The Blackwater Tune

Blackwater Press is, so far as we know, one of two publishing companies with its own tune.

The tune was found in manuscript 353 from the Montagu Music Collection, Boughton House (“Blackwater” from GB-Ketmmc 353, c.1720, The Montagu Music Collection, Boughton House. By kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry KBE and the Trustees of the Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust)

The manuscript is small, and bound in leather with sugar paper covers. It was signed by the 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch (1743-1827), but she was not the manuscript’s original owner, as it dates from around 1720. In all likelihood it originated in her family. This manuscript contains 62 brief single-line tunes for a treble instrument, most likely recorder. The contents are a rich sampling of popular music tastes in country houses in early eighteenth-century Scotland: excerpts from popular theatre songs and Purcell’s operas are alongside well-known Scottish tunes such as “John Anderson My Joe” and movements from Corelli’s violin sonatas.

Two of the tunes have no known concordances, and one of those is Blackwater. Blackwater is a dance—either a gigue or a lourée—that hovers around the key of D minor but lacks some of the characteristics of that key, suggesting an origin well before the early eighteenth century. This is functional music that would have been played over and over for dancing, and ornamented by the players. Some indication of an ornamentation style are present in the manuscript. The symbols resemble those found in Purcell’s 1696 A Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord or Spinnet, and are somewhat unusual for wind music.

As for the name Blackwater, that’s another mystery. Tune names came from many sources, and the same tune can be known under many different names. A regional association is tempting as both Ireland and Scotland have Blackwater Rivers, but it this seems unlikely as there is no connection with Ireland and this source, and the manuscript is from Lowland Scotland at a time when the Highlands were in essence a separate country. In all likelihood the name Blackwater had a personal association for the creator of the manuscript, its original owner, and/or his teacher. If any reader knows any other source for this tune, please do get in touch!

Full contents of this manuscript are available in modern edition here.

I Piped, That She Might Dance Live Event 2021

We are delighted to announce the launch event for our upcoming title I Piped, That She Might Dance by Iain MacDonald. The launch will be taking place at Piping Live! Festival on August 9 at 12PM (UK)/ 7AM (EASTERN US). Iain MacDonald will be in conversation with Hugh Cheape, and will premiere his new composition, Salute to Angus MacKay of Raasay. The decision is yet to be made whether or not the event will be available to attend in person this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, however, closer to the date we will be sharing a link that will allow you to stream the event live online. We are aware that 7AM (or even earlier for our author!) may be slightly early for some… but fear not, the event will be recorded so you can watch the stream at a more convenient time.

Cover Contest – Blackwater Press Short Story Collection 2021

Another reminder this month to get involved or share the word of our cover contest for the Blackwater Press Short Story Collection. This contest is free to enter. The winner will receive a free copy of the book, credit as the official cover artist, and worldwide respect! Your cover design must include our bird logo and the title: Blackwater Press Short Story Collection 2021.

(versions of logo available here)

The deadline is creeping closer… send us your submissions to by the 1st of July.


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2 responses to “The Blackwater Tune”

  1. Joel Harris
    56 Laurel Avenue
    Providence, RI 02906
    [My wife and I used to love the many venues for baroque music in London. Here is a short story. I’ll send a novel.]

    The Concert

    My wife and I were attending a concert in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, just off Trafalgar Square, when I realized during the Pachelbel Canon that a man standing nearby was my doppelganger. Leaning against a high brown stall, he had chosen a place where he could both watch the musicians play as well as listen. About six feet tall, my height, probably my age—and fit, as I am. Casually dressed, he wore sneakers for walking comfort. Why be modest? We were both nice looking men.
    Earlier, he had tried to talk a pretty usher into allowing him to sit near the edge of the balcony, where two seats were still empty. She turned him down. The stalls were reserved and some people with the correct tickets soon took them. He smiled at her as I might have. She had a lovely figure and a pleasing face.
    His collar was open two buttons too far like a nascent Don Juan. I wanted to go over and introduce myself, share the orchestra view from his better perspective, but hesitated. What if we struck up a conversation about the music? If he were alone, I might feel obliged to invite him to join us for dinner. Would my wife be in jeopardy from this charming Juan?
    The Pachelbel ended. As the orchestra began Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins, I thought back to how we had almost missed the concert. My wife really didn’t want to go. We had napped at our hotel, tired from visiting Hampstead Heath. When she finally agreed, grumpy as a sleepy child, we took a bus to Piccadilly; then, instead of waiting for a #9 transfer, we walked quickly to Trafalgar Square. The concert had sold out. We were relegated, like the phantom of the opera, to the balcony eaves in the very back corner of the church. We could hear glorious music vibrating all around us but not see the performers.
    I noticed my double had graying wavy hair. As he concentrated on the music, he swayed and moved one hand as if he were conducting. My wife had seen him by now and leaned forward to look at him. My double closed his eyes, listening to the music, as my wife stared directly at him. The Vivaldi ended and everyone applauded. She smiled at him as he turned to survey who was in the balcony.
    I had disturbed her earlier in the evening for rushing, and now she was enjoying both the music and this unexpected opportunity to flirt. I wondered if he were younger than me.
    The concert had taken a very devious turn. Here I sat, in a rear corner stall of this historic church, fantasizing the incipient demise of my marriage. Or was it a beginning? Was I the flirter or mistaken as to the object of flirtation? An observer and a listener, destined to lose one’s wife in such ironic fashion, in a milieu which I enjoyed so greatly.
    The orchestra began the seductive Brandenburg #3 in G. Like Bach, my entranced double seemed ready to insinuate his sly way with my wife. I yearned to watch the players down below as they stroked their horse-hair bow across gut strings to create sound of such transcendent joy. My doppelganger nodded in time as the allegro moderato proceeded, and I felt my own hand vibrate its mystical baton, my foot tap, and my heart swell with love for my beautiful wife as well as for the music. She removed her glasses and closed her eyes to concentrate. I admired her profile, chin arching from her graceful neck. The red eyeglass frame matched her red cashmere sweater, Oh, the irony! I must resist the need to share this love of Bach with a stranger who looked so much like me and for what—to risk her falling in love all over again?
    “Are they doing The Four Seasons tonight?” asked a man sitting next to my wife.
    “Yes they are, just the Fall” she replied, showing him the program. “After the interval.”
    Distracted, I turned to look. Had he snuck around to ask? When I looked back my doppelganger had disappeared.
    Outside, a warm autumn night on the church steps, my wife smoked her interval cigarette. We could see Trafalgar Square with its fountains and busy crowds and the statue of Lord Nelson, high on his lofty column.
    We waited patiently, as we must, for the Fall to begin.”

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