a Church of Scotland minister, noted that

“Pipers are held in great Request so that they are trained up at the Expence of Grandees, and have apportion of land assigned and design’d such a man’s piper” (Campbell: 49).

Evidence for the pipers being trained up “at the Expence of Grandees” is found from a number of sources from the late 17th century onwards. In 1698, the Earl of Breadalbane instructs his chamberlain as follows.

Give MacIntyre ye piper fforty pounds scots as his prentiseship with McCrooman till May nixt as also provide him in what Cloths he needs and dispatch him immediately to the Isles (Donaldson: 178).

A much fuller document in the form of an indenture between David Fraser (1716-1812) and Simon, Lord Lovat (c1667-1747) from 1743, binds Fraser to be Lovat’s piper for a period of five years. Among the other emoluments, including clothes and maintenance which Fraser was to receive from Lovat, was a provision for Fraser’s education as a piper. The indenture notes

And has also bestowed upon him during that time for his Education as a Pyper with the now deceast Evan McGrigor his Lordship’s late Pyper, And that his Lordship is now to send him upon his own Charges to the Isle of Skie, in order to have him perfected a Highland Pyper by the famous Malcolm Mcgrimon whom his Lordship is to reward for educating the said David Fraser… (Donaldson: 178).

After Lord Lovat was executed for his part in the 1745 Jacobite Uprising, David Fraser composed a beautiful lament for him. A version of this for strings and bagpipe can be heard here.

The mention of the names McCrooman and Mcgrimon is significant in the context of piping. Both names represent transliterations into Scots of the Gaelic MacCruimein, now Anglicised as MacCrimmon, a family with its origins in the Outer Hebrides in the Norse period, who were connected with a harping dynasty before turning to the pipes, and becoming one of the major piping families of the 18th and 19th centuries (Cheape, Traditional Origins: 113-114). That grandees of the status of Lovat and Breadalbane sent their pipers to the MacCrimmons for “perfecting” demonstrates their reputation and status as pipers.

As well as the MacCrimmons on Skye, there was a number of different families carrying out these functions in various parts of the Highlands. Also on the Isle of Skye was the MacArthur family. Other families included the Rankins in Mull (MacInnes I : 104-112), the MacGregors in Perthshire and the Cummings in Strathspey (Donaldson: 177).

The memorial cairn of the MacCrimmons at Borreraig, Isle of Skye

The notion of a family or families as tradition bearers of piping and educators of pipers is an important one in the 18th century. It lies at the heart of the organisation of Gaelic society, and it also reflects a much earlier societal structure in both Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland. In this structure, families played important roles in carrying out specific elements of cultural (or what we might see now as professional) activities, under aristocratic patronage, which exchanged land and emoluments for service. The work of Professor Derick Thomson in the 1960s described these professional families, using the term “learned orders” (Thomson: 57). Among these he included poets, harpers, stonemasons, physicians and lawyers. Although the active members of these families were literate, crucial here was the transmission of knowledge and the composition of new work in a non-literate manner (Newton: 81). In terms of the poets and harpers, the key element was to compose and perform praise song/poetry which glorified and provided panegyric for their aristocratic patrons.

By the beginning of the 18th century, this older learned tradition was disappearing, but in its place a new vernacular poetry and song had emerged, within a strongly oral tradition (MacInnes, J: 273-275). The bagpipe and its music, particularly pibroch, as it is known in English or ceòl mòr, to give it its Gaelic title, were closely aligned with this (Cheape: Traditional Origins: 110), and in the broader sense of the tradition and its maintenance, piping was, at the elite level, very much organised along family lines, with various kindred in various locations in the Highlands acting as tradition bearers, educators and pipers to “grandees”.

What then, was the way in which the pipers were taught by these families? No contemporaneous accounts of the teaching methods survive from the 18th century. However, there is evidence for the means by which the tunes were transmitted from master player to pupil, and there is also evidence from the 19th century for the teaching styles of these master players, and how they went about passing the tradition on to a new generation.

In the Gaelic speaking world of the Middle Ages the oral tradition was the primary means of creation and of cultural transmission. This can be seen in the manner of composition of verse by professional poets, which required oral composition and then committing the piece to memory before it could be written down (Newton 81-84). The training of pipers by the traditional families also relied heavily on a non-literate approach to learning. However, a means of transmitting the music orally, both in terms of its melody and its embellishments, was also important and even today, a system of vocables called canntaireachd is used to help students to learn and memorise tunes, particularly ceòl mòr.

