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MacDonald, Patrick (1729–1824), music collector and publisher, was born on 22 April 1729 in Durness manse, Durness, Sutherland, the eldest of four sons and seven daughters of the Revd Murdoch (Murdo) MacDonald (b. 1696) and his wife, Agnes Coupar (Cooper). Although a Presbyterian minister, Murdoch was also a musician and Gaelic scholar who provided translations of Alexander Pope and probably transcribed the poems of his neighbour, the Gaelic poet Rob Donn MacKay, whose elegy described Murdoch as
Ged bu bheartach do chràbhadh,
Bha do mheas air gach talànn,
'S tu a thuigeadh na dàinte,
'S am fear a dheanadh na rainn.
Although rich in piety
You showed appreciation for every talent,
And well did you understand the songs
And the one who composed the verses.
(MacDonald's Compleat Theory)
Murdoch, ‘a most melodious and powerful singer’ (Fasti Scot.), ‘taught his children the principles of music, besides encouraging them in that art’ (Glen). Patrick and his brother Joseph MacDonald (1739–1763), born on 26 February 1739, both played the violin; Patrick was regarded as an excellent amateur; Joseph also sang, and played the flute, oboe, and bagpipes. They and their sister Florence (Flora) all probably composed melodies for some of Rob Donn MacKay's verses.

Patrick spent some time from 1737 with his grandfather in Pittenweem, Fife, then returned home, later attending the University of Aberdeen and becoming licensed as a preacher in 1756 before he became a missionary at Strontian, Ross-shire. Patrick, who was ‘tall of stature, with a commanding figure, light blue eyes, … remarkable ability … and a striking figure in his district’ (‘MacDonald of Kilmore’), began his lifelong ministry at Kilmore, south of Oban, Argyll, in 1757, the same year he married Barbara MacDonald, a Roman Catholic, ‘who attended neither public nor family worship with her husband’ (Fasti Scot., 60). They had nine sons and four daughters.

Patrick wrote his parish's account for Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland (1791–9) and published the important Collection of Highland Vocal Airs (1784), which contained music he had collected in Argyll, Perthshire, and, probably with Joseph (who visited Patrick there), in Ross-shire, while the Sutherland section, ‘North Highland Airs’, was Joseph's own; music from the Hebrides came from correspondents. The successful collection, which went into five editions, contains the first printed versions of various Scottish and Gaelic melodies, as well as music thought to be originally for bagpipe and clarsach (the highland harp), which influenced many later figures, including Robert Burns, who wrote some of his poems to its melodies.

In contrast, Joseph, who at fourteen already spoke English, Gaelic, and French, and knew Latin, was sent to study in Haddington, then moved to Edinburgh, where he ‘had an opportunity of being frequently in company with Signor Pasquali [Nicolò Pasquali, a violinist], and the other masters of that period, and thereby of extending his musical knowledge, and improving his taste’, as his father wrote in 1753 (MacDonald's Compleat Theory). He also enjoyed painting, and included a picture of a young piper, perhaps a self-portrait, with his manuscript. Although Murdoch had hoped Joseph would become a professional musician, he joined the East India Company, leaving Scotland for Calcutta in 1760. He gave the music he had collected in Sutherland to his sister Florence, but took with him his own collection of bagpipe music, which he planned to publish. The manuscripts were lost after his death, aged twenty-four, from a malignant fever, in May 1763, until Sir John MacGregor Murray, a member of the highland societies of London and Scotland, rediscovered one part in India in 1784.

The manuscript returned to Patrick, who, to his great credit, was finally able to publish Joseph's A Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe in 1803. As far as is known, Joseph was ‘the first piper to ever write on the subject or to attempt to record in notation the music [now known] as piobaireachd [pibroch]’ (MacDonald's Compleat Theory). Patrick was also farsighted in the presentation of the music, having grace-note stems up and melody stems down, which later became standard pipe notation. The significance of Joseph's work was recognized only in 1948 when Archibald Campbell published a piobaireachd collection, the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor. Campbell quoted extensively from A Compleat Theory, now acknowledged as the earliest primary source, describing it as the ‘first reliable written evidence about the Highland bagpipe and Highland bagpipe music, the work of the first practical piper to endeavour to put his knowledge into writing’ (ibid.).

Although Patrick's wealth at his death, on 25 September 1824, may have been substantial, since he had, according to Murdoch, ‘one of the best livings in that country, as minister of Kilmore in Lorne’, Joseph left, according to Cannon, ‘three books of Highland music in Manuscript’, ‘4 vols. of Correlli's Works’, ‘3 Books of Highland Musick in manuscript partly blank’, and ‘1 small box with a parcell of Old Bagpipes’. As Grimble perceived them, ‘Patrick and Joseph were reared in a cultural tradition unstifled by political or religious prejudice, just as Rob Donn had been, and their contribution to it was complementary to that of the bard’; their lasting legacies are the invaluable cultural resources which their keen interest and research have provided.

Mary Anne Alburger


M. A. Alburger, Scottish fiddlers and their music (1983); repr. (1996) · Joseph MacDonald's Compleat theory of the Scots highland bagpipe (c. 1760), ed. R. D. Cannon, new edn (1994) · R. D. Cannon, The highland bagpipe and its music, new edn (1995) · F. Collinson, The traditional and national music of Scotland (1966) · J. Glen, The Glen collection of Scottish dance music, 1 (1891) · I. Grannda, Orain le Rob Donn (1899) · I. Grimble, The world of Rob Donn (1979) · K. N. MacDonald, ‘Rev. Patrick MacDonald of Kilmore’, Celtic Monthly, 6 (1897) · B. MacKenzie, Piping traditions of the north of Scotland (1998) · Fasti Scot. · OPR


K. Macleay, portrait, c.1896, priv. coll. · silhouette, Scot. NPG

Wealth at death  

had ‘one of the best livings in the country as minister of Kilmore in Lorne’: Grimble, Rob Donn · ‘three books of Highland music in manuscript’; Joseph MacDonald: inventory, Cannon, Highland bagpipe, 2 · ‘4 vols. of Correlli's Works’; ‘3 Books of Highland Musick in manuscript partly blank’, sold to James Ashburner; ‘1 small box with a parcell of Old Bagpipes’, sold to ‘Captn. Campbell’; Joseph MacDonald: BL OIOC, India office records, mayor's court inventories, range proceedings, 194/63, dated 8 Aug 1763; Cannon, Highland bagpipe, 110