John Murdoch Henderson (1902-1972)
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Musicians' Biographies II
From The Flowers of Scottish Melody, Biographies and Criticisms, 1935.


PETER MILNE (1824-1908)

Peter Milne, the "Tarland Minstrel", was born in Kincardine o' Neil on the 30th of September, 1824. In his early boyhood he removed with his parents to Tarland and attended school there. While employed on a farm outside the village he often acted as herd on the adjoining Muir o' Gellan. In 1841 he began violin playing in Aberdeen, and though he was self-taught in music his outstanding gifts soon brought him widespread fame. He became a member of The Theatre Royal, Marischal Street, in 1847 and in 1851 succeeded James Young (q.v.) as leader of the band. Later he earned a livelihood teaching the violin and playing at dances throughout the country. By 1852 he had made the acquaintance of the then youthful J. Scott Skinner and engaged the latter as 'cello player.

The close friendship which rapidly sprang up between this illustrious pair was broken in 1855 when J. Scott Skinner joined Dr. Mark; but before he had completed his six years' course the future "Strathspey King" hied back to his mother and Peter. About 1862 the two set off to Edinburgh - J. Scott Skinner to return to Aberdeen in about three months' time after touring the south of Scotland and the north of England with an amateur opera troupe called the New Orleans Company; Peter Milne to rise to be successively leader of M'Gork's Theatre, Leith, The Prince's and Gaiety Theatres, Edinburgh. During his stay in the south Peter made six or seven visits to England as a professional player and there, in Manchester, began to take opium as a cure for rheumatism. He then transferred his activities to the ferry boats plying across the Forth and for many years, in company with a blind musician, Willie Grant, charmed the water and the passengers with his delightful music.

James Hook's Down the Burn Davie and J. Young's Bridge of Dee Strathspey were considered his master-pieces. The building of the Forth Bridge displaced not only the boats but Peter, so by 1890 he had left Burntisland and retraced his steps north. During his short stay with his sister in Tarland he gave a concert in the Cromar Hall on the 24th of April, 1890. Finally he settled in Aberdeen, played for one winter in the Alhambra Theatre, Market Street, and for some years eked out a rather precarious existence teaching the violin and playing at dances. After meeting with an accident in 1898 he was taken to Nelson Street Hospital, there to spend the remaining ten years of his life. He died on the 11th of March, 1908.

At the instigation of Mr. Innes, Tarland, himself a pupil of Peter Milne, funds were raised for the erection to the Tarland Minstrel of a fitting memorial which was unveiled by the late Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair on the 20th of February, 1932. It has often been said, not without good reason, that even the country's best composers allowed too many of their compositions to be published. The same cannot be said of Peter Milne. Indeed only 24 of his airs have previously been printed, whilst about a dozen more are known to us. Peter Milne's style of composition is reminiscent of that of Wm. Christie (q.v.). He evinces a distinct feeling for pleasing melody, but the beauty of one or two of his airs, particularly The Marchioness of Huntly - Aboyne Castle, is considerably marred by their lack of poise. In addition to those printed for the first time in the present volume, we regard as Peter Milne's best efforts The Countess of Crawford, Jas. O. Forbes, John M'Neill's Reel, The Marquis of Huntly's Reel, The Pride of the Dee Waltzes, The pride of the Don Waltzes, and Bonnie Glen Tanar (Sister or Companion to J. Scott Skinner's Bonnie Lass o' Bonaccord). All these airs we consider worthy of a place amongst the country's finest compositions. It may also be noted here that the first and third parts of the last-mentioned air are surprisingly like the corresponding measures of Miss Wellwood's Fancy in M'Glashan's 1786 collection and for this reason, we presume, Peter Milne did not publish it. Nathaniel Gow's The Fallen Hero in his Third Repository is even more a plagiarism of the same air. J. Scott Skinner acknowledged that Peter Milne was one of the finest native musicians that Scotland ever produced.

Riches Denied, a pastoral by J. Murdoch Henderson in memory of Peter Milne



J. Scott Skinner, the youngest son of Wm. Skinner and Mary Agnew, was born in Banchory-Ternan on the 5th of August, 1843. His father was originally a gardener but, after losing three of the fingers of his left hand, he became a left-handed fiddler and a prominent dancing master on Deeside. His mother was bereaved when J. Scott Skinner was only eighteen months old, but remarried. When the future "Strathspey King" was about seven years of age his brother, Sandy, apprenticed him to the violin and 'cello, and within two or three years he had gained sufficient proficiency in vamping on the latter instrument to accompany his bigger brother at the local dances. Soon afterwards he came under the influence of Peter Milne and shared some of the latter's joys and sorrows while playing in and around the district. In 1855, after being in irregular attendance at Connell's School, Princes Street, Aberdeen, for about three years, he enlisted in Dr. Mark's celebrated troupe of "Little Men", at that time in the Granite City, and accompanied them to their headquarters in Manchester, there to start a six years' course in intensive musical training, and a tour of the four countries.

