Sunday, February 12, 2006

History of Pipe Music: The Retreat

The Great Highland Bagpipes of Scotland have a mighty voice. Something mystical in them resonates in the Earth and air and reaches miles across the countryside. For this reason, the bagpipes were originally an instrument of communication and war: a signal to your troops and cry of terror to the hearts of the enemy.

Long ago, when battles were still met by great armies on foot, the pipers would lead. Such was the advance at the battle of Vittoria in the Napoleonic wars, when the British commander, the Marquis of Wellington, won a great victory. Still preserved by the Scots Guard today, the musical piece "The Heroes of Vittoria" commemorates that day. It's musical form is a retreat, once used to signal troop movements, but later becoming a nostalgic form to honor the fallen. Retreats are always written in 3/4 time.

In military life, retreats were often played in the evening. They signaled a quiet time, perhaps a call to bed. I will play "The Heroes of Vittoria" for you now (thanks to technology, a duet with myself). Close you eyes and imagine the twilight. Think of great deeds and loss. Think of the tragedy of war.


(Played on the John Walsh Shuttle Pipes--an experiment with new audio mixing software)


Shesawriter said...

Bagpipes. The last time I heard them was when I watched Brigadoon with my daughters! :-)


Sandra Ruttan said...

There (was) a Canadian band called Rawlins Cross that used bagpipes - the music was one part rock one part folk... I have three of their albums and used a few of their instrumental songs at my wedding. Love that band - they'll play at my funeral.

But isn't it fascinating? Jason's such a wealth of historical knowledge, and I'm reading this thinking about how even hundreds of years ago, people understood pyschology in war and how powerful music could be for creating confidence. Your music on the battlefield would be a unifier.

Very cool.

Jeff said...

One of my younger sisters played the bagpipes in high school. I've always liked the sound. You play well. Thanks for sharing with us, jason. :)

Erik Ivan James said...

My grandfather came over from Scotland. Thank you Jason, for another special post.

Linda said...

Very beautiful Jason!

Anonymous said...

Tanya, sadly, I can't conjure a lost village with mine. =D

Sandra, I should really keep my full set of pipes in good working order (they take a good bit of maintenance to keep them just right). One of these, I know I'm going to get a funeral request.

Jeff, thanks. I'm amateur, but not too awful.

Erik, the sound is like a time machine, isn't it? The harpsichord is the only other instrument I can think of that immediately conjures another age.

BeadinggalinMS, thanks! =)

mermaid said...

At the risk of sounding trite and sheltered, this reminds me so much of Braveheart (one of my favorite films). Ethnic music really sounds the soul of a people, doesn't it?

Wonderful. Let me guess, another hobby to take you away from the mundane world of working to pay the bills???

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, exactly right about the hobby! =D It's one of my hobbies I haven't been able to spend as much time doing after having children. I spent a good deal of time learning, though, and don't want to lose it.

Erik Ivan James said...


You said: "The harpsichord is the only other instrument I can think of that immediately conjures another age."

Would you include the dulcimer?

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Sandra, I should really keep my full set of pipes in good working order (they take a good bit of maintenance to keep them just right). One of these, I know I'm going to get a funeral request."

Mystery writers infer threats and also consider such remarks to be things that establish motive Jason! You keep your pipes away from me!

Anonymous said...

Erik, I'm not very familiar with the dulcimer, although I have heard it. The clavichord would be another one. Come to thing of it, I was too limiting with my comment. There are many early instruments which have a wonderful, evocative sound.

Sandra, of course I meant to say "one of these days...." Dang typos. I hate 'em! As for the pipes, don't worry, they haven't been fatal to anyone yet. Not even the neighbors. ;)

Jess Riley said...

Another distant daughter of Scotland chiming in!

Very cool post.

Erik Ivan James said...


Another one that has gone out of fashion and one that I loved to hear my grandfather play--the harmonica

Anonymous said...

Jess, glad to have you! And a distant daughter of Scotland no less!

Erik, I hope my children have fond memories of the bagpipes. Those family moments are wonderful.

Melissa Amateis said...

I was just now able to download this and play it. Well worth the wait, Jason. I can very easily "see" a regiment of Scottish troops marching to this music.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I appreciate everyone's indulgence. ;) I'm probably going to be posting pipe music once in a while to make myself keep practicing!

Bernita said...

Just got up the nerve to try the neat new attachments with my neat new computer.

The ache, the yearning.
Pipes make me weep.
Thank you, Jason.

Anonymous said...

Bernita, thank you! I'm working on a 6/8 march with drums for posting in the future. I'm glad you enjoyed the duet.