Musicians' Biographies I
From The Flowers of Scottish Melody, Biographies and Criticisms,
NIEL GOW -
ROBERT MACKINTOSH -
WILLIAM MARSHALL -
NIEL GOW (1727-1807)
Niel Gow was born at Inver, near Dunkeld, Perthshire, on
the 22nd March, 1727. Violin playing was almost his sole occupation.
Although he was not a player of high culture he displayed
in his performances that almost unrestrained abandon which,
then as to-day, swayed audiences as much as the music itself.
In addition there were undoubtedly certain elements in his
playing by which he could give strathspeys and reels an interpretation
beyond the powers of any of his contemporaries. Foremost amongst
these was his powerful up-bow stroke, vaguely and not always
too aptly described as a receding stroke. J. Scott Skinner
has suggested that it was acquired through the frequent use
of the up-driven bow, certainly a most effective stroke all
too little used now, but the latter can scarcely be called
a receding stroke and Niel Gow's ablest contemporaries could
and would have employed it.
We are almost certain it was his ability to "lift the bow
smartly off the strings with a peculiar jerk of the wrist"
in the rendering of the semiquavers of a strathspey that gave
the dotted quavers that extra length and strength, perhaps
more noticeable in the ascending stroke, and the whole strathspey
a bolder and more distinctive character. He also made frequent
use of the up-bow in the playing of reels. This sometimes
involves slurring two notes, the latter a quaver (2/4 time),
to add additional power where required, sometimes the slurring
of three, though occasionally more, mainly to improve the
As a composer of original melody we feel that Niel Gow has
been overestimated. He claims or is given the credit of about
90 airs, but too many of these possess more fire than originality.
His son, Nathaniel, who arranged the Gow publications, should
have written "as played by Niel Gow" instead of the often
misconstructed "Niel Gow" after the titles of several of the
Whatever failings he may have had, Niel Gow may still be
considered one of the greatest popularisers of the Duke of
Atholl and other members of the nobility throughout the country.
Even today strathspey and reel enthusiasts are under a debt
of gratitude to the Dunkeld violinist. Niel Gow died at his
native Inver on the 1st of April, 1807, and was buried in
Little Dunkeld churchyard.
The Marquis of Huntly's Snuff Mull, a pastoral from Niel
Gow's 4th Collection, arr JMH.
ROBERT MACKINTOSH (c 1745-1807)
Biographies of this talented musician, familiarly known as
"Red Rob" have been comparatively short, not through lack
of appreciation of his great musical gifts but because his
life was probably less eventful and is certainly less well
known than that of any other Scottish musician of note.
We have it that Robert Mackintosh was born in Tullymet, Perthshire,
about 1745. By 1773 he had settled at Skinners' Close, Edinburgh,
and advertised himself as a musician. Besides teaching music
- Nathaniel Gow is believed to have been one of his pupils
- he held concerts from time to time and must have built up
for himself an enviable reputation as a violinist. Indeed
he and Peter Baillie (c 1774-1843) were considered Niel Gow's
most serious rivals as exponents of Scottish dance music.
In 1783 Mackintosh published his first music collection. Amongst
its 54 airs are 17 reels, 12 of which had previously appeared
in parts 7 and 8 of N. Stewart's collection. From about 1785
to 1788 Red Rob resided in Aberdeen and led the band in the
Gentleman's Concerts. He then returned to Edinburgh. Included
among the 73 airs of his second collection, issued in 1793,
are some new reels and the first samples of his strathspey
compositions. His third collection, containing 117 airs, appeared
in 1796. About 1803 he removed to London and , perhaps the
following year, published there his fourth and last collection,
which contains 113 airs. According to Wm. Stenhouse (c 1773-1827),
Mackintosh died in London in 1807.
