Bryce McCulloch - Scottish Highland Bagpiper

by Bryce McCulloch

Scottish Highland Bagpipes
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Highland Pipes

History of the Highland Pipe

It is not a pure Scottish instrument.

First proof of bagpipes in Europe may be found at Aristophanes (greek author of comedy pieces, 445 - 385 B.C.), Dio Chrysostomus (also greek, ca. 100 AD), Marcus Valerius Martialis (roman poet, 40 - 100 A.D.) and Gaius Suetonius Tronquillus (roman author, 70 - 130 A.D.). The latter mentioned the bagpiping Nero (probably!) in his biographies about roman emperors ("De vita caesarum"). Dio Chrysostomus wrote about a contemporary sovereign, possibly Nero as well, who could play a pipe ("aulein") with his mouth as well as with his "arm pit". Chrysostomus and Martialis both mention the askaules, which literally means "bagpiper". Unfortunately nothing is known about the appearance of these pipes, only their sound is described (by Aristophanes) as somewhat "boozy" or "wasp like".

The earliest medieval proof for bagpipes can be found in the "Hieronymus-letter" to Dardanus from the 9th century:

"chorus quoque simplex pellis cum duabus cicutis aereis: et per primam inspiratur per secundam vocem emittit"

That means:

"...an instrument with a simple bag and two air-tubes; and through the first [tube] it is blown, out of the second comes the voice."

The letter tells of an instrument made out of a bag, a blow pipe and a melody pipe. We can't gather from the text if a drone was fitted to the instrument. There is no evidence that the medieval bagpipe was developed from this early Greek or roman instrument. A connection between the medieval European bagpipe and the Arabian bagpipe also is very unlikely. The Arabian bagpipe did not appear before the 11th century (mentioned by Arabian writers). It's direct ancestor is probably the early bagpipe from ancient Greek and Rome as mentioned above. This European instrument was probably "forgotten" in the first millennium and was "re-invented" in medieval times. Correspondingly primitive the first medieval bagpipes might have appeared.

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Last Update 01 October 2014



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