Canntaireachd is a system of singing ceòl mòr based on the Gaelic language which uses vowel sounds to represent the melody notes and consonants to represent the bagpipe’s complex embellishment system (Cannon, Piobaireachd Society: 21). Canntaireachd has a long use in Middle Irish and its descendant language Scottish Gaelic. Its first recorded use is in 1226, in the context of the obituary of an Irish harper Aed O Shochlain, who is described as “master of canntaireachd and of harp tuning” (Sanger and Kinnaird: 64).

Here is an example of a piece of ceòl mòr in staff notation with canntaireachd.

Reproduced by kind permission of the Piobaireachd Society
Roddy MacLeod, Principal of the National Piping Centre plays the Lament for the Viscount of Dundee

So what of the actual education itself? Evidence from the late 17th century and 18th century shows that in order for a piper to be trained by a member of the one of the traditional families it was necessary for them to travel to the home of the piper responsible for their education. The status of pipers meant that the houses were probably slightly bigger and better than the average in the area, and indeed the ruin of a house used by a member of one of the traditional piping families, the Mackays, pipers to MacLeod of Raasay, can still be seen on that island. As Cheape and Forrest note, it is an impressive structure, and a good example of the “byre dwelling” in which humans and cattle were housed under one roof, with a passage between the two (Cheape and Forrest: 165).

What of the actual teaching techniques themselves? Although no 18th century accounts of the teaching of piping survive, there are accounts from the 19th century, which give us an insight into the teaching techniques of the master players in the pre-literate era of the bagpipe. One such account was given by William MacLean (1876-1957), a master player of the late 19th and early 20th century. His playing was recorded by the School of Scottish Studies in the 1950s (an example of it can be found at this link). He was also recorded on various occasions speaking about how he learned to play the bagpipe, and how he learned the tunes which make up the ceòl mòr tradition.

MacLean’s teacher was Malcolm MacPherson, known in Gaelic as Calum Pìobaire (Calum Piper), who lived at Catlodge, about 16 miles from Dalwhinnie. He was one of the outstanding players of the second half of the 19th century (Donaldson: Dictionary of National Biography). In an interview with the School of Scottish Studies, MacLean recalled that a decision was made by his father that he “should receive the tuition of Malcolm MacPherson, the champion piper of the world in 1886…” This full interview can be heard here. It is significant that MacLean states “I was never taught by books”, and he repeats this on a number of occasions in the interview (MacLean: William MacLean and his Piping Tuition).

In a subsequent interview, MacLean went on to describe how he was taught piobaireachd by MacPherson. The story starts just after his arrival at Catlodge in November 1894.

I was warming myself at the fire…it was very cold and I got a good heat up from the peat fire and then Malcolm [Calum Pìobaire]…picked up his bagpipe and he always played with his bonnet on in the house…and started to play and I was just fairly carried away with the beautiful strong crisp notes that were coming from his fingers; and he was looking over quietly to me and seeing me swallowing it all in with my ears and enjoying it. So we started the following day; and he was very strict in his teaching…we got up at a little after eight in the morning; we had our breakfast at nine, and then we started with the practice chanter at ten o’ clock; and I had to keep going with the chanter, himself on one side of the fire and I on the other; and that went on until dinner time. Then he took me out in the afternoon, from two o’ clock to three or half past three, for a walk, and then we started the chanters again, until just about six o’ clock. And the chanters were set aside then we had to wash up and prepare for their supper old highland style substantial plain good food and then everything that I had learned on the chanter through the day; we had to play it all on the bagpipe from seven o’ clock until near bedtime. He would not give you any time to play much; no; but he never taught us on a Saturday; he gave us the Saturday off…his son Angus…and I used to go away out and hunt for hares and rabbits in the snow with a stick; to keep the pot boiling with rabbits and hares and things like that; and enjoying ourselves climbing the hills; and the same procedure started again on the Mondays(Cheape and Forrest: 180).

Pipe Major MacLean studied with Malcolm MacPherson for six months, and in that time learned some 100 pieces of ceòl mòr.

