A friend bought at auction a copy of a lovely Victorian song book, with illustrations by well-known artists, which had apparently belonged to Dr Alexander Ross, sometime Provost of Inverness and the architect of many churches and houses in the Highlands, including Inverness Cathedral and his own house Riverfield, now renamed Ach-an- Eas, in Island Bank Road, Inverness.

Inside the book were firmly pasted original handwritten music and letters in the distinctive hand of James Scott Skinner, the flamboyant self-styled “Strathspey King” and the most influential individual in Scottish music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He must have been in lodgings at 42 Union Street, Inverness, perhaps for a performance in the town.  He addressed the letters and the music to Dr Ross.

Having sent Dr Ross the music for the strathspey ‘Riverfield’ on 23 October 1915, Skinner obviously had a change of heart, and later that day rewrote it.  The following day he sent the new music with a note:

42 Union St, Inverness, 24 Oct 1915

Dear Dr Ross,  I have now re-arranged ‘Riverfield’ as a Melody March, to which, some day, words might be written, but better that the melody go naked than be wedded to mongrel verses.  Pray don’t play it in Strathspey time – too great a flow of melody.

and a letter:

42 Union Street, Inverness, Sunday 24 Oct 1915

My dear Dr Ross

I now send you ‘Riverfield’ as I would wish to hear it played, less accented, slower in tempo & more melody. If you compare the two mss’s, you’ll see that in (2) the accents are reversed to give more flow & melody & far less accentuation. [he gives an example with the penultimate bar for dancing and for melody] more smooth & legato.  The common marching time will suit.  It’s a pure melody so please go by (2) & for a curio, preserve the original.  I should like a copy or two of (No 2)

Faithfully yrs

J Scott Skinner

P.S. I have sent (now) a copy from memory to my arranger & Editor Mr George Short, 59 Gilmore Place, Edinburgh for ‘The Cairngorm’ MS.

If people would cast all jealousy and prejudice aside & support me I could do a great lasting work for Scotland.

By arrangement, the book was passed to Inverness Museum to enable them to remove the letters and music for their archive, and eventually returned to its owner.


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