Makaris: The Galant David Rizzio


In the early eighteenth century, a number of the most popular traditional Scottish songs were bizarrely attributed to David Rizzio, who more than 150 years earlier had been brutally murdered while serving as secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots. For their second recording on Olde Focus, Celtic HiP ensemble Makaris explores arrangements of the “Rizzio melodies” by galant-era composers including Francesco Geminiani, Johann Christian Bach, and James Oswald.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 73:49
01The Broom of Cowdenknowes
The Broom of Cowdenknowes
02Black Eagle—Drouth
Black Eagle—Drouth
03Down the Burn Davie
Down the Burn Davie
04The Lass of Peaty's Mill
The Lass of Peaty's Mill
05Pinkie House
Pinkie House
06Roslin Castle
Roslin Castle
07Fickle Jenny
Fickle Jenny
08The Lowlands of Holland—Gigg—Leslie's March
The Lowlands of Holland—Gigg—Leslie's March
09Beneath a Beech's Grateful Shade
Beneath a Beech's Grateful Shade
10Push About the Brisk Bowl
Push About the Brisk Bowl
11Tweed Side
Tweed Side
12Beneath a Green Shade
Beneath a Green Shade
13The Bush Aboon Traquair
The Bush Aboon Traquair
14The Yellow-Hair'd Laddie
The Yellow-Hair'd Laddie
15Auld Rob Morris
Auld Rob Morris
16An Thou Were My Ain Thing
An Thou Were My Ain Thing
17The Last Time I Came O'er the Moor
The Last Time I Came O'er the Moor
18A Highland Battle
A Highland Battle
19The Flowers of Edinburgh
The Flowers of Edinburgh
20William's Ghost
William's Ghost
21Love in Low Life
Love in Low Life
22The Boatman
The Boatman
23The Cock-Laird
The Cock-Laird
24Peggy, I Must Love Thee
Peggy, I Must Love Thee
25Bessy Bell and Mary Gray
Bessy Bell and Mary Gray
26Dances from Queen Mab
Dances from Queen Mab
27Hymn: Let Us With a Joyful Mind
Hymn: Let Us With a Joyful Mind

William Thomson (c.1684–c.1762) published Orpheus Caledonius in London on January 1, 1726. This was the first printed collection of traditional Scottish song arrangements, and it consisted of fifty settings by Thomson for solo voice over an unfigured bass. No composer was listed for forty-three of the melodies, and Thomson plagiarized most of his texts from Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany, a popular 1724 collection of Scottish poetry. Orpheus Caledonius might therefore appear to demonstrate an early paradigm of folk musicians freely borrowing each others’ words and music without attribution, except that its index specifically ascribes the seven remaining melodies to David Rizzio, who more than 150 years earlier had been the victim of one of history’s most infamous and gruesome murders.
David Rizzio (sometimes Riccio, Rizo, Rezzi, or similar) was born near Turin in approximately 1533, and he traveled to Scotland in 1561 in the service of the Duke of Savoy’s ambassador. He entered the employ of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, as a valet and bass singer, and he was soon promoted to the position of her private secretary. Members of Mary’s court—many already conspiring against her—grew concerned that this Catholic foreigner had such a high level of access, and Mary’s jealous husband became suspicious that their unborn child might be Rizzio’s. On March 9, 1566, a large group of courtiers burst into the palace dining room, held the six-months pregnant queen at gunpoint, grabbed Rizzio from where he was cowering behind her, and stabbed him fifty-seven times before hurling his body down a stairwell.

Thomson’s 1726 ascriptions to Rizzio have no known source, and there is no prior extant reference to Rizzio ever having composed any music at all. It is possible that there was an oral tradition of Rizzio as songwriter which slightly predated Orpheus Caledonius, and Thomson was simply repeating attributions he had heard elsewhere. However, the Italian school of composition then held sway in London, and it is likely that Thomson simply hoped to sell more copies of his publication by adding to it the name of a notorious Italian (Rizzio being a plausible choice, given that he was widely known to have been a musician who was murdered in Scotland). There could also have been a political element to the Rizzio ascriptions; the Treaty of Union had only recently united England and Scotland, and an Englishman affixing a foreigner’s name to some of the most enduring and beloved Scottish tunes might have been a response to heightened Scottish nationalism.

– Kivie Cahn-Lipman (from the liner notes)

Engineering and mastering: Ryan Streber,
Editing: Kivie Cahn-Lipman and Ryan Streber
Program notes: Kivie Cahn-Lipman
Song annotations: Kivie Cahn-Lipman and Fiona Gillespie
Design: Marc Wolf,
Special thanks to Linda Cahn and Paul Marshall


Makaris formed in 2018 and the following year released its first disc, Wisps in the Dell, to critical international acclaim. (“Absolutely wonderful … one of the very best releases of 2019” —MusicWeb International; “Marvelous … Highly recommended”—Fanfare; “Delightful … a winning combination”—Early Music Review.) The ensemble’s second recording was the EP Tam Lin, a modern fairytale folk opera composed by Fiona Gillespie and Elliot Cole.

A makar (pl. makaris) was a royal court troubadour of medieval Scotland; the term was resurrected centuries later and is used now to describe a Scottish bard or poet.

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