The similarities in this account with the scarce evidence from the 17th and 18th centuries, suggest that that what is being recounted by Pipe Major MacLean is a continuation of the earlier practice of the training and education of pipers in the Highlands of Scotland. There is a focus on ceòl mòr being transmitted by the vocables of canntaireachd and by rote learning; furthermore the student needs to travel to the master piper, and spends a set amount of time with him, learning tunes. The student is then equipped to play and to pass on the tradition to the succeeding generation.

The years following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46 were years of change for the Highlands, as it struggled to find itself a place in the newly emerging British state. One of the important changes for piping was the disappearance of the more formal role of the clan piper and indeed the piping family as a key part of the chiefly entourage. As Cheape notes

performers were eased down the social order and into the lower ranks in the Army, as the same time as the gentry-class of professional piping families demitted office and abandoned their schools (Cheap Patron as Performer: 70).

The MacCrimmon school seems to have ceased to exist by about 1770, and that of the Rankins had ceased to function by the late 1750s. However, the tradition and what appears to have been a traditional way of teaching, continued to exist, as Pipe Major MacLean’s evidence from the late 19th century demonstrates.

The education of pipers in the 18th century Highlands was deeply tied in with their role as pipers to the Highland aristocracy, and their role as tradition bearers. At the elite level, pipers travelled to piping families to learn tunes. This was done orally through vocables and the chanter. This tradition in many ways was a continuation of older learned traditions in the Gaelic speaking world of Ireland and the western seaboard of the Highlands of Scotland.


Campbell, J L (ed) (1975) A Collection of Highland Rites and Customes, Copied by Edward Lhyud from the Manuscript of the Rev James Kirkwood (1650-1709) and Annotated by him with the Aid of Rev John Beaton (London: The Folklore Society).

Cannon, R (1997) ‘The Campbell Canntaireachd Notation’ in The Piobaireachd Society’s Collection  21.

Cheape, H (2010) ‘Patron as Performer: Lament for the ‘Gentleman Piper’’ in MacLeod, W et al (eds) Bíle os Chrannaibh: a Festschrift for William Gillies (Ceann Drochaid: Clann Tuirc) pp. 57-78.

Cheape, H (2009) ‘Traditional Origins of the Piping Dynasties’ in Dickson, J (ed) The Highland Bagpipe: Music, History, Tradition (Aldershot: Farnham) pp. 97-126.

Cheape, H and Forrest, J D (2012) ‘Taigh a’ Phìobaire. The Piper’s House and the Music of the MacKays of Raasay’ Béaloideas 80 pp. 163-182.

Donaldson, W (2000) The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950: Transmission, Change and the Concept of Tradition (Edinburgh: Tuckwell Press).

Donaldson, W (2018) ‘Macpherson, Malcolm (1833-1898)’ in The Dictionary of National Biography Available online (Accessed 17th May 2018).

MacInnes, I (2012) ‘The Rankine Pipers of Mull and Coll and their College at Kilbrennan Mull’ in MacLean, D and Beaton, J (eds) The Pipe Music of the Clan Maclean (West Calder: The Clan Maclean Heritage Trust) pp. 104-112.

MacInnes, J (2006) ‘The Panegyric Code in Gaelic Poetry and Its Historical Background’ in Newton, (M) (ed) Dùthchas nan Gàidheal: Selected Essays of John MacInnes (Edinburgh: Birlinn). Originally published in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness 50 pp. 435-498.

MacLean, W (1953) ‘William MacLean and His Piping Tuition” Available online at;jsessionid=ACEE3F9D8629DDDFBBA7B3EE0DDB64AB (Accessed 17th May 2018).

Newton, M (2000) A Handbook of the Scottish Gaelic World (Dublin: Four Courts Press).

Sanger, K and Kinnaird, A (1992) Tree of Strings/Crann nan Teud: a History of the Harp in Scotland (Temple: Kinmor Music).

Thomson, D (1968) ‘Gaelic Learned Orders and Literati in Mediaeval Scotland’ Scottish Studies 12 pp. 57-80.


Guest Blog: Alice Little, To Learne the Arte: observations on John Malchair’s teaching at Oxford, 1760-1797

Alice Little is in the third year of her DPhil in Music at Oxford University, for which her focus is the tunebooks of John Malchair, and the collection of ‘national music’ in England in the late eighteenth century. Previous research has included the music collections of Victorian antiquary Percy Manning. Her work has been published in the Journal of Museum Ethnography, Folk Music Journal, the Handbook for Studies in 18th-Century English Music, and elsewhere. See for more information and to get in touch.

