Complete Songs Of Robert Burns - online book

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house assigns to him about forty-five of those in the Museum1); and it has been doubted whether Burns was capable of writing the notation of viva voce airs. It is true that Clarke, the musical editor of the Museum, often did this for him ; but it is equally true that Clarke could not always be present when wanted, and it is more than probable that Burns in many cases did it alone with the aid of his violin. For, gifted as he was with a retentive memory, and—as has been shown—with an acute ear for musical sound, combined with a passionate love of Scottish melody, his genius would enable him to do readily what would be laborious for an ordinary amateur, nor can I see any reason why his remark, ' I took down the tune from the voice of a girl,' or some other unconditional statement, should not be accepted literally. In fact he obtained many of the fugitive airs from his wife, who was a good natural singer, and from Kirsty Flint, among others, a masculine woman who took pleasure in showing off her vocal powers to him 2. Two of the best airs discovered by Burns were obtained in the same manner; one, Ca' the Ymvess, from the voice of a friendly minister of the Kirk, and Craigieburn Wood * (for which he wrote two sets of verses) from the singing of a girl. He first heard the Gaelic air of Song No. 2j, The Banks of the Devon, from a lady in Inverness, and ' got the notes taken down ' for the Museum, and obtained for Johnson a better set of the tune of No. 197 than that supplied by Dr. Blacklock 5.
So much for Burns's musical experience, about which there is little more to say, except that he was himself a mediocre vocalist with a rough but not an untunable voice. He was constrained in company sometimes to sing, but he was conscious of his defect, and avoided any exhibition of the kind as much as possible6. But though his musical training and practice may have been no
1 The MSS. of most of his historical and traditionary airs have disappeared, except two or three pieces from his hand, of which one, The German lairdie, is now printed for the first time on p. 336.
3 Professor Gillespie, from personal observation, related how Burns was in the habit of tying his horse outside her cottage door and sitting by her fireside while she sang ' with a pipe of the most overpowering pitch.'
3 No. 114.                                        4 No. 00.
B Extensive references to Burns and music will be found on p. 535 infra.
6 To a friend, no more gifted than himself, he exclaimed, ' Heaven knows we are no singers!' {Works, v. 364).