Rob MacKillop


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Medieval Lute

The 5c medieval lute by Bryn Jones was on loan from Dr Warwick Edwards of Glasgow University. Here is an essay entitled

Medieval Lute In Scotland

The recording: 5c lute by Bryn Jones. Recording date: April, 2003. Strings: Aquila gut.

Salve Splendor is in the Dorian mode, and my improvised Prelude in the Mixolydian mode. I used an eagle-quill plectrum:

Improvisation and Salve Splendor 

Hymn To St Magnus 

– a beautiful hymn, largely in thirds, performed on medieval lute, wire-strung clarsach (Bill Taylor) and voice (Paul Rendall). This song is still sung in Orkney.

Renaissance Lute

The Art of Music is a 16th-century Scottish manuscript with the aim of teaching the rules of music to students of composition. None of the music is in lute tablature, but the largely two-part texture fits easily on the 7c lute with a minimal amount of editing – in fact, only the Fantasie required attention in one bar, otherwise what you hear is what is written. Typically for early to mid-16th century Scottish music, the treble is rhythmically complex (no two bars have the same rhythm in a single piece), but overall the music is harmonically simple. These recordings first appeared on a CD called Graysteil which is no longer available. The recording: 7c lute by Martin Haycock. Recording date: 1997. Strings:Aquila gut.

7c lute with Brae Harp (Bill Taylor) –

 John Dowland

Played on a Martin Shepherd 11c strung with 10 courses in Renaissance tuning:

Tarleton’s Riserrection   Semper Dowland Semper Dolens    A Dream   Lachrimae Pavan 


Baroque Lute


One might have expected Bach’s cello compositions to exploit the possibilities of sustain provided by the bow technique, yet his cello works are mostly very busy with semiquaver runs and arpeggios. This transfers well to the lute, and indeed Bach’s fifth cello suite exists in a version for lute as well. It is quite possible that the lute version came first – my own belief is that it is a homage to the great lute contemporary and sometime friend of Bach, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, especially the ‘one-voice’ fugue at which Weiss allegedly excelled in improvising.

The other cello suites transfer well to the lute. My arrangement of the 2nd suite transfers the original from Dm to Gm. Most lute arrangements – at least the ones I have seen and heard – are in Am, but I think the darker tone of Gm reflects better the somber character of the original. I spent many hours adding a bass line, then many more hours taking it out. Every time I added a note, something was lost. Eventually I settled for the absolute minimum of support, only a handful of notes in the entire suite, allowing Bach’s implied harmony and counterpoint to speak for itself. Here is a pdf of the score in French tab: Bach 2nd Cello Suite arr. for 11c Lute in Gm by Rob MacKillop

I recorded the suite in one take, but have split the recording into two parts for ease of download. I could have supplied individual files for each movement, but I wanted to further the sense of a performance of the suite as whole entity, rather than a collection of unrelated dances in the same key.

Rob MacKillop Bach Cello Suite No. 2 part 1

Rob MacKillop Bach Cello Suite no. 2 part 2  

Robert de Visée wrote some beautiful music for the lute. The Tombeau de Du But is one of his finest compositions. The Tombeau de Mouton, somewhat unusually, has the 11th course tuned down to B. The Tombeau – a slow and mournful Allemande – was created by lute players to mark the death of one of their own. Both Du But and Mouton were very famous lute player-composers of the 17th Century.

The recording: 11c lute byMartin Shepherd. Recording date: 12 February (Du But) and 29 April (Mouton), 2008. Strings: Aquila – Nylgut trebles, Nylgut-wound D-type basses.

Tombeau De Du But

Tombeau De Mouton


 see main vihuela page on this site


Sarmaticae – miniature compositions based on archaic Ukranian folk songs – composed and arranged by the remarkable Roman Turovsky – see his website  for more details.

1   3   4   5   6   23   31   35   40   47   57   60   68   75   80   81   82   83   84   86   90   92   93   94   97   98   99   100   111a [Dedicated To Rob MacKillop]   



Baroque Guitar

Robert de Visée – Suite in Dm – OK, it is the most popular suite by the French guitarist, and yes, he did write other fine music. I will get round to recording more eventually, but I offer no excuses for recording the Dm suite first, as it is a favourite of mine. Such great fun to play, but deceptively difficult!

I have presented a recording of a complete performance, which makes for a soundfile of under 8 megabites, eleven and a half minutes. I hope you don’t feel this is too long for one file, but I really didn’t want to split up the pieces. Here and there, I like one movement to start before the other has died away.

The recording: 5c guitar by Alexander Batov. Recording date: 19 April, 2008. Strings: Aquila – Nylgut. Bourdon on 4th.

Robert De Visee Suite Dm Suite for Baroque Guitar

Gaspar Sanz – Here I used no bourdon at all, so the lowest note is the third string, G. That’s what the man asked for, but it does lead to some odd leaps. Once you get used to it, though, it all sounds fine. Lantururu appears in the Scottish Balcarres lute manuscript under the title, Canarios.