John Malchair (1730-1812) was a drawing master and violinist, based in Oxford from 1760 until his death. My DPhil research has focused on Malchair’s collection of ‘national music’, compiled during ‘The leasure howers of many years’; however, this was not what brought Malchair to Oxford, nor how he paid his bills.

Malchair was a violinist, leading the band at the Oxford Music Room until 1792 when his violin was broken by an orange thrown from the audience. It was this job that brought him to Oxford in 1760, and which enabled his marriage to Elizabeth Jenner, which took place the same year. While it is likely that Malchair, as leader of the band, taught the violin, I have only discovered one reference to Malchair as a violin teacher: a note in a pocketbook of the registrar John Gutch, who noted that he had Agreed with Mr. Malchair for instruction on the violin, a guinea entrance, and a guinea for twelve lectures.’

Malchair was much better known around Oxford as an artist and drawing master, and was particularly skilled at landscapes. Malchair habitually carried a sketchbook, although was sometimes forced to recreate a scene from recollection, as he recorded in a letter of 1793 after returning from a walk near Cumnor: ‘at my return the sun being nearly setting… the waters of Brokins Wier appeared to be on fire, the Burford horizon was… Violet, Purple, and Azure…. I was so struck with all, that I retained somewhat of the effect which I committed to paper at home from recollection with some success.’

Landscape drawing of Oxford (not of Malchair though certainly a similar scene), Credit: Wellcome Collection, Free to use with attribution

Acting as official drawing master to the university, Malchair taught a number of undergraduates as well as family members of professors, and others. Many of Malchair’s pupils’ names are recorded on the back of his works as companions on sketching expeditions. For example, one drawing is inscribed, ‘From the River in Port Meddow near Oxford July 10 1771 House Boat expedition P. Rashleigh T. Frankland Rd. Mead.’

In 1791 Malchair completed a treatise, ‘Observations On Landskipp [Landscape] Drawing’, in which he set down (in his typically eccentric spelling) some ‘Rules and Examples for the drawing of Landskipp according to the practice at Oxford’. This volume, now held at the Ashmolean Museum, includes sections on outline, materials, paper, Indian rubber, shading, and form, and is illustrated with many sketches as examples.

The lessons Malchair gives in this volume demonstrate his experience and knowledge, explaining, for example, that ‘Chalk is sharpened by cutting from the point backward, which prevents it from breaking’; as well as occasionally tending towards the poetic, as when he noted that if shading becomes smudged it can be rescued by a sharpened pencil, for ‘to that belongs the quickening and life giving power, all is made briliant by it and to spring from the paper, the point is the spirit of all.’ Malchair also included some simple practical instructions, such as ‘It is not the practice of the Oxford school to putt anny drawing tooles in the mouth.’

While ostensibly a guide for those learning to draw, Malchair also included many details for drawing masters about how to teach these skills. These tips indicate that as well as undergraduates Malchair taught young children and if his treatise reflects his own teaching style, it would appear that he had a great deal of affection, patience and respect for young learners. For example, he wrote that ‘it is certain that the young have better judgement than is generaly allowed. thire opinions are in a greate Measur thire ohn, often just and uninfluenced, sometimes so strong and natural as much to surprise thire Elders, nay even to shame them.’

However, at the same time, Malchair acknowledged the impatience often demonstrated by young people, noting that ‘Indian Rubber or Elastic Gumme is certainely usefull at times to those who less want it, but young practitioners place rather too much confidence in it, which makes them careless.’

The drawing lesson possibly by Domenico Guidobono (1668-1746) or Bartolomeo Guidobono (1654–1709), Wikimedia Commons

One of the most telling remarks in this vein is Malchair’s recommendation that ‘One who would teach a Child, must draw like a child to conceal his skill as much as possible, his stile must gradualy improve as the pupil advances; he must even seeme to learne the arte – rather than to teach it.’ He goes on to say that a teacher ‘must at times confess that the task is rather difficult, for nothing is so humiliating to a learner as the Masters telling him that the verry thing which he cannot do is extreamely easy’. Such teachings are as true in the modern day and in other disciplines as they were for Malchair.

