Lament for the Old Sword

Fraser Fifield

An arrangement of this striking ancient melody performed here on whistle (in F) with two saxophones playing sympathetic responses. In place of the toarluath and crunluath variations I linked the theme notes with something that felt more natural to play on the whistle, hopefully while keeping forward motion and the sense of urgency/intensity those variations typically add.
My approach is faithful to the composition in many regards but does add an extemporised element, especially through the variations. This interests me as I believe an improvisational aspect to this music must have existed and indeed perhaps once formed its basis.
Music traditions in India, as in Scotland, are built upon a drone but the Indian style is (still?) improvised. The Indian musician doesn't differentiate between 'improvising' and 'playing music'. I wonder whether Scottish bagpiping has lost roots in this regard? Hinduism - the collective spiritual understandings of people of the Indus region is still strong, whereas any equivalent understandings inherent to these parts (ie modern Scotland, etc) has long since disappeared. My anthropological hobbyist part suspects we lost something fundamental in this Western world, a long, long while back. I feel music can give (albeit very) faint clues to this.

An article by Mrs Bridget Mackenzie, serialised in the Piping Times in 1980 (reposted recently on, linked below), also offered relevant notions in regards the lost improvisational aspect of Piobaireachd, linking with an ancient style of Norse verse.

"The convention was that they were spontaneous, and to suggest otherwise was to insult the artiste, but there is evidence that this spontaneity drew heavily on the store of training previously built up".**

*bagpipe ornamentation which the final variations in piobaireachd are often based around.


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