J. S. S. was in this juvenile orchestra when it gave its command performance before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on the 10th of February, 1858. Fortunately he met Charles Rougier in Manchester, and to that celebrated French violinist's schooling in Kreutzer studies, etc., he attributed much of his future success. Three months before completing his apprenticeship under the German "Professor" he escaped from Glasgow to his mother's new home in Aberdeen, there to rejoin Peter Milne. With almost a year's training in dancing, from Wm. Scott, "Professor" of Elocution, Stoneywood, J. Scott Skinner now held dancing classes in the district as far out as Alford. He actually beat the renowned John M'Neill of Edinburgh in a sword-dance competition in Ireland in 1862 and the following year played The Marquis of Huntly's Farewell and The Marquis of Tullybardine at the grand strathspey and reel competition in Inverness, thereby gaining the first prize and ousting perhaps the best players, Joseph Lowe's Edinburgh Band. When he subsequently extended his field of activities to the Ballater district his reputation soon reached the ears of the Queen, who requested him to teach the tenantry at Balmoral callisthenics and dancing. In 1868 he claimed to have 125 pupils there.

By 1870 Scott Skinner had married and settled in Aberlour, with his wife to assist him in his duties. He then removed to 2, South College Street, Elgin, and for some twelve years continued in the double role of dancing master and solo violinist. As a concert artiste his name was now on everyone's lips. In 1879 he held a long series of concerts throughout the north and east of Scotland and, to judge from his programmes, including De Beriot's 7th Air in E Major and First Concerto, Op. 16 Mozart's Figaro Overture (as a Trio) and P. Rode's Air Varie, Op, 10, he must then have been a virtuoso of some standing. By 1880 his adopted daughter, Jeanie Skinner (later Mrs. Frank Sutherland), was figuring prominently as his pianist. His partnership with his wife seems to have terminated rather abruptly about 1881, when the latter was taken to Elgin Hospital, there to spend the remainder of her days. About 1883 J. Scott Skinner took up residence at 4, Dee Street, Aberdeen, and advertised his Dancing Academy at 9, Silver Street, but in 1884 he was alternately at 95, High Street, Elgin, and 22, Union Terrace, Aberdeen. Not long after the death of his brother, Sandy, the latter's widow, Madame de Lenglee, became his partner and continued in that capacity for several years. His concert advertisements during this period show that his various abodes were not fixed for many years. In 1893 he toured the U.S.A. with Willie MacLennan, the celebrated piper and dancer, but the rather sudden death of the latter upset the Strathspey King's calculations, so within eight months he was back in his native Scotland. He practically gave up dancing now and concentrated on his Andrea Guarnarius. While staying in Union Grove, Aberdeen, he met his second wife and by 1897 he had married her and settled at Monikie, near Dundee. There he wrote some of his best compositions and devoted much of his time to amateur gardening. In 1899 he went on a concert tour.

About 1909 his wife "resigned" and went to Rhodesia, leaving the "king" once more on his own. For alternate periods during the next thirteen years his headquarters were principally at Alexr. M'Pherson's, Kirriemuir; Wm. F. M'Hardy's, Drumblair House, Forgue; Glencoe House, Carnoustie; Darling's and The County Hotels, Edinburgh. His concert engagements, many of which were organised by J. C. Lumsden, Edinburgh, were at this period very numerous. In 1922 J. Scott Skinner came to reside at 25, Victoria Street, Aberdeen, and up to 1925 was the leading artiste in five different tours, his last public performance in Britain being given at Oldmeldrum on the 25th of April, 1925. The following year, after having been an invalid for some considerable time, he was unwisely tempted to go to a reel and jig competition in USA There he encountered his pet aversion, an unsuitable pianist, and marched off the platform before finishing his test pieces. Nevertheless he was given a royal reception and later demonstrated that he was still, in spite of his years, the "Strathspey King." He returned home to spend most of his remaining days in bed and died on the 17th of March, 1927. The pipe band of the Aberdeen City Police led the funeral procession to Allenvale Cemetery and George S. MacLeannan, the famous piper, played Lochaber No More over the Strathspey King's last resting place.