Losing his eyesight in his late 60s, Malchair officially handed over his drawing practice to William Delamotte in 1797.

Featured Image:  The Holywell Music Room in Oxford. Photograph taken Beth Naught, 2015.

Guest blog: Douglas MacMillan, The Bird Fancyer’s Delight – a Tutor for Gentlemen and Canaries

Douglas MacMillan is an organologist and recorder player. One of the first to study the history of the recorder in the nineteenth century, he wrote his PhD thesis on ‘The Recorder 1800-1905’. He extended his studies to the flageolet in the nineteenth century for his DMus (RCM) and has just submitted a DPhil thesis at the University of Oxford on ‘Octave Flutes in England 1660-1800’. Douglas has given conference presentations and contributed articles and reviews to learned journals.

‘The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, or Choice Observations and Directions concerning ye Teaching of all Sorts of Singing-birds after ye Flagelet & Flute, if rightly made as to Size and tone, with a Method of fixing ye wett Air; in a Spung or Cotton, with Lessons properly Compos’d, with ye Compass and faculty of each Bird, Vizt. For ye Wood-lark, Black-bird, Throstle, House-sparrow, Canary-Bird, Black-thorn Linnet, garden Bull-finch and Starling.’

Thus reads the title page to an edition of The Bird Fancyer’s Delight published in 1717.
The custom of teaching caged birds to sing was first described (at least to my knowledge) in a flageolet tutor published in 1683, and continued until the middle of the nineteenth century, but was most prevalent in the eighteenth century: there is evidence for the practice in France and Germany as well as in England. It should be pointed out that this custom is quite different from using recorders and flageolets to imitate bird-song: the birds are the singers, the musician merely the teacher. In practical terms, the bird’s cage was covered with a cloth and the instructor repeated the tunes while the bird learnt to mimic them – at least in theory! At this time, the preferred instrument would have been the bird flageolet, a tiny instrument with four finger-holes and two thumb-holes although standard flageolets were no doubt used. Later English versions of the bird flageolet surviving from the early nineteenth century had six or seven finger-holes and one thumb-hole. It was to attempt to prevent condensation in the narrow windway of the bird flageolet that the sponge chamber – a windcap containing a piece of sponge to absorb moisture – was first devised, and subsequently became a feature of most nineteenth-century flageolets. The sopranino recorder (known in England at the time as ‘flute’) could be used as an alternative instrument.

The first version of The Bird Fancyer’s Delight was published in London by Walsh in 1708, but sadly no copies survive. A further edition was published by Richard Meares in 1717, closely followed in the same year by a version by Walsh and Hare, perhaps suggesting a degree of eighteenth-century plagiarism. A final version was published by Walsh and Hare in c.1730. The Bird Fancyer’s Delight contains pedagogical material not only for the birds but also for their tutors, and it is to this material that we must now turn our attention.

The pedagogical material in The Bird Fancyer’s Delight retains – at least in part – the anachronistic system of tablature notation which was applied in the seventeenth-century flageolet tutors such as Greeting’s The Pleasant Companion and the anonymous Youth’s Delight on the Flagelet. In tablature, the fingering of the notes to be sounded were indicated as strokes on a six-line stave, each line corresponding to one of the tone-holes on the instrument similar to a modern woodwind fingering chart, although in this case the tablature was used for the melody rather than purely for instructional purposes. The time values were indicated separately above the fingerings using modern notation. This cumbersome system was also employed in part in the seventeenth-century recorder tutors but had effectively been consigned to history by the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, the scale is presented in both ‘dot-way’ (tablature) and ‘gamut-way’ (staff notation): the persistence of tablature into the third decade of the eighteenth century is surprising. The instructions on ‘gracing’ embracing the close shake (trill), the open shake or beat (mordent), and the slur. The material is reproduced almost verbatim from Walsh’s recorder tutor The Compleat Flute-Master of 1695, and again is rather dated, but only the close shake and slur are prescribed in The Bird Fancyer.

The Meares edition includes thirty tunes and the Walsh, forty-one. Particular keys were often assigned to individual species of bird, although the practice was not always strictly followed: the most popular bird was the bullfinch (eleven tunes), but his assigned key was C minor, hardly comfortable on a flageolet or recorder, although perhaps easier for a bird! Four of the birds were also provided with a short flourish to establish their key. Three of the tunes are given in tablature as well as in staff notation.

