Robert Mackintosh (born Tullimet c1745 died London 1807)
Known as Red Rob – Fiddler, Music Teacher, Composer and Band Leader.
by Charlie Gore
If there are less-known contemporaries of Niel Gow who deserve equal praise – and there are plenty – ‘Red Rob’ Mackintosh must head the list. His compositions are elegant and masterly (even the accompaniments in his collections have style); he taught many of the great fiddlers of his day; his band was in unceasing demand at all the popular functions. His son, Abraham, followed him as a composer and teacher and there were descendents of the Tullimet Mackintosh family living and playing in the Atholl district up until the 1930s. He married Margaret Mill and they had 13 children, born between 1767 and 1797, of whom 3 were christened Robert and the two younger of these were alive at the same time. This must have been confusing!
His 4 collections and all but a handful of his fine compositions are nowadays almost forgotten. John Glen published a careful and probably accurate portrait of Red Rob in The Glen Collection of Dance Music (1891) and quoted an Edinburgh directory of the 1770s in which a concert is advertised referring the reader to “Robert Mackintosh, Musician, Skinner’s Close”. From there, he made several changes of address and from one of these (in the 1780s) he advertised violin tuition: “….admittance to the public classes at one guinea per quarter only. Any gentleman may have a private hour….at one guinea per month”. After an absence of three years, during which period he led the band in ‘the Gentlemen’s Concert at Aberdeen’, he was back in Edinburgh advertising violin lessons; ‘Apply at Bremner and Stewart’s Music Shops’.
He dabbled in what some experts call ‘art music’ but his dance tunes are undoubtedly his truest memorial. The first three books were published in Edinburgh, the last in London and three of them have a dedication; Vol 2 to Mrs Campbell of Lochnell 1793; Vol 3 to Mrs Oswald of Auchencruive (born Lucy Johnston of Hilton), 1796; Vol 4 to the Duchess of Manchester (born Susan Gordon, daughter of the Duke of Gordon), 1803. Red Rob left Edinburgh for London in 1803 and died there in 1807, the year Niel Gow died in Dunkeld. After a space of 200 years, it’s hard to guess at the motive for such a move, unless it was for the benefit of his career. Glen recorded that he conducted the orchestra of The Theatre Royal in a performance of ‘Jamie and Bess’ and lived at Little Vine Street, Piccadilly. At the time he may have been in his fifties and presumably in full vigour, an excellent violinist, looking forward to continuing his highly successful career as a professional musician and bandleader. There was continual demand for music at public balls and concerts in London, as the multitude of published dance manuals and advertised functions proclaim. In all probability he fell victim to something like typhoid or pneumonia, although the worry of supporting a wife and 13 children might be argued to have been hazard enough.
His son, Abraham was born 15 June 1769 and followed his father’s profession. He published three collections, the third of which is a re-issue of the second with very considerable additions. Many have associations with places and people around Newcastle area, where he practiced as a dancing teacher for a period. Take the jig Col. Ridley’s Quickstep or Miss Catherine Maxwell’s Scots Measure – proof enough, surely, that he should be rated as his father’s son! Red Rob’s brother James, a blacksmith at Tinereoch, near Tullimet, had five sons who played the fiddle. From these an unbroken line of musical Mackintoshes, some resident in Inver village, others farther afield, descends to the 1930s.
Mackintosh adopted the practice, shared randomly by others of his contemporaries, of titling his 6/8 dance tunes ‘Reels’. This puts a different slant on the meaning of the word ‘Reel’. Was it in fact a more general word meaning ‘dance’? Can a ‘Rant’ be differentiated from it? There is no precise answer. A ‘Strathspey Reel’ is a clearly defined dance tune with a dotted rhythm that distinguishes it from a reel. In the whole of the four collections there are 339 tunes in all the usual dance tempos (there are also quite a significant number of tunes outwith his published volumes attributed to him); in the four volumes, over 100 have ‘Reel’ in the title, but 18 of these are in 6/8 time and only 5 tunes have ‘Jig’ (or ‘Jigg’) in the title. Many commentators have set out lists of Red Rob’s masterpieces. The medley Lady Charlotte Campbell (Reel and Strathspey) and the beautiful slow strathspey Miss Campbell of Saddell are well featured in modern selections and still performed. Miss Margaret Graham’s (of Gartmore’s) Favorite (wrongly attributed to William Marshall by Jim Hunter and correctly attributed but wrongly named as the original tune for the dance ‘Lady Harriet Hope’s Reel’ in RSCDS Book 16) and Miss Douglas’s Strathspey (see ‘Lord Hume’s Reel, RSCDS Book 16) are reproduced here).
Copies etc from The National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh with the shelfmarks for Book 1-4 as follows :- GLEN 357(1); GLEN 357(2) or MH.72; INGLIS 291 (3) and GLEN 358 (for Vol 4). Other copies exist in NLS and in other major Scottish Libraries. NOTE; Red Rob spells his name ‘Macintosh’ only in Book 1. Any queries to Charlie Gore.