Lochaber No More, played by David Low

In assessing J. Scott Skinner's contribution to Scottish music more than one factor must be considered. There is little need to stress the fact that he, like most of his predecessors, had only a rudimentary knowledge of harmony. He made very full use of what gifts and training he did have and, unlike several, even skilled harmonists who have ventured to write accompaniments to Scottish dance music, he never lost sight of the native message of the strathspey. He has almost exactly 600 different compositions in print, 200 of which died at birth. Many of his airs are more a reflex of his own nature than of what might be called the traditional Scots mentality. He alone of the great Scottish violinist-composers has made some noteworthy contributions to bagpipe music. As a strathspey and reel composer his reputation has depended too much on the popularity of such airs as The Laird o' Drumblair which definitely are not his finest compositions. By means of his better training and his unrivalled excellence as an exponent of strathspeys and reels he has founded a school of Scottish composition more brilliant in its effect, further-reaching in its scope and wider in its conception of music as an art than any of the schools of the past. Too many of his best compositions are not at all well known and too few of the Scots players of to-day are sufficiently competent to render them with that bold, characteristic accent and masterly turn of phrase which has made J. Scott Skinner's name a household word. Those interested in the Strathspey King's Memoirs may be referred to "The People's Journal," 3rd February - 21st April, 1923.

One of J. Scott Skinner's finest musical efforts to gain popularity was his Ettrick Vale Quadrille, arranged about 1861 on popular melodies. This was soon followed by numerous valses, polkas, etc. His first collection, Twelve New Strathspeys and Reels, was published about 1865. In 1868 appeared his Thirty New Strathspeys and Reels, containing the previous 12 and 20 more. A second edition of this collection was issued in 1874. In 1881 he published his Miller o' Hirn Collection. This fine work contains the 32 airs previously issued and a further 90, and is thus, as stated in the inside title-page, a "Fourth Edition [of his first collection] Greatly Enlarged." His Beauties of the Ballroom - 59 airs - first appeared c. 1882. His Elgin Collection (Part I only), also containing 59 airs, was issued in 1884. In 1888, when residing at Inverurie, J. Scott Skinner published his Logie Collection. Of its 190 airs several are songs - scarcely "deathless lays." In 1900 appeared The Scottish Violinist, perhaps the most popular, certainly the most instructive violin collection of Scots music ever published. In the third edition, 1904, three new airs were added, making the new total 148. His magnum opus, The Harp and Claymore Collection, containing 233 airs, appeared in 1904. His Monikie Series - not all written at Monikie - contains 16 airs. Nine numbers of his Cairngorm Series - 27 airs - were published in 1922. His last published composition, Johnnie Walker, 1924, does not appear to be meant as a compliment to the dedicate. In all a truly marvellous record!

J. Scott Skinner, The Strathspey King, a reel by J. Murdoch Henderson, 1933


JAMES DAVIE (1783-1857)

James Davie was born in Aberdeen on the 6th of October, 1783. Whether or not he was a shoemaker in early life, certain it is that by 1813 he had become an established music seller in Aberdeen. He published a Collection of Psalmody about 1820 and by 1829 had issued the First Series of his Caledonian Repository, the first book of which may have been completed before the latter date. Although he had avowed intentions of publishing another four books, also arranged for the violin, to form a Second Series, only two appeared, one in 1850 and the other in 1855. These six books form an outstanding work, comprising 802 airs and thus, in the number of airs, second only by 69 to the Athole Collection. The Athole Collection, 1883-84, we may mention, was compiled by James Stewart Robertson (1823-1896), Edradynate, the first president of The Edinburgh Highland Reel and Strathspey Society, instituted in 1881. The material for Davie's big undertaking was culled from his own very extensive library, supplemented mainly by that belonging to Andrew J. Wigton (1804-1866) and later presented to Dundee. The first four books were republished by Wood & Co., Edinburgh, in 1848. James Davie issued his Caledonian Flautist about 1842. During his life as a music seller his premises, known as "Davie's Musical Repository," were successively removed to at least six different addresses, most of them in Castle Street and Union Street. In addition, he played for some time in the theatre orchestra and taught vocal and instrumental music. Most of his family, eight in number, died very early in life. James Davie, himself, died at 16, Huxter Road on the 19th of November, 1857, and was buried in Old Machar churchyard.

In his Caledonian Repository in particular, James Davie has displayed elegant taste and distinct musical ability in revising hackneyed sets of several airs, but, we are afraid, he has carried his improvements too far by introducing into some of the reels "strings" of triplets which perhaps he, as a flautist, could negotiate with facility. Of the airs published when in business on his own account and after having taken as partner a pianoforte maker, Michael Morris, we may mention Mrs. Tulloch, Earnhill's Strathspey and Reel by "Mr." MacKenzie and "The St. Andrew's Lodge of Glenkindy" (instituted in 1814), Strathspey and Reel by Alex. Strachan, Drumnagarry. Davie's own compositions include Mrs. Young of Cornhill's Strathspey and Reel, Mr. And Mrs. Gordon of Cairness' Waltzes, The Beaver Hunt, The air Caledonian and The Gordon's Strathspey - the first measure of the last-mentioned air being taken from an old Highland Song of one part called My Dear Highland Laddie O'.

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