New website unveils ‘hidden history’ of Scottish fiddle music

A new online platform dedicated to historical sources of Scottish fiddle music has been launched to allow traditional music fans access to thousands of tunes.

The new searchable database has an index of around 3,500 pieces taken from the earliest 27 Scottish fiddle manuscripts – handwritten tune-books from between 1670 and 1750.

It is hoped the new directory will ‘unlock many secrets of Scottish fiddle music’, allowing both researchers and performers to find the original sources for particular tunes and learn more about the musicians who composed and collected them.

It is also the first publication of Dr Aaron McGregor, whose PhD research was completed at the University of Glasgow in 2020 and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Dr McGregor’s thesis ‘Violinists and Violin Music in Scotland, 1550-1750’ has ‘radically’ re-written the early history of the violin in Scotland, tracing its arrival to over a century earlier than previously thought.

The new findings point towards a ‘thriving’ violin tradition as far back as the 16th-century Scottish royal court, with elements from Scottish traditional music ‘rubbing shoulders’ with a range of ‘surprisingly cosmopolitan’ styles.

Dr McGregor said: “It had previously been assumed that the violin didn’t arrive in Scotland until around 1670, but my research shows that in fact it was here over 100 years before. Equally, my research shows the huge significance of the period 1670 to 1750 in the history of Scotland’s music. Fiddle music began to be written down for the first time, and musicians experimented with mixing traditional music with the most up-to-date art music styles.

“Without this period, we would never have had the “Golden Age” of Scottish Fiddle Music of the late 18th century and the music of famous fiddlers like Niel Gow and William Marshall. This new resource points researchers and performers alike to the earliest manuscript sources, and we hope that it will lead to greater exploration and interest in Scotland’s early fiddling traditions”.

The database went live yesterday and can be accessed at: Historical Music of Scotland, where it joins another resource for early printed sources of Scottish fiddle music, which was launched in 2015.