Where Do Bagpipes Come From? and who invented the bagpipes?
Bagpipes are most closely associated with Scotland today. But did you know they can be traced back to another continent?
Think of bagpipes, and you probably picture a piper wearing tartan kilt, feather bonnet, and the three-tasselled sporran, playing ‘Scotland the Brave’, or perhaps ‘Skye Boat Song’.
Although Scotland has the strongest bagpiping tradition today, early evidence suggests that the instrument’s origins may be found elsewhere.
The modern bagpipe consists of a pipe that is blown into (to fill the bag with air), at least one drone, and a chanter – a hollow pipe with holes through which the piper can play a melody.
The first description of a bagpipe-like instrument dates back to 400 BC in Egypt. The so-called “pipers of Thebes” were said to play instruments made of dog skin and bone chanters.
A sculpture discovered at the site of a Hittite settlement in Hüyük, modern-day Turkey, dates back to around 1000 BC and is thought to resemble bagpipes by some researchers, while others believe it is a pan flute and drum.
There are also stories from ancient Greece and the Roman Empire that seem to describe bagpipe-like instruments, and some even claim that Emperor Nero played the bagpipes “as Rome burned,” rather than his infamous fiddle.
Bagpipes were popular in medieval Europe.
The earliest bagpipe artifact discovered is a chanter from the late 14th century, discovered in Rostock, Germany, in 1985. However, several depictions in art and sculpture indicate that the instrument existed in Europe at least 100 years before.
An illustration in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a 13th century book of poems set to music, shows two bagpipers, complete with visible pipes, bags, and chanters. A similar illustration can be found in a manuscript from northern France from around the same time period.
The following century, a passage from Geoffrey Chaucer’s magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales (1387-1400), describes the bagpiping proficiency of Robin the Miller: “A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne, And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne”.
Miniature sculptures of bagpipes, often played by animals, can be found carved into the wooden choir stalls of some 15th and 16th-century European churches.
The invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century resulted in an increase in written descriptions of musical culture, and, more importantly, music that had previously been passed down orally began to be written down.
In 1581, John Derricke published The Image of Irelande, which included illustrations of a bagpiper, and William Byrd’s My Ladye Nevells Booke (1591) included a piece of music called ‘The bagpipe and the drone,’ written for harpsichord.
The first piece of music written down for the bagpipes may not have appeared until the 18th century, owing to a strong culture of passing down music by ear. The ‘William Dixon manuscript,’ which is now housed in the A.K. Bell Library in Perth, Scotland, is the oldest known instance of pipe music being printed.
The Origins of the Scottish Highland Bagpipes
Opinions differ on how and when bagpipes arrived in Scotland. One clan claims to have a set of bagpipes from the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. We know they were there by 1400 because records from the Battle of the North Inch in 1396 mention ‘warpipes’ being played.
Bagpipes were commonly used as rallying instruments during wartime, as evidenced by their distinctive sound ringing out at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547, according to a French historical document. Bagpipes had even replaced the trumpet on the battlefield as the symbolic sound of battle, according to 16th century Scottish historian George Buchanan.
- See more: Are Bagpipes Irish or Scottish? How did Bagpipes Become a Symbol of Scotland?
The Scottish Highland bagpipe most likely began with just one drone, with the second added in the mid to late 1500s and the third in the early 1700s.
During this time, the cel mór, also known as pibroch – tunes for battle, marches, gatherings of friends and family, martial salutes, and laments – became the standard bagpipe repertoire. During this period, piping families such as the MacCrimmons, MacArthurs, MacGregors, and Rankins rose to prominence.
Bagpipe playing declined after King George II passed the 1746 Act of Proscription in an attempt to gain control of the Scottish Highlands for his own empire. The act weakened clan chiefs’ powers and resulted in mass emigration from Scotland.
Although it is commonly stated that the Act criminalized the possession or playing of bagpipes, no evidence exists in the act’s writing or in any prosecutions brought under the act. However, as Scotland’s culture, clan system, and independence weakened, so did its use of the instrument.
Highland regiments regained some popularity during the British Empire’s expansion, as they were at the forefront of many British military incursions. Pipers were also among the troops in both world wars.
See more: 15 Famous Scottish Songs You Need to Hear (2023)
Today, bagpipes are frequently heard during military occasions and formal ceremonies, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral service on September 19, 2022.
Because of the significant influence Scots have had on the sport, they are also the official instrument of the World Curling Federation.
Despite all its Scottish connotations, it might be surprising, therefore, to hear that the world’s largest producer of bagpipes is not Scotland, but Pakistan, whose bagpipe industry was worth almost $7 million in 2010.
Topic: Where Do Bagpipes Come From? And Who Invented Them?
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By: Travel Pixy