Spellweaving: ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland

The patronage of elite Highland pipers collapsed after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Worried that the classical music of the Gaels would fade away, the English-speaking gentry offered prize money for scientific notations. By 1797, Colin Campbell had written 377 pages in a unique notation based on the vocables of Hebridean ‘mouth music’, but – unintelligible to the judges in Edinburgh – Campbell’s extraordinary work of preservation has remained overlooked or misunderstood until now. Barnaby Brown’s realisations bring the musical craftsmanship of a remote culture vividly to life, giving a voice back to some of Europe’s most illustrious ancient instruments and refocusing attention on a type of music whose trance-inducing long spans and elaborate formal patterning echo the knots and spells of Celtic culture.

"[Brown] and his colleagues deliver beguiling performances using an instrumentarium of bagpipes, vulture-bone flute, clarsach (folk harp) et al, as well as his pleasantly light-toned voice."

"Bill Taylor gives gentle if learned accounts on clàrsach and lyre and Brown takes a spacious solo on a vulture bone flute, but the highlight is Clare Salaman doing bold and sensitive things on Hardanger fiddle with a majestic 15-minute account of The Sutherlands’ Gathering."

"Pibroch is a paradox: fierce austerity coupled with enough intricate embellishments for a rococo church…[this disc is] an odd blend of meticulous, PhD-type research and wild musical surmise in areas where no one really knows anything"

" The interpretations are imaginative and beautifully played."


"I could go on and on, praising this and that, but this project really has to be heard to be believed. The disc is a tribute to Barnaby Brown's incredible musicianship and capacity for research, and this is revealed in the fascinating notes which are also interspersed with photographs of the instruments in question."


Producers: Barnaby Brown & Rupert Till
Release Date: 25 March 2016
Catalogue No: DCD34171
Total playing time: 1:14:37

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Barnaby Brown talks to the New York Times about the project.

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