Experimental Anarchy: Open Strings, and Throwing Away the Rule-Book

I’ve previously mentioned an intriguing little flute-book, Aria di Camera,  published by Wright in the early early 18th century.  It has Celtic tunes from around Britain, and includes a (probably pirated) copy of Prelleur’s flute tutor.  But it doesn’t include any accompaniment.

My fingers, itching for something fun to do last night, opened the modern edition of Wright’s Aria di Camera, and I took it across to the piano to play the first tune – ‘Coxetown’.*  It seemed quite catchy, and I wondered what I could do with it.  I did something I’ve never tried before.  WHAT IF, I thought to myself, I wanted to accompany my friend the flautist, but there was no written out accompaniment?  WHAT IF I were a cellist of very limited ability, and I only played on open strings?  WHAT IF I allowed my bow to catch the adjacent string above the one I was meaning to play.  How would that sound?

Well, guess what? You can accompany the whole tune that way!  Admittedly, it doesn’t make for a genteel, elegant bassline, because you can only move in fifths – no hope of combining stepwise movement and bigger leaps.  And in all honesty, you wouldn’t imagine that parallel fifths jumping across the cello strings would sound remotely pleasant.  After all, it’s as though you’ve thrown away the rule-book, breaking every musical grammatical rule one by one.

I must admit I’ve never seen a fiddle or flute collection in which the bass was constructed this way.  But in the scenario I’ve just outlined, an amateur cellist’s improvisation might be precisely like this.  Indeed, since I posted this, Stuart Eydmann has just provided a confirmatory anecdote about a nineteenth century concertina player who self-accompanied on cello played by feet…!

And it stands to reason that he could only have played on open strings, so there we have it – evidence that some cello accompaniment was very, very elementary!

I arranged the piece for flute AND fiddle (for an edgier sound, and the opportunity to contrast the instruments or play in thirds at the end), accompanied by viola AND cello.  The viola is optional, really, but the cello is a must.  Having done my “what if?” arrangement – if you can call it an arrangement – I repeated the whole tune and went on to make a more conventional accompaniment.  It sounded better than I imagined it would!

Would you still like to know what it sounds like?  I haven’t put you off?

Right, then.  CLICK HERE.

*  There’s a Coxtown in Galway, Ireland, but there’s another Coxtown in Moray, Scotland.  Confused?!  Because I have an inquisitive mind, I may explore this further, later.  But that’s another story altogether…

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