Belonging to a young Elizabeth Rose, 19th of Kilravock (1747-1815), the manuscript contains some 75 individual pieces, of which ten are identified as strathspeys, three as ‘rants’, and the rest as reels. Around a third of the pieces (27 in total) have titles in Gaelic, which, together with several pieces with generic titles (including seven simply titled ‘A Strathspey Reel’), are inevitably elusive in the published record. Many of the tunes appear in the earliest printed collections of reels and are now well known, such as ‘The Duke of Perths Reell’, and ‘The Fir Tree a Stratchspey [sic] Reell’, both printed in Robert Bremner’s A Collection of Scots Reels or Country Dances (c.1757), ‘Lord Albremarle [sic] his Reell’ (John Johnson, A Choice Collection of 200 Favourite Country Dances, 1744-51), and ‘Miss Katy Gordon of Earlstons Reell’ (John Riddell, A Collection of Scots Reels, Minuets etc. for the Violin of c.1766). As the Roses of Kilravock were supporters of the Hanoverian succession, an especially interesting inclusion is ‘The Sows Teal to Gordie a Reell’, a lampoon of Sophia Charlotte von Kielmansegg, half-sister and reputed mistress of George I; James Hogg included the words in his Jacobite Relics of 1819.
The manuscript pre-dates Angus Cumming’s A Collection of Strathspey, or Old Highland Reels (1780), ‘the earliest collection of strathspeys by a native of the area’ (Lamb, p. 73), and coincides with the gradual formalisation of the strathspey during the 18th century:
‘The earliest written tune in strathspey rhythm is 'Macpherson's Testament', in the 1710 Sinkler manuscript [now at the National Library of Scotland]. Although the snap is missing from the original notation … it would have been present in performances of the tune. The Menzies manuscript of 1749 [now at the A. K. Bell Library in Perth], which describes a set of dance figures, gives us the first mention of the word 'strathspey' in connection with a specific type of music or dance: two selections are described as 'strathspey reels'. The first compositions clearly exhibiting both snaps and dots, and called 'strathspeys', are two items in [James Oswald’s] The Caledonian Pocket Companion [12 vols, 1743-59] … named 'A New Strathspey Reel'. Finally, Bremner's 1757 collection gives us the first anonymous tunes described as strathspeys, such as “Let's to the Ard" (Lamb, pp. 67-8)
The manuscript is not apparently in Elizabeth’s hand and may have been presented to her by a music tutor or other acquaintance, perhaps the Duncan Campbell to whom five reels are attributed, including ‘Miss Roses Reel by Duncan Campbell’, written in A major using AEAE scordatura; a violin re-tuned in this manner produces greater resonance in the key of A, in which the bagpipes (banned under the 1746 Act of Proscription) are conventionally notated. Another insight into contemporary performance is provided by ‘Jennie Jo a Reell’, which includes the direction to ‘Touch ye violin with the bow 4 times’, with a drawing of a violin indicating the points to be struck.
The National Library of Scotland holds a set of four part-books from Kilravock preserving otherwise unknown chamber music by Thomas Erskine, Earl of Kellie (Acc.10303), together with three further volumes of pieces by various composers including Handel, Corelli and Arne (Acc. 11420). As of June 2022 Elizabeth Rose's commonplace book was for sale with a leading member of the London rare-book trade. An article discussing the musicological importance of Elizabeth Rose's reel book is to appear in a forthcoming issue of early music journal The Consort.
Elizabeth Rose, 19th of Kilravock (1747-1815) succeeded to the head of the family in 1782, becoming an influential hostess and correspondent, and developing Kilravock's reputation for music-making and as a focal point of Highland culture.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart was entertained at Kilravock by Elizabeth's father Hugh, 17th of Kilravock, on 14th April 1745, two days before the Battle of Culloden, his visit followed by one from the Duke of Cumberland, as recounted by antiquary Cosmo Innes in a history of the Rose family published in 1848:
‘When Prince Charles Edward rode out from Inverness eastward, to support his party retiring from the fords of Spey before Cumberland’s army, he stopped at the Castle of Kilravock, and was received there with becoming respect. He made himself very agreeable – asked to see the children, kissed each of them, and praised their beauty. Observing a violin, he inquired if the Laird played, begged a tune, and of course was pleased ... The following day was the Duke of Cumberland’s birth-day, and he spent it at Kilravock, and lay there that night. He remarked, “you have had my cousin here!” But when the Laird would have apologized, on the ground that he had no means of resistance, the Duke stopped him, and said he had done quite right – that he could not refuse to receive Charles Edward, and receiving him, he must treat him as a Prince. Next day the “cousins” met at Culloden! Such is the tradition of the house’ (p. 415)
Robert Burns visited Elizabeth at Kilravock twice, in 1787 and 1788, and wrote afterwards to thank her for sending him the music for two reels he had heard during his stay there. Innes’s work contains a character sketch of Elizabeth which emphasises her literary and musical interests:
‘She … was a great letter-writer … the choice companion, the leader of all cheerful amusements, the humorous story-teller, the clever mimic, the very soul of society … Everything literary – every one connected with literature – was ranked unreasonably high. She was content to admire and to praise as her literary guides directed … Still, in a very country where there was little learning in either sex, her extensive reading gave her a certain pre-eminence, which she never sacrificed in society by any pedantry or blue-stocking affectations … Without being an accomplished musician, for she was almost self-taught, she had music to charm wherever she came. She sung the airs of her own country, and she had learnt to take a part in catches and glees to make up the party with her father and brother. The same motive led her to study the violin, which she played like male artists, supported against her shoulder. The guitar she learned, to humour her dear old Uncle Clephane, and she continued it to delight all her friends. The spinet and guitar were here companions in all her changes of abode and changes of fortune, which she loved to write of as great and disastrous … none who came within her sphere escaped the fascination of her attraction’ (pp. 469-71).
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