a composer of original Scottish melody Robert Mackintosh occupies
an exalted position. His reels, in our estimation, are equal
to and more original than those of the Gows, although several
of them are so twisted in structure that w question if even
their composer could have straightened them out with his dashing
bow. His strathspeys, on the other hand, are as a whole not
quite up to the same standard, whether in quality, quantity
or originality. So, in order that a fair comparison be made
between Red Rob and other Scottish composers, we would venture
to suggest that the composition of a good strathspey may be
considered a greater musical achievement than that of a good
Since Robert Mackintosh's works are not sufficiently well
known we shall append the names of some of his best efforts:
Book 1: The Diamond Reel - called Miss Steel of Norwich in
his Fourth collection, and arranged as a hornpipe in J.S.S.'s
Harp and Claymore collection. Book 2: Honourable Mrs. Campbell
of Lochnell; Miss Elizabeth (Betty) Robertson - called Miss
Jane Fraser in Lowe's collection; Miss Ann Munro's Quickstep.
Book 3: Miss Margaret Campbell; Miss Campbell of Saddell;
Miss Robertson - one of our special favourites: Miss Mariane
Oliphant. Book 4: Honourable Mrs. E. Macleod: Lady Charlotte
Campbell's Strathspey and Reel - previously published in Gow's
Second Repository, 1802. We prefer the last-mentioned strathspey
at a slower speed than H =188. The reel of the same name is
at once the finest and the most difficult reel in B flat.
In the Fourth Book are also found Lady Charlotte Cadogan and
Miss Campbell's Reel which, though claimed by Robert Mackintosh,
previously appeared unacknowledged in John and Andrew Gow's
collection, London, c 1794, as The Firth of Cromarty and Taymouth
respectively. A splendid selection from the above works is
found in John Glen's Collection of Scottish Dance Music.
Campbell of Saddell, a pastoral from Mackintosh's 3rd collection,
William Marshall was born at Fochabers, Banffshire,
on the 27th December 1748. When about twelve years of age
he entered the service of the Duke of Gordon and soon rose
to be butler and house-steward. That he was a great favourite
with the members of the Duke's family and with the many distinguished
guests, especially ladies, who visited the castle may be gathered
from the titles of many of his compositions. No doubt he felt
flattered by such recognition of his musical gifts, yet J.
MacGregor in his Memoir rather bluntly remarks: "Many, who
perhaps imagined at the time that they were conferring honour
on the minstrel by giving their names to being remembered
at all, after their fleeting pilgrimage of life has passed
addition to composing music Marshall devoted much of his spare
time to the study of mechanics, astronomy, architecture and
land surveying, and even to the making of clocks. He was a
keen sportsman; a dancer and athlete of considerable local
repute. He left Gordon Castle in 1790 and, a short time after,
settled at Keithmore farm. Soon he was appointed factor to
the Duke and continued in that capacity up to 1817. About
1822 he retired to Newfield Cottage, Dandaleith, near Craigellachie
Bridge. William Marshall died on the 29th of May, 1833, and
was buried in Bellie churchyard.
Marshall's earliest efforts 49 were published in two numbers
by Neil Steward, Edinburgh, in 1781, while several of the
airs written after that date appeared first in other composers'
works, particularly those of the Gows. At the request of his
many patrons Marshall gathered his scattered compositions
and sold their copyright in 1822 to Alexander Robertson, Edinburgh.
Robertson issued 176 of them in the same year. A selection
containing 81 of his then remaining and subsequent compositions
- 2 of them being repetitions - was issued by the same publisher
about 1845. The 1822 and 1845 collections contain between
them almost all the airs in the 1781 collection with most
of their names changed.
proved himself to be a sound judge of Scots music when he
dubbed Marshall "The first composer of strathspeys of the
age." The Marquis of Huntly's Farewell ("The King of Strathspeys"),
The Marquis of Huntly's Strathspey (formerly "Reel"), The
Marchioness of Huntly and Craigellachie Bridge have long been
recognised as masterpieces. The most popular of his other
compositions, especially for orchestras, are The Bog of Gight,
The Duke of Gordon's Birthday, Lord Alexander Gordon, Miss
Agnes Ross (now called Lasses, look before you), Miss Farquharson
of Invercauld (previously called Lady Louisa Gordon, and latterly
Miss M'Leod's Favourite), and Newfield Cottage (renamed Mr.
