Maol Donn

At the moment I am working on Maol Donn. This lovely pibroch is often given the romantic English title “MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart”. Its original title means brown or tawny hummock, or rounded thing, perhaps referring to the bald hornless forehead of the cow that was lost in the bog, which some stories say is the origin of the tune. I like the story of Ranald MacDonald of Morar composing this tune to a smooth brown seashell he found on the beach.

There are a number of recordings available of this tune played on the pipes. The oldest is played by John MacDonald of Inverness in 1926:
from Ross’s Music Page

My favourite is played by Calum Johnston in 1955: 

Here’s the traditional song that goes with it, sung by Kate MacDonald in 1970: 

6 thoughts on “Maol Donn”

  1. Thanks Peter. Soundcloud does not work on any of the computers I have access to so I don't know what version that is.

    Rona Lightfoot sings a version with Ian MacDonald on the pipes – perhaps it's that?

    Let us know how you are getting on with it!

  2. Yeah, it might take a while. I'm playing the ornaments with one hand based on plethiad y pedwarbys but stretched out so to speak, like the way you played a crunluath ornament in one of your videos with one hand. The bass is justa triad drone two octaves below the first note so a,e,a, and alternating with the higher of those a's with the e in the treble when it appears.

    So far I've tried two ways. The first just following the score as is. This way the ornaments are a bit awkward but the pipey sound is preserved. The other way is in a different mode with the ornaments shortened so that they span 2 or 3 notes instead of 4, and lowering the high grace note by a tone. This way sounds sweeter or more musical to me but not as much like pipe music.


  3. What mode change did you try?

    I have not consulted the scores, I have just been listening to the singing and the piping. (I glanced at Colin Campbell's manuscript). Barnaby Brown has a nice Youtube of the Campbell canntaireachd of just the urlar of Maol Donn that you might like to check out.

    I guess you'll hear soon enough what I have been coming up with!

  4. The sweeter version is in Ionian mode and the pipe version is in mixolydian mode…I think. So looking at Barnaby's old score from his article, you can play the first note as 'a' (mixolydian) or 'd' (Ionian), if I have the modes right. The shortened ornaments are easier to play. Maybe I'll learn it both ways and if I can summon up the nerve I'll record them.
    Yes, I've seen his sign-cantaireachd video. Yet another version!


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