Designed & produced by Eric Maclewis


First of all, some definitions:

The music performed with the Great Highland Bagpipe falls into two main categories:

- ceòl-mór (Scottish Gaelic for “great music”) that could be briefly described as "classic" bagpipe music: consisting of a main theme (ùrlar in Gaelic, ground in English) with multiple variations, all on a rather slow tempo, it is the oldest known form of Scottish bagpipe music.
In fact and until the beginning of the 19th century, this musical genre also called pìobaireachd (Gael. for “the art of playing bagpipes“; Anglicised in pibroch), is the only one to be performed with the Scottish bagpipe.
Ceòl-mór is a genre that can confuse or disconcert during the first listenings, accustomed that we are to easily accessible melodies, arranged to quickly mark minds.
On the contrary, the pibroch that is moreover a music without any improvisation, presents complex developments whose character that can be considered repetitive masks a reality made of multiple variations.
It requires in any case an increased concentration, at the same time - which is only paradoxical in appearance - with a certain sense of “letting go” in order to be carried by these tunes that can safely be described as powerful... Celtic mantras.
If these remarks are of course appropriate for pipers, we must add a high technicality in the practice of the instrument, regarding the perfect tuning between chanter and drones or the mastery of the often complex embellishments.
By the way, some of these grace notes have also been exported in ceòl-beag themes...

- ceòl-beag (Scottish Gaelic for “small music”): light or dance music; this music was therefore not played with bagpipe before the 19th century but on other instruments such as the fiddle for example.
It now constitutes the bulk of the repertoire of current pipers, leaving it to a minority of them to perpetuate the great music of pìobaireachd.

Some Scottish Gaelic words to summarise:

pìob = bagpipe
pìob-mhór = Great Highland Bagpipe
pìobaireachd = the art of piping, by extension the first musical style of the Scottish bagpipe
pibroch = English for pìobaireachd
pìobaire = piper
ceòl = music
ceòl-mór (pibroch) = great music (classical music of the bagpipe)
ceòl-beag / ceòl-aotrom = small/light music…

To complete this introduction in the best possible way, please refer to the videos on this page.


The oldest sources seem to establish the starting point of the pibroch interpreted with the bagpipe in the 16th century.
However, it is attested that this musical genre was practised before on other instruments such as the Celtic harp: the correspondences in the structure of the airs in particular leave little doubt about the subject.

But let's go back to the bagpipe to emphasise that it all began with the now famous MacCrimmons, hereditary pipers of the MacLeod of Dunvegan clan (Isle of Skye) since the beginning of the 16th century.
These two periods correspond to what is called the Golden Age for the composition of pibrochs.

Since the role of a pibroch is above all to illustrate the significant events of the clan, the repertoire will be declined according to this purpose.
Thus, among the more than 250 ancient pieces listed (*), three main categories emerge:

a) Gatherings = Caismeachd (marchs), Warnings, Blàr (battle tunes)

b) Salutes (gaél.- fàilte) = cults of the leader, the hero

c) Laments (gaél. - cumha)

Of course, for each of these categories, the structure remains the same:

- Ùrlar - Ground = main theme (basic melodic line)
- Variations or motions (gaél.- siubhal)
- Back to the theme

(*) of course, we continue nowadays to compose new pibrochs that are therefore added to the old fund.

The PIBROCH - music of the origins (CEÒL-MÓR)


- before 1570 = no tune of pibroch for bagpipe has reached us, even if it can be argued that some airs of the repertoire may have been influenced (or even transposed) by Celtic harp themes, played before this date, sometimes for several centuries.

- from 1570 to 1825 = MacCrimmon era (Golden age): why these two dates? 1570 corresponds to the birth of Donald Mor MacCrimmon who is the first piper of the MacLeod whose compositions are known.
1825 corresponds to the year of death of Donald Ruadh, the last hereditary MacCrimmon piper before this function was reactivated in the 20th century.
It was in this long period that the most "classic" pibrochs of the repertoire were composed and transmitted.
The term of this second era also corresponds more or less to a break with the oral or sung tradition of the transmission of pibrochs, in favour of a standardisation brought by the scores (even if several styles continue to coexist in the new written tradition).

- 1825 to the 21st century = after the fundamental transition between oral and written traditions - transition to which we will return in particular in the chapter devoted to Canntaireachd, the pibroch has continued to be transmitted and to evolve - sometimes at the expense of a certain authenticity or historicity in interpretation but this is the lot of all music in general.

Even if this music is in essence an art dedicated to bagpipe soloists, sometimes the pibroch rubs against other instruments as part of often successful musical projects.
The many pìobaireachd soloist competitions organised annually (in Scotland, Brittany, the United States, Canada and... elsewhere...) testify in any case to the liveliness and strength of this music.

At last, if this genre is mainly played by experienced pipers, the pibroch is also of interest to many young pipers, witnesses of a fierce desire to preserve and transmit the roots of a centuries-old culture called to resist again and again to any form of civilisational decline.

Reference Pipers (Golden Age) & some of their tunes:

- Donald Mor MacCrimmon (1570-1640): A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Peter, Too long in this condition, Macleod's Salute, The Earl of Ross March, etc.
- his son, Patrick Mor MacCrimmon (1595-1670): Lament for the Children, Lament for Mary Macleod, etc.
- the latter's son, Patrick Og MacCrimmon (1645-1730), founder of the MacCrimmon's "Piping College" in Borreraig (Skye): Lament for John Garve MacLeod of Raasay, The Pretty Dirk, etc.
- Iain Dall MacKay (1656-1754) or “the Gairloch's blind piper”: The Injust Incarceration, Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon, etc.
- Iain Dubh (1731-1822)
- Donald Ruadh (1743-1825)

Dunvegan Castle (Skye)

“The Lament for MacLeod of Colbecks”

“The End Of The Great Bridge”

“Lament For The Children”

“MacCrimmon's Gold”

“A Flame Of Wrath”