Marshall's Strathspey in Gow's second collection and Mr. Marshall's
Favourite in Gow's Beauties). Although it is true that few
of Marshall's finest strathspeys look their best at H +188,
the speed advocated by G.F. Graham J.T. Surenne, J.S. Skinner
and others for the dance, it may also be argued that choosing
a speed to take the most out of a so-called strathspey is
more important form a musical point of view than restricting
to a certain arbitrary speed an air which continues to be
popular in spite of its gradual dissociation from the dance.
cannot equally commend any of Marshall's 80 reel compositions:
several of them appear to be deficient in that combination
of buoyancy and easy flow more characteristic of south-country
reels, and to have too much of that "deliberateness" to which,
strange as it may seem, his strathspeys owe much of their
beauty. But he as a wealth of slow and slowish strathspeys
which have a repose and charm all their own. It may even be
said that inasmuch as Marshall's compositions best reflect
the musical outlook of most Scots music enthusiasts they possess
a native appeal which even greater brilliancy of effort on
the part of another composer can scarcely diminish.
Marquis of Huntly, a strathspey from William Marshall's 1781
NATHANIEL GOW (1763-1831)
Nathaniel Gow, the fourth son of Niel Gow,
was born at Inver on the 28th of May, 1763. He and his elder
brothers, William, John and Andrew, chose music as their
profession. His younger brother, Donald, died in infancy.
In 1782 Nathaniel received a permanent appointment as one
of H.M.'s herald trumpeters for Scotland, and in 1796, in
partnership with Wm. Shepherd, he started a very extensive
business as music seller with premises at 41 North Bridge,
Edinburgh. Soon he rose to eminence as a musician and for
many years took a prominent part at the Caledonian Hunt
Balls and other important assemblies throughout the country.
Like his father, he enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of
Atholl's family. Nathaniel Gow died on the 19th of January,
1831, and was buried in Greyfriar's churchyard.
As an arranger and composer of Scottish music Nathaniel Gow
displays more culture than perhaps any of his predecessors.
His better musical training has helped him to get out of the
old, conventional rut in not a few of his musical compositions
and to add much needed variety to several of the older melodies.
Yet we question if ever he will be forgiven for publishing
other composers' airs, particularly those of Wm. Marshall,
deliberately changing their names and suppressing their authorship.
And in the case of several other airs associated with his
name, how much more decorous it would have been for him to
mention the original source of each, where known, and add
"Arranged by Nathaniel Gow" instead of the too equivocal "Nath.
Gow." The public was then and still is easily gulled in such
matters. Those who have taken it upon themselves to unravel
the tangle of so many strathspeys and reels have perhaps the
best grounds for censuring Nathaniel Gow. Yet we consider
that few airs have been touched by him that have not been
improved. Indeed several airs owe much of their present vogue
to his "helping hand." As a creator of original melodic structures,
especially strathspeys, we unhesitatingly place him after
Wm. Marshall. Few of Nathaniel Gow's strathspey compositions
are played by the best musicians of today, and it will probably
never be conclusively proved that he composed The Miller o'
Drone, one of the finest strathspeys ever written. Of the
twenty-odd collections he arranged, the most important are
Gow's six Collections of Strathspeys, etc. - containing in
all over 560 airs - the first editions of which were published
in 1784, 1788, 1792, 1800, 1809-10 and 1822 respectively.
These volumes were a distinct advance on the few previous
Scots collections and were regarded as the chief standard
of reference up to about 1840. Through his publications alone
Nathaniel Gow has won for himself a distinguished name in
the history of Scottish music.
Earn, a reel by Nathaniel Gow, from his 2nd collection, 1788