Bunting tune collecting statistics

As I work on the transcriptions project I am also assembling a spreadsheet of tunes and metadata to try and get a grip on attributions, variants, and titles.

I entered all of the attributions from the three printed volumes today. There are printed attributions for the 1840 tuns in the introduction, giving names, places and dates of collection. For the tunes published in 1797 and 1809, we have the annotated volumes in the British library (Add MS 41508) which Karen Loomis drew to our attention.

I counted 285 tunes in total. Of them, 149 (52%) are tagged as coming from harpers. 88 of these tunes (31%) he either does not say, or he gives us only a place, or he gives us a name without saying who is is. My guess is that most of these are from singers, fiddlers and other traditional musicians. 9 (13%) come from pipers. 3 (1%) come from a book, and the remaining 36 (13% are sourced from a collector or correspondent.

To be more crude, half the tunes that Bunting published are from harpers; a third are probably from traditional musicians, and most of the rest are sent to him by scholars and gentlemen.

I tried to do the same with the transcriptions in ms29 and ms33(1) but I haven’t identified enough of the tunes, or gathered enough attributions evidence yet, for the numbers to be meaningful. In time!

3 thoughts on “Bunting tune collecting statistics”

  1. I looked at all the tunes reported to have been played at the Belfast meeting in 1792, as listed in newspapers and contemporary reports. I count 56 tunes.

    Apart from the 5 tunes (9%) with titles I can’t figure out, we have ms29 transcriptions of 16 (29%) of these tunes. And I should point out that we don’t know if this is transcribed from the same harper, or is even the same version – we only have titles for the Belfast tunes. And, the transcriptions I have found, are scattered throughout the manuscript, with no clear grouping or pattern. 6 of the Belfast tunes (11%) are represented in ms29 by copies, either from printed books or elsewhere.

    I also checked the list of tunes said to have been played by named harpers. I count 24 tunes. Of these, 7 (29%) are represented by transcriptions in ms29. 4 tunes (17%) are represented in ms29 by copies from printed books or elsewhere.

    Looks like my suspicions are confirmed… ms29 was apparently not the notebook Bunting used at the Belfast Harp Festival in 1792.

  2. I have checked out every transcription that I have found so far, for bass-notes (which are a sure sign of that transcription being of a harp performance).

    I am counting approximately 40 transcriptions which include any harp bass. 12 of these are tagged as coming from Hempson, 7 from Higgins, 6 from Fanning, and 5 from O’Neil, with the remainder from Mooney, Quin, Linden and O’Donnell. 3 of the transcriptions with bass notes are not attributed anywhere. Byrne, Duncan and Martin don’t have any transcriptions with bass markings.

    Looking at all transcriptions tagged for each of the harpers, 86% of Fanning’s have bass markings; 63% of Hempson’s; and 33% of Higgins’s.

    I also started giving each transcription a “score” from 9 down to 0, based on my impression of how likely it is to have been transcribed from a harp performance. Many of the transcriptions are obvious, being either harp versions or vocal versions of tunes; a few are more ambiguous.

    Out of 284 transcriptions listed so far, 92 (32%) have a harp score of 5 or more. So at this stage I am happy to say that approximately 1/3 of the transcriptions in Bunting’s notebooks are harp music. And of those harp transcriptions, not far short of half have some kinds of bass notations.

    I’m aware that this is still a work in progress, and finding more transcriptions, or re-identifying some of the problem tunes, could change the numbers somewhat. But I think that these numbers should be approximately reliable…

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