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The Significance of the Pentatonic Scale in Scottish Song

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015


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Research Article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 1940

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1 ANTIQUITY, 1938, XII, 261-289.

2 For pentatonic scales see Carl Engel, The Music of the Most Ancient Nations (1864, reprint 1929), chap. IV; A. H. Fox Strangways, The Music of Hindustan (1914); Hjalmar Thuren, Folkesangen paa Fœrøerne (Copenhagen, 1908), 193-225 ; M. Kennedy-Fraser, The Songs of the Hebrides, I, xxviii-xxxiii; Journ. Folk Song Soc. (London), IV, no. 16 (1911), 150-3; also artides in musical dictionaries.

3 Fox Strangways, op. cit., 48, 123.

4 Jburn. Folk Song Soc. (London), IV, no. 16 (1911), 143-278.

5 A’ Choisir Chiuil (Bayley & Ferguson, Glasgow).

6 Songs of Scotland (Boosey & Co.), 2 vols.

7 Duncan Johnston, Cronun nan Tonn (Glasgow, 1938).

8 The same tendency is very evident in the compositions of John Macdonald of Oban (seven pentatonics among nine tunes examined).

9 Edited by C. V. Stanford ; Boosey & Co., 1902-5.

10 Among Moore’s Irish Melodies the following are virtually pentatonic : ‘Erin, O Erin’ (except third quarter) ; ‘Though dark are our sorrows’ (except third quarter) ; ‘Oft in the stilly night’ ; ‘This life is all chequer’d’ ; ‘As vanquished Erin’ ; and ‘I’d mourn the hopes that leave me’. Many Irish tunes have the melody-formula AABA, where A is the original theme, and B is a related, but different, piece of melody, incomplete in itself, inserted in order to break the monotony of the frequent repetition of A. That B may be much later than A is suggested by the observation that in several tunes in which A is pentatonic, B may be hexatonic, heptatonic, or even chromatic. Similarly, in Scottish tunes a very common formula is ABABA . . . etc., appearing as alternating refrain (A) and verse (B). Here again it is common to find that B is constructed on a more developed scale (e.g. hexatonic or heptatonic) than A (e.g. pentatonic). The recent addition of B to an older A is a known fact in a few instances, e.g. by John Macdonald in Orain Caraid (Glasgow, 1938), p. 4 ; and by Archibald Ferguson in A’ Choisir Chiuil, p. 67.

11 Lucy Broadwood, English Traditional Songs and Carols.

12 Cecil Sharp and C. L. Marson, Folk Songs from Somerset.

13 J. Stokoe and S. Reay, Songs and Ballads of Northern England.

14 L. A. Bourgault-Ducoudray, Trente Mélodies populaires de Basse-Bretagne (Paris, 1885).

15 A. P. Graves, The Celtic Song-Book (1928).

16 Julien Tiersot, Sixty Folksongs of France (Boston, U.S.A., 1915).

17 R. Gallop, Vingt-Cinq Chansons populaires d’Eskual Herria (Bayonne, 1928) ; A Book of the Basques (1930), chap. VIII.

18 Armas Launis, Lappische Juoigos-Melodien (Mém. de la Soc. Finno-Ougrienne, XXVI, Helsingfors, 1908). I am indebted to Mrs Gudmund Hatt of Copenhagen for this reference, and for the loan of her own copy.

19 Suomen Kansan Sävelmiä, vols. I and II

20 Sv. Sveinbjörnsson, Icelandic Folk-songs (Edinburgh, R. W. Pentland).

21 Hjalmar Thuren, Folkesangen paa Fœrøerne (Copenhagen, 1908).

22 O. M. Sandvik, Folke-musik i Gudbrandsdalen (Christiania, 1892).

23 Assar and Olsson, Sverges Melodibok, 1 (Stockholm).

24 Danmarks Melodibog (Copenhagen).

25 The Botsford Collection of Folk-Songs (New York, 1938), II.

26 N. Rimsky-Korsakov, A Hundred Russian Folk Songs (St. Petersburg, 1877), collected between 1810 and 1820, mainly from the Governments of Novgorod and Orlov.

