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Major Graham

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SMM 402 A red red Rose
Major Graham
Niel Gow A Collection of Strathspey Reels 1784

Though Johnson included two options in SMM for the air to a ‘A Red Red Rose’,[1] Burns stated his own preference in the Hastie MS: ‘The tune of this song is in Niel Gow’s first Collection & is there called Major Graham…’, and also used the same tune for his song ‘Ah, Chloris, since it may not be’.[2] Burns may have known the tune from Gow’s own fiddle playing, having met the fiddler at Dunkeld in 1787, later describing him as ‘a short, stout-built, honest highland figure’. Burns also met Niel’s most famous son, the fiddler and band-leader Nathaniel Gow, at Dumfries in 1793.[3]

In this recording we present the version from the first edition of Niel Gow’s A Collection of Strathspey Reels (1784). Here the tune is presented in a stark, unsentimental style, featuring unison double-stops on the fiddle part, and an unadorned, simple bassline moving in crotchets throughout. We know from the second edition of 1801 that this was one of Niel’s own compositions, but the version presented there (probably edited by Nathaniel Gow) offers a very different perspective: aimed at the genteel Edinburgh piano market, it has additional ornamentation in the tune, as well as as a more active bass-line, with quaver movement, chords and chromatic passing notes.

During our recording session, we came back to this tune at the end of the day for a second take. Each recording had such a different character that we decided to include both: the first has a much tighter, rhythmical feel, whilst the latter is more sentimental and sweet.

Aaron McGregor, October 2016

Play take one:

Download take one:

Major Graham #1 (526 downloads )

Play take two:

Download take two:

Major Graham #2 (311 downloads )
Aaron McGregor, violin
Alison McGillivray, cello

Recorded by Neil McDermott
Produced by David McGuinness

Recordings ©2016 Concerto Caledonia

Licensed to University of Glasgow for non-commercial use by the Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century project, and associated projects

[1] The other is an unnamed tune also used for ‘Mary Queen of Scots Lament’ (SMM 404).

[2] J. Kinsley, ed., The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (Oxford, 1968), II, 749-750

[3] Ibid, III, ‘Commentary’, 1226, 1245