Library and Information Services, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Monday, 12 October 2015

Robert Burns and his Fiddle - By his Sister

What do we know about Robert Burns's violin-playing?  Mary Anne Alburger, in Scottish Fiddlers and their Music (1996), says he could play to amuse himself, but couldn't play well enough to accompany a dance.

And how does Alburger know this?  She referred to a famous collection of Scottish songs which has plentiful notes.

Songs of Scotland was edited by George Farquhar Graham, and published by Edinburgh firm Wood and Co., from 1848-1853. It remained in print in various editions for half a century, but the most important thing to us is the annotations.

Captain Charles Gray, who knew Robert Burns's sister, wrote to George Farquhar Graham to say he had asked Mrs Begg for her recollections.  (This would be described as oral history nowadays!)

George Farquhar Graham wrote back to Captain Gray, asking for answers to some more precise questions.  In the Appendix to Vol. 2 of Songs of Scotland, Graham quotes from Captain Gray's original letter, and his own reply with the questions he wanted answered, and finally, from Captain Gray's second letter. 

You can read the whole discussion in Songs of Scotland Vol.2, Appendix (pp.161-62).  We have it in stock in the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Click here for catalogue number

And that's what we know about Burns and his fiddle-playing prowess!

Burns could copy music, too - the few scraps that survive have sold at auction for phenomenal prices!  Here's one:- Wha is that at my bower door? (It sold for £12,500 recently!)

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