I went to Glasgow to hear Helene Witcher talking about her book at the Aye Write literary festival. The book is a biography of Helene’s aunt, the Scottish harpist Heloise Russell-Fergusson.
I have been asked to contribute to the 4th annual MacMhuirich symposium, organised in Glasgow by Clan Currie over the Bannockburn anniversary weekend. I’ll be in Glasgow on the evening of Sunday 29th, presenting my work on the medieval music associated with the Lords of the Isles.
This engraving from Brook’s 1892 article in PSAS about the medieval Scottish university maces shows the head of the Glasgow mace, which was made in Scotland in the 1460s. When I was in the exhibition in MUSA looking at this mace, I was struck by the foliage designs on the panels in the central stage (these six panels are illustrated on the engraving).
The leaves on these lovely engraved silver plates are similar to the late 15th century forepillar leaves on the Queen Mary harp, However the leaves on the mace are not identical, and to me they looked a bit later. There are similar leaves on the 16th century Ballinderry harp metalwork.
Brook suggests that the plates are not original to the 1460s construction of the mace, but may have been late 16th century post-reformation replacements of figures of saints. The St Andrews Arts mace and Canon law mace both have very similar designs and both have saints in these middle panels.
The leaves are not easy to see on the mace in the museum as they are above eye level and the silver is very highly polished. However I am looking forward to comparing them with the leaves on my replica of the Queen Mary harp at my concert tomorrow.
On Sunday, 12th September, at 2pm, Provand’s Lordship in Glasgow will host a concert of medieval and Renaissance Scottish harp music.
The concert is a unique opportunity to discover the music of the old Highland castles and great houses from hundreds of years ago. The early Gaelic harp, with metal wire strings sounded using long fingernails, was an important part of Scottish music and culture for centuries, until it died out in the 18th century.
Provand’s Lordship is Glasgow’s oldest house, built in 1471, one of only four medieval buildings to survive in the city. This is just the kind of domestic setting in which this music would have originally been heard hundreds of years ago. The house is now displayed as a museum, with period interiors and a medieval garden.
The recital will be performed by historical harp specialist, Simon Chadwick, using a beautiful replica of the medieval clarsach of Mary, Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original, preserved in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, is too rare and fragile to string and play, so Simon commissioned his replica from a sculptor in Ireland. Decorated with woodburning, carving and paint, and strung with wires of brass, silver and gold, the replica harp is a stunning medieval art object.
The programme will feature historical Scottish harp music, brought back to life from books and manuscripts. As well as stirring battle marches, and salutes for the great Highland families, Simon’s speciality is the grand Gaelic laments, which would be composed by a harper on the death of his patron.
Simon has been studying the old Scottish and Irish harp traditions for over 10 years, and bases his work on the oldest sources of music and playing techniques, preserved in manuscripts and antique printed books. He teaches his discoveries to students in St Andrews, Dundee, and Edinburgh, as well as further afield using the internet. He has just returned from Ireland where last month he helped run the annual summer school for early Gaelic harp, and he has also just this week completed his fourth season of performances in the Cathedral ruins in St Andrews. His CD, “Clàrsach na Bànrighe”, features Scottish music from the 13th to the 18th century, performed on the replica Queen Mary harp.
Sunday, 12th September
Concert starts 2pm, and runs for 30-40 mins
Provand’s Lordship, 3 Castle Street, Glasgow G4 0RB