Unsurprisingly, the tunes are very short and are drawn from popular songs and operatic arias (particularly The Beggar’s Opera) although some were specially composed by a Mr. Hill. To give just one example, the bullfinch is assigned a triumphal march from Handel’s 1711 production of Rinaldo, duly pirated by Gaye and Pepusch to appear in The Beggar’s Opera as ‘Let us take the road’. Fortunately it is placed in the key of F rather than C minor!

The Bird Fancyer’s Delight provides us with an insight into a social practice which continued for almost two hundred years. The material is of musicological interest in that it reflects almost-lost traditions in tablature and gracing, and the selection of tunes gives an indication of popular taste in London in the early eighteenth century. Sadly, history does not relate how successful the birds were at imitating the sound of ‘the Flagelet or Flute’…

2017 Round up!

We can’t believe that it has been a year since EAERN received its funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and what a year it has been! We’d like to share our years’ activities with our readers, and our plans as we enter our second year.


In May we had our first colloquium held in Special Collections at the University of Glasgow, where network members and invited guests shared their work.  Bob McLean, of the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections, had several educational works from the 18th century on display which provided many discussion points, including Polygraphice: or, the arts of drawing, engraving, etching from 1701 that had transparent pages and the Bird Fancyer’s Delight, a short book on how one can teach one’s bird to sing using the flageolet or recorder.  At the round table discussion participants began to flesh out themes across our different research areas that we hope to develop in future projects.  The highlight of the event was the 18th-century ceilidh led by Aaron McGregor and the Nathaniel Gow Dance Band.  The next morning was the first network meeting, where the core network met for the first time and discussed EAERN’s purpose and direction.



In September we travelled to the University of Swansea for the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Postgraduate Conference. We a presentation and discussion on interdisciplinary research, and how the work of EAERN could benefit postgraduates, and also what current students would like to get out of a resource like EAERN.


Our website has allowed us to share news and events and also our monthly blog series, where we have heard from different experts in the field of 18th-century studies. This is an opportunity for our core network members to share their interests and work on 18th-century education.  Bloggers so far have included network members John Butt, David McGuinness, Jennifer Thorp and Karen McAulay as well as guest contributions from Nel Whiting, who spoke at our first colloquium, and Aaron McGregor, PhD student and leader of the Nathaniel Gow Dance Band.

18th-century ceilidh dancing with The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band

Workshop series

One of the most exciting aspects of EAERN has been setting up our workshop series. The aim of the workshop series is to allow expert practitioners to demonstrate how they use 18th-century resources to learn their craft. These workshops are opportunities to share this knowledge with students, academics and interest members of the public, providing a unique networking opportunity. We have found that workshop attendees have  come to  workshops  not necessarily connected to their discipline, which further encourages opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.  Each workshop has been recorded and added to our website to allow those who could not attend to see and hear the discussion, further contributing to our worldwide community.

Workshop 1 was an opportunity to learn 18th-century Scottish country dancing, led by The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band (also known as Concerto Caledonia). The workshop attendees, including students on the Performance and Music of Scotland through the Long 18th century courses at the University of Glasgow, fellow academics, and interested parties, heard the intricate details of constructing the tunes and dances before getting the opportunity to learn a few for themselves. In the second half of the video, the dances are in full swing and Aaron and David McGuinness (one of our core network members) contributed blog posts discussing the dance band project.

The Nathaniel Gow Dance Band workshop

Workshop 2 looked at a different aspect of dance, focusing on posture, grace and decorum rather than raucous country dancing. ‘Walk the Boards with a Natural Decorum’ brought together Jennifer Thorp (another of our core network members) and Steve Player, who discussed their different perspectives on decorum: Jennifer from the perspective of a French noblewoman, and Steve a British nobleman. In the second half of the workshop, the pair demonstrated some improvised courtly dance with elegance and grace. Jennifer discussed more of her research in a blog post, which nicely complemented her presentation.

Jennifer Thorp and Steve Player

Workshop 3 stepped out of the world of music and dance and into the realm of embroidery, an art form that dominated industry and domestic life in the 18th century. ‘Behind the Seams – A guide to 18th-century Embroidery’, presented by Auburn Lucas from the Royal School of Needlework, gave an excellent insight into the variety of embroidery collections she examined from private collectors and museums. Though many of the materials including the cloth and threads have changed, the embroidery tools and the methods are remarkably similar. Several students studying textile conservation attended as well as keen embroiderers who were excited to see Auburn’s personal work and embroidery demonstration, which can be seen throughout the video.

