Choice Tune: GS’s 2/4 Masterpiece ‘Inveran’

Robert Wallace: One of my prized possessions is a copy of the original manuscript of George S. McLennan’s celebrated 2/4 march ‘Inveran’. Written in 1924, possibly when recuperating from illness, the tune is dedicated to Angus MacPherson, Invershin, proprietor of the eponymous hotel. Isn’t it wonderful to see the great man’s handwriting?

The original has clearly been done on a landscape-shaped manuscript book, judging by the gap between staves five and six on my A4 copy. The gimlet-eyed among you will spot quite a few differences between the MS and the printed version which appeared in the edition of GS’s 1929 book re-issued by RG Hardie & Co in the 1960s.

My notes:

1 The MS has no dots and cuts; the book has a few (e.g. bar 4, first part). According to the late P/M Joe Wilson, GS was of the view that this ‘dotting and tailing’ should be left to the piper to decide, and many of his tunes (Mrs MacPherson of Inveran, Little Cascade) are portrayed thus in their original form. Joe knew what he was talking about; his tutor had been P/M James Robertson, Banff, who knew GS and strenuously defended his legacy after his mentor’s premature death.

2 In the book there’s an E gracenote on B, 3rd bar, 1st part (possibly a typo); in the MS it’s G.

3 The book has a double E at the end of the 4th bar, part 1; the MS has a plain  E.

4 The final bar of each part in the MS has a grip to E, not a doubling as per the book; both have the characteristic gracenoted birl.

5 The MS has a doubling on the 2nd F in the 2nd bar, part 2; the book a G gracenote.

6 There’s a grip to E in the fourth bar of the 2nd part; doubling in book.

7 The same bar has a doubling on high A which is scored out in the MS. This makes it consistent with the start of the bar. The book has the inconsistency.

8 There’s a half double C at the start of the 3rd part and at the end of the 4th bar; the book has a full doubling both times.

9 Both book and MS confirm E gracenotes on B in the four note groupings in the 3rd part. Today we often hear the incorrect G. Not to be tolerated! It gives a different character to this part of the tune and why anyone would think they knew better than the genius composer is beyond me. We also hear G gracenotes on short rising Cs such as those throughout the tune. This was anathema to my old tutor RG Hardie. If there was to be a gracenote on a short C then it had to be D, and for sound musical reasons too. The G gracenote is more piercing. Its overuse is distracting and unpleasant. It is one of the weaknesses in the Scots Guards books and in Willie Ross.

To what extent should we follow a composer’s original score? Why is it okay in light music but not in ceol mor? Why do so many self-appointed arrangers of tunes think they know better than the composer? These are all points worth pondering but for competing pipers they are important issues. Some judges simply will not tolerate deviation from the original – expecially when it does not improve on what the composer has written.

But let us not be swayed away from considering afresh this marvellous melody that GS McLennan has left us. Anyone wishing to learn the tune could use either of the settings above but I know which one I prefer. If anyone has any thoughts on GS or on his compositions, legacy etc. please email Anyone wishing to learn the tune should click here.

3 thoughts on “Choice Tune: GS’s 2/4 Masterpiece ‘Inveran’

  1. I learned the tune from the RG Hardie Book as at that time it was the only book I had. I was advised on how to play it by a teacher. The text with the grip at the end of the parts was not known to me, but I have heard two persons playing it that way and from memory I heard Murray Henderson playing it with the grip when at the Northern Meeting in Inverness and the other person was the late Bob Nicol. I queried him about the way he played it and he told me that he had heard GS playing it in that way—-at Aboyne. I was tempted to copy him. However DR MacLennan was still on the go at the time and I had a liking for another GS tune—–Inverlochy Castle, which I obtained from a book, which apparently differed from the original. DR sympathised with me re not having an original setting, but encouraged me to continue to play it. He indicated that there were touches in a lot of his (half) brother’s tunes which were being lost as a result of different compilers using the tunes in their books and using orthodox grace notes (Commonly written in the Willie Ross Books) Undoubtedly GS did use some gracing which was particular to him and when those gracings are adopted by players and well expressed they do give something to the music which is otherwise lost. That is not to say that pipers cannot use their musical instinct to introduce their own inflections and gracings which are attractive. As an aside to this, many years ago along with another piper we were in the company of a man who was a famed heavy athlete who in the past did the games circuit. He was George Clark by name. We asked him of his games memories regarding pipers. His reply was interesting. He described being at games venues and taking a rest with his head buried in a towel and being face down breathing in the fresh smell of the new mown grass—-and frequently he was near the piping boards. However he went on to say that there was a little man whose playing he could always recognise as there was something different about the playing. This was G S MacLennan. George Clark was not a piper.
    There is no doubt that GS MacLennan was a scintillating player of bagpipe music, particularly in light music and his compositions, particularly the tune Inveran has within it some unique qualities.The use of E grace notes etc. where it seems that us more modern pipers prefer for some reason to adopt G grace notes is maybe understandable, but in some cases and I would put it in this case, the use of the E grace notes etc.have merit and can be a delight to hear this signature aspect to the music. The late Bob Nicol spoke about the finger technique of GS MacLennan in the most appreciative way.
    It is doubtful if present day heavy weight athletes could identify any of the solo pipers by their playing and indeed we as pipers would probably have difficulty as we can all sound so similar—-not so GS MacLennan apparently.

  2. Heavens. Here at Piping Press it’s always 1915. Rubbish like this:

    >> why anyone would think they knew better than the genius composer is beyond me

    Considering this composer lived through an age of drastic change in light music playing, the idea that his or anyone else’s compositions or arrangements should be held fixed and unchanging is all the more ridiculous – especially when he himself is known to have expected performers to put their own stamp on the music by leaving out the pointing. If you want to achieve definition in the sub-beats, for whatever musical reason, then substituting a G gracenote instead of an E is a perfectly sensible way to go about it.

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