Box and Fiddle
The Fiddle Music Collections of Robert Mackintosh
Born Tullimet, c1745 Died London 1807
A lot of people involved in one way or another with Scottish Fiddle Music will have heard of ‘Red Rob’ Mackintosh, usually because some enthusiast who published a selection of the older music in the 20th century took the trouble to name the composers. Considerable harm was done to the reputations of ‘Red Rob’ and dozens of his contemporaries by James Kerr (of the ‘Merry Melodies’) and James Stuart Robertson (‘Athole Collection’), along with a number of other compilers, when they took the decision, probably quite innocently, to omit any mention of source, date or authorship. Those great collections of the last 30 years of the 19th century were to be the essential reference works for traditional musicians during the next hundred years. In all but one collection (John Glen’s) there is no indication whatsoever of the date a tune was first published, by whom, or the composer’s name.
As a result it may not be generally known the Robert Mackintosh published four volumes of dance music, much of his own composition. The first, a 40 page collection of ‘Airs, Minuets, Gavotts and Reels…..’ (1783) was followed by three further volumes (1793, 96 and 1803) more closely resembling other contemporary collections of reels, strathspeys and quicksteps. Books 1 and 2 include long ‘variation’ pieces, arrangements often of favourite melodies which appear to be an attempt to revive an earlier form of ‘variation sonata’ popular into the 1770s. References show that Mackintosh collaborated with Charles McLean in a ‘Collection of Scots Tunes with Variations for the Violin’ and composed some of the settings. Latterly, however, his experiments with this ‘drawing-room’ style of music gave way to his own excellent compositions in the dance idiom. Considering that his four volumes contain more than 350 titles – of which he attributes over 260 to himself – it seems incredible that so few have survived in the repertoire. His output in tunes attributed to himself exceeds that of Niel Gow by quite a margin and rivals both Nathaniel Gow and William Marshall; yet less than a quarter were ever republished. It is high time to put this right. Quite a lot can be discovered about Red Rob’s life in John Grant’s biography of him (The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music) from his birth in Atholl, his very fruitful marriage and working life in Edinburgh, to his sudden death in London. If there had been a portrait of him – not that I ever heard of one – it might have revealed more than the anecdotal flaming red hair and the short fuse that is said to go with it, but like a fellow professional, William Marshall of Speyside, that may merely have indicated an impatience with ‘bunglers.’ He certainly emerges as a thoroughly professional musician when in the 1770s an Edinburgh directory announces: ‘Robert Mackintosh, Musician, Skinner’s Close’. From there, he made several changes of address and from one of these (in the 1780s) he advertised violin tuition: “….admittance to the public classes at one guinea per quarter only. Any gentleman may have a private hour….at one guinea per month”. After an absence of three years, during which period he led the band in ‘the Gentlemen’s Concert at Aberdeen’, he was back in Edinburgh advertising violin lessons; ‘Apply at Bremner and Stewart’s Music Shops’ and it seems Nathaniel Gow may have been a pupil at one stage (possibly in the 1780s). In 1803, nearly 60, but evidently set for a full life in the whirl of concert, theatre and dance, he left for London. Four years later (in 1807, the year Niel Gow died in Dunkeld) he was dead. Meanwhile his wife, Margaret Mill, had borne him no less than 13 children between 1767 and 1797. Three of their sons were given the name Robert and two of these were living at the same time!
One son, Alexander, was a music teacher in Edinburgh (later in Newcastle) and left two excellent volumes of music (the second of which was subsequently reprinted and extended) continuing the reputation of the Tulliment dynasty. Red Rob’s brother James, a blacksmith in Tinereoch by Tulliment was said to have had five sons who played the fiddle; there was much music in the family! Charlie Macintosh, a weaver (not of the Tulliment family) arrived in Inver (Dunkeld) in the 1780s ‘from the north disguised as a woman in order to escape the clutches of a Press Gang…..recruiting young men for service in the East India Company’ (from Helen Jackson’s ‘Niel Gow’s Inver’, Perth & Kinross Public Libraries, 2000) Members of that family were still living – and playing and composing – in the Atholl district in the 1930s.
Mackintosh’s earlier flirtation with ‘art music’ (variation sonata) had run its natural course by the 1790s and most of his second and his third and fourth collections are devoted to his masterly strathspeys, reels and jigs, along with an interesting selection of older popular tunes. His arrangements are careful, sometimes florid, but always workmanlike. The music must speak for itself, as indeed it has in the limited scope of partial selection down the years. Any fiddler-composer who could turn out the strathspey and reel ‘Lady Charlotte Campbell’ and the strathspey (beautiful as a slow strathspey) ‘Miss Campbell of Saddell’ could hardly be written off as a second class musical mind. His jigs (which he persistently named ‘Reels’) also rank among the very best. The traditional fiddle world has waited far too long for this reprint (at least 100 years too long) and should applaud the Highland Music Trust, who have recently been involved in production of new (reset) editions of ‘The Athole Collection’ (Balnain House Trust, 1996) and ‘The Glen Collection’ (2001), for this further addition to the growing rescue library of music from the Golden Age.
Charlie Gore, Doune, Perthshire - January 2003
Box and Fiddle