Auburn Lucas

Plans for the New Year include three more workshops in January, February, and March continuing to explore music, fashion and theatre. We will be contributing to the Education in the Long Eighteenth-century seminar series and we hope to participate in the Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies Society conference in Glasgow in July.

We are planning another colloquium for summer 2018, where our core network will get together to discuss our ongoing work and future plans for EAERN. We will continue our monthly blog series, featuring core network members as well as guest bloggers working on eighteenth-century arts education. If you have a topic that matches the themes and aims of EAERN and would like to contribute a post, please get in touch.

For further information about our workshop series, please visit our workshop series page, follow us on Twitter @EAERNing, join our Facebook page or, if you haven’t done so yet, sign up to our email list. Speaking of which, our email list includes contacts from Europe, the United States, and Australia. We are pleased to have so many people who are interested in our work, and we would like to say thank you!

Finally, from the EAERN team, we would like to wish you a happy holiday season and all the best for 2018!

Image: This print was drawn by an artist named Collings, engraved by Barlow, and published by Bentley & Co. of London, England in 1791. Taken from

Eighteenth-Century Dance in Modern Scholarship and Practice: a case study, and the role of EAERN in cooperative projects

This blogpost is written by Jennifer Thorp, who is an archivist and dance historian working in Oxford. She is also a member of the EAERN steering group.


This blogpost derives from different strands of my own research and performance practice in eighteenth century dance, in the light of the cooperative ventures between academics and practitioners encouraged by EAERN. Into the melting pot have gone parts of the presentation I gave at the EAERN Colloquium in May 2017, part of my (ongoing) work to catalogue the dance section of the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton House, and performances of dances with a Montagu connection. In turn, all that has also provoked revisions and corrections (also ongoing!) to the editorial commentary on F. Le Roussau’s Collection of New Ball- and Stage Dances 1720 (Edinburgh University Library, MS La.III. 673), a facsimile of which I had published a few years ago, and which turns out to form a case study linking these various strands.

The basic tools of historical research – sifting evidence from primary and secondary sources for biographical, bibliographical, topographic, iconographic and musicological evidence – each contribute to answering research questions; in this instance even at the most basic level of who was F. Le Roussau? Where did he work as a dancer or choreographer? How was he connected with the Dukes of Montagu? Nothing was known about Le Roussau beyond the title-pages of his manuscript Collection…1720 and his skilfully engraved notations of Anthony L’Abbé’s New Collection of Dances (the similarity of titles was probably deliberate) a few years later, in which he referred to himself respectively as ‘F. Le Roussau, Dancing-master’ and ‘Monsieur Roussau, Dancing-master’ living in London. It is clear from the 1720 manuscript that he had kept abreast of some of the French theatrical dance repertoire, either by seeing it in Paris or by discussing it closely with French dancers who came to London to perform at the Little Theatre, Haymarket. Newspapers of the time confirm that Le Roussau himself was also employed at that theatre, creating and performing comic and pastoral dances there. In the late-twentieth century a wild guess by a French dance specialist that he must have been named François was made on no convincing evidence, and the determination of several dance historians to spell his surname as ‘Rousseau’ added another layer of confusion which got the research hackles rising nicely.

Although not much is documented of the interrelationships of the Little Theatre in the Haymarket and Handel’s Royal Academy of Music just up the road in the King’s Theatre, they do reveal some important insights to Le Roussau. In 1719-20 Anthony L’Abbé was set to become the resident choreographer for Handel’s new Royal Academy operas, until the exorbitant costs of hiring Italian singers left no money in the budget for a dance troupe and such dancers as were required in Handel operas were probably borrowed from the Little Theatre (this is suggested by comparing the performance rostas of the two houses, for they usually alternated performance nights). That in turn led the research to Boughton, when it became apparent that the most significant patron of Le Roussau was probably John 2nd Duke of Montagu (1640-1749). The discovery at Boughton of a copy of L’Abbé’s New Collection as published by Le Roussau seemed a good omen.