Espanoletas   Lantururu Matachin Paradetas Rujero   Pavanas  
Al que gustare de falsas, ponga cuido en estas cromaticas,and Fuga2, al aire de jiga

Portuguese guitar pieces –

from the Coimbra ‘viola’ (guitar) manuscript. Rogerio Budasz did the main work transcribing these pieces from the original manuscript as part of his doctoral dissertation: The Five-Course Guitar (Viola) In Portugal and Brazil in the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries, 2001. The pieces are notated without time signals and are often a little odd in places, clearly stemming from a tradition of improvisation. I’ve arranged them as best I could. Terantela has only four bars of chords and one variation, to which I have added four more.

Canario   Chacara de Abreau   Meya Danca   Tricotte   Terantela

Early Greek Music

Here we have four songs from Greece – I don’t know from what period. The singer is Antonina Fraser, and I am playing a Baglama saz. Unfortunately there is no video, and Antonina moved away from Edinburgh shortly after. So this is all I have…Such a shame, as she has an amazing voice…

Elen  Karagouna  Kato  Tiekheis   

 Contemporary Lute Music

The following pieces were commissioned by Rob MacKillop. Click on the title to hear MP3 files of the first performance, at Boarhills Church, Fife, Scotland, 2002.

1. The Oud Player of Rosslyn (Prelude 20 for Oud) ~ Edward McGuire 1st performance Boarhills Church, Boarhills, Fife, Scotland 1st February, 2002. Commission financed by the Scottish Arts Council and The Hope Scott Trust.

From the programme note by Eddie McGuire: “While working towards my aim of writing a short characteristic piece for every instrument, one of the great benefits is the process of working with a performer and learning about the instrument. This has been one of the best examples, gaining knowledge through Rob MacKillop and his own study of the oud – combined with memories of meeting the oud player, Moustafa el Kurd in East Jerusalem in 1987. This piece gains a lot of its energy from the interaction of some Scots pipe gestures and rhythms with Turkish dance rhythms and Arabic scales.”

Eddie McGuire lives in Glasgow. Regarded as one of Scotland’s finest classical composers, Eddie is also flute player with the ground breaking folk group, The Whistlebinkies.

2. The Old Composer Remembers ~ John Purser 1st performance Boarhills Church, Boarhills, Fife, Scotland 1st February, 2002. Commission financed by the Scottish Arts Council and The Hope Scott Trust.

a) The Day of Fanfares b) A Day with a Colleague c) A Day Fishing d) The Day of the Daft Dance

From the programme note by John Purser: “The Old Composer Remembers is dedicated to Mnemosyne and imagines the composer reminiscing on his lute. First he recalls The Day of Fanfares. He no longer has commissions for fanfares, but he no longer needs trumpets to recall the sounds. I have included a fanfare passage from Robert Carver’s Six Part Mass. Next he remembers A Day With A Colleague. This is a tribute to my father-in-law, Elliot Forbes, who was professor of music at Harvard University. His initials form the start of the upper line of a strict but affectionate two-part canon on EFBEs – Elliot Forbes = E F Bflat Eflat. The third movement recalls A Day Fishing. The water flows by and the day is full of daydreams and nothing is caught. Finally he recalls The Day of the Daft Dance. The idea came from nowhere and composed itself in ten minutes, the way daft dances do.”

John Purser lives on Skye, and besides being a composer is also a poet, playwright, archaeological musicologist and writer. His most influential book is Scotland’s Music (Mainstream Publishing), a history of Scotland’s classical and traditional music.

3. The Rosslyn Oud (for 12c lute) ~ John Maxwell Geddes 1st performance Boarhills Church, Boarhills, Fife, Scotland 1st February, 2002. Commission financed by the Scottish Arts Council and The Hope Scott Trust.

From the programme note by John Maxwell Geddes: “The title refers to the carving of the oud in Rosslyn Chapel (c.1450), and symbolises the influx of Middle-Eastern influence on Scottish culture at that turbulent time in our history. This single movement piece combines Scottish and Moorish elements in alternating fast and slow sections. The work is dedicated to Rob MacKillop.”

John Maxwell Geddes lives in Glasgow. His major works include Symphony No 1, Voyager, and several works commissioned by the conductor Bryden Thomson: Lacuna, Ombre and a second Symphony (1993), and his solo instrumental works include the much performed Callanish sequence.


Here is an old recording of me playing BB King’s The Thrill Is Gone with bass, drums and a singer. This band lasted for just one gig, but it was recorded. Not a good band, but I have to admit I was on form in this performance:

MP3 file: The Thrill Is Gone – Kinda

I’m using a Fender Telecaster, 52 Reissue, through a Peavey Classic 30, nothing else. All completely improvised, of course, from start to finish, after just one rehearsal without solos. I’m sinfully proud of this one, but I was young then…


  1. I am so taken by your lute performance of de Visee’s Rondeau and Chaconne. I have listened to this many times now, until the at first strange sounds are sinking in. This music must have informed some of the gentle folk guitar music of the 60s. I play a nylon string guitar myself, in that humble style. I believe there is a deep well of possibility there, and this performance gives me strength. Thank you Rob.

    Ron Harper

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