27 A. Härtel, Deutsches Liederlexikon (Leipzig).

28 Hj. Thuren, op. cit., 202.

29 The Botsford Collection of Folk-Songs.

30 Botsford Collection, and L. A. Bourgault-Ducoudray, Trente Mélodies populaires de Grèce et d’Orient (Paris, 1897) ; songs common to both collections counted once only.

31 Béla Szilasi, Hungarian Folk-Songs (Budapest, 1935).

32 F. Salvador-Daniel, The Music and Musical Instruments of the Arab.

33 A. H. Fox Strangways, The Music of Hindustan (Oxford, 1914).

34 Hj. Thuren, op. cit., 193-203.

35 Cecil Sharp, English Folk-Song : Some Conclusions, 45.

36 Carl Engel, The Music of the Most Ancient Nations, 157-162.

37 Oxford Companion to Music (1938), s.v. ‘Harmony’, §4, and ‘Scales’, §10.

38 Thurlow Lieurance, Indian Songs (Chappell & Co., 1913)

39 W. Thalbitzer, Inuit Sange og Danse (Copenhagen, 1939). I am indebted to the author for a copy of this work.

40 Rev. G. D. Pike, Jubilee Singers (London, 1873). A characteristic example is ‘Swing low, sweet chariot’.

41 W. F. Allen, etc., Slave Songs of the United States (New York, 1867).

42 Botsford Collection of Folk-songs, I. This mixed group includes Negro, Indian, Creole, Kentucky, Texas, Middle-West, Cowboy, and a chantey. See also Oxford Companion to Music, s.v. ‘United States’, §§6, 7.

43 A. H. Fox Strangways, op. cit., 123.

44 Armas Launis, op. cit., Introduction.

45 A. H. Fox Strangways, op. cit., 3. It is only fair to say that the words quoted referred originally to a polyphony of the Middle Ages.

46 C. K. Wead, ‘Contribution to the History of Musical Scales’, Report of the Smithsonian Institution (for year ending June 30, 1900), 431-2, and pl. 2, figs. 3 and 4.

47 Canon F. W. Galpin, The Music of the Sumerians (Cambridge, 1937).

48 Neolithic B is not considered here, as it may have been merely a local reaction on the part of our mesolithic aborigines, as Mr Stuart Piggott has suggested.

49 The Personality of Britain (3rd edn., Cardiff, 1938), p. 40, and pls. II, V, VI, and VII.

50 This refers to the linguistic division of the Celtic-speaking peoples into p and q branches, the former comprising at the present day the Welsh, Cornish and Breton stocks, and the latter the Gaelic-speaking Irish and Scottish. Where the former group uses a p, as in map (=son), the latter tends to use a q or c, as in mac (=son). Similar p and q variations existed between Greek and Latin, and between the dialects of ancient Italy (Latin and Osean) and Greece (Attic and Ionic) ; also between Zend and Sanskrit.

51 The support given to this view by Irish tradition is worth consideration.

52 Eoin MacNeill, ‘The Pretanic Background in Britain and Ireland’, Journ. R. Soc. Ant. Ireland, LXIII, 1-28.

53 J. Fraser, ‘The Question of the Picts’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, II, pt. II (1928), 172-201.

54 ‘The Gaelic vocabulary, both in Ireland and in Scotland, contains a very large pre-Celtic element’.—J. Fraser, op. cit., 185.

55 The Celtic instrument may have been the bow-shaped harp (Gk. vάβλα, Heb. nebel), or the crot or cruit (Gk. κιθάρα), a form of lyre. The triangular form of harp popularly associated with the Welsh and Irish is of northeast European origin, and was introduced to the British Isles by the Vikings ; see F. W. Galpin, A Textbook of European Musical Instruments (1937), 79, 83.

56 It is significant that among the city-dwelling descendants of Cain, the first cultivator of the ground, are not only the first metal worker, Tubal-Cain, but also Jubal, ‘the father of all such as handle the harp and pipe’ (GENESIS, IV, 21, 22, Rev. Vers.)

57 It may also be significant that according to Irish tradition the Milesians, who seem to correspond with the first Celtic immigrants to Ireland, are said to have been accompanied by a harper (W. H. Gratton Flood, The Story of the Harp, London, 1905). A detail like this, when given in connexion with a semi-mythical event is likely to have a deeper significance—e.g. the introduction of the harp—than when given in connexion with a purely historical event, such as an expedition of Edward 1 against the Scots.