In the 1720s the Little Theatre was practically owned by the Duke of Montagu, who was also one of the early directors of Handel’s Royal Academy. He would later employ Anthony L’Abbé to teach his daughter prior to her wedding in 1730, by which time L’Abbé had commissioned Le Roussau to notate and publish his New Collection of Dances; it is highly unlikely that the three men did not know each other. Indeed Le Roussau probably dedicated his Collection … 1720 to the Duke, for the first dance in it is named The Montaigu, and several of the dances unique to the manuscript reveal a sense of humour aimed at the Duke’s well-known love of masquerades and practical jokes. In The Montaigu Le Roussau alternates sections of minuet and gavotte during which two dancers spell out spatially, in their floor tracks, the letters of Montagu’s name. It was probably never intended to be performed and does not actually work well as a duet (we tried it out on Montagu’s descendant, the present Duke of Buccleuch, who owns the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton, and apparently only the letters M and O make any sense to an audience; the final letter (V, posing as the letter U as they were often interchangeable) is incomprehensible until you see that no matter from what direction you look at the notation, it is made up of interlocking Vs). But as a joke on paper the whole dance works very well.

The pursuit of these different avenues of historical context made it easier to solve the question of F. Le Roussau’s full name; not François but Ferdinand, who worked in London in the 1720s, before ending his days as dancing- and fencing-master to the Naval Academy at Portsmouth, where he died in 1736. Moreover it allowed consideration of a fourth question – how did Le Roussau’s Collection end up in Edinburgh when all the available information on his career in the 1720s indicates that he worked in London? The answer to that is tantalising, for although we know that Edinburgh University acquired the Collection in 1878 among the music books and papers of the Edinburgh bibliophile Dr David Laing (1793-1878), and that he often amassed them from booksellers and ‘the sweepings of some lawyer’s office’, as the EUL’s typescript Guide to MSS (1993) puts it, it is not known from where those dealers and lawyers had previously acquired them. John Duke of Montagu’s granddaughter Elizabeth married the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch in 1767 and removed to Dalkeith Palace near Edinburgh, and one cannot help wondering whether Le Roussau’s manuscript Collection may have strayed or been sold from there at some date in the nineteenth century. Regrettably, we’ll probably never know for sure.

The tools of historical research by definition cope well with many aspects of eighteenth-century dance. Academic and national libraries and archive repositories provide primary and secondary sources of relevance, and they also have facilities for consulting digitised collections and specialist databases held elsewhere, and present great scope for cooperative work. In due course the Montagu Music Collection at Boughton will also become accessible for research. While its dance component does not contain much that is unique, it nevertheless is strong on eighteenth century dance manuals and music, Scottish and English social dances, and late-eighteenth century London ballet scores.

Meanwhile, what about performance? These notated dances do not come to life, and cannot persuade modern choreographers that they have something powerful to offer, unless they are performed. At Boughton there have been two performances of music and dances based on the Montagu Music Collection, and a more ambitious performance at the Utrecht Early Music Festival in 2015, together with informal links with the Sound Heritage project at Southampton University and with EAERN. All have proved very successful.

Boughton concert 2015 jennifer thorp
Boughton Concert, 2015

We can learn from the pedagogic evidence of the day (and there is quite a lot of it) how people studied dance in the eighteenth century. The young apprentice dancer Kellom Tomlinson for instance learned his trade in 1708 by studying the commonest notation system of the time, Beauchamps-Feuillet, and he did so by notating standard steps in different time signatures, fitting them to a sample of music and finally graduating with the skills to record his own choreography according to the conventions of the day concerning symmetry and step vocabulary. That still remains a core element of analysing early-eighteenth century dances today, along with more complex discussions of rhythms, phrasing, expression and choreographic structure, and the practicalities of the subject will always require cooperation between specialist dancers, musicians and historians of costume and culture. There is of course also the sociable side of eighteenth century dancing, from ballrooms to village greens. Those dances can reveal a lot because they were part of everyday life for the people concerned. For much of the second half of the century they are well documented in novels, letters and diaries, formal regulations of assembly rooms, and innumerable collections of music with dance directions. They do not require years of training, the ability to read arcane dance notation, or profound analysis. Cotillions and country dances (both English and Caledonian) were hugely popular in the eighteenth century and also provide us today with enjoyable gateways into that world while enhancing our understanding of it.


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