Rare 18th Century Scots Reels and Dances

Last week, I responded to enquiries from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland regarding two rare editions of 18th century Scots reels and country dances in the National Library of Scotland’s collections. Public access has only been through our music card catalogue and so I took the opportunity to create records for them on our online main catalogue.

The first edition is entitled A collection of Scots reels or country dances and minuets with two particular slow tunes with a bass for the violin violincello or harpsichord by John Riddle (F.5.f.33) which was published in Edinburgh roughly between 1756 and 1763. Riddle had a second edition published in Glasgow around 1782 and it has a slightly different title: A collection of Scots reels minuets &c. for the violin, harpsichord, or German flute(Glen. 97).

Riddle 1st edition - 1

Riddle 2nd edition - 1

Little is known of John Riddle (spelled Riddell on the title page of the second edition) although records show that he was born in 1718 in Ayr and died in 1795. In R.H. Cromek’s Reliques of Robert Burns (ABS.3.81.17) Burns refers to Riddle’s tune “Finlayston House” in the following terms: “This most beautiful tune is I think the happiest composition of that bard born genius John Riddel of the family of Glencarnock at Ayr.”

Both editions consist of engraved pieces of music on two staves: melody and unfigured bass. The second edition is described as being “greatly improved” although most of the melodies are reproduced exactly even down to slurs and ornaments and there is only the occasional rewriting of basslines.

The historical importance of the first edition is that it is the earliest collection of Scots dance music bearing the name of the composer on the title page. The first edition is also extremely rare with the only other known copy in public hands being at Harvard University.

Interestingly, it contains two pieces, “The highway to Bourtrichill” and “Mr. David Kenedy of New Warks reell”, that were not included in Riddle’s second edition.

1) “The highway to Bourtrichill”

Highway to Bourtriehill - 1

2 ) “Mr. David Kenedy of New Warks reell”

Mr David Kenedy of New Warks reel - 1

The absence of these pieces is significant because it was from the second edition, not the first, that his melodies were perpetuated down through the centuries in later collections.