A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Lilt


LILT (Verb and Noun), to sing, pipe, or play cheerfully, or, according to one authority, even sadly; also, a gay tune. The term, which is of Scottish origin, but is used in Ireland, would seem to be derived from the bagpipe, one variety of which is described in the 'Houlate' (an ancient allegorical Scottish poem dating 1450), as the 'Liltpype.' Whenever, in the absence of a musical instrument to play for dancing, the Irish peasant girls sing lively airs to the customary syllables la-la-la, it is called 'lilting.' The classical occurrence of the word is in the Scottish song, 'The Flowers of the Forest,' a lament for the disastrous field of Flodden, where it is contrasted with a mournful tone:—

I've heard them liltin' at the ewe milkin',
Lasses a liltin' before dawn of day;
Now there's a moanin' on ilka green loanin',
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.

The Skene MS., ascribed (though not [1]conclusively) to the reign of James VI. of Scotland, contains six Lilts: 'Ladie Rothemayeis' (the air to the ballad of the Burning of Castle Frindraught), 'Lady Laudians' (Lothian's), 'Ladie Cassilles' (the air of the ballad of Johnny Faa), Lesleis, Aderneis, and Gilcreich's Lilts. We quote 'Ladie Cassilles':—

{ \time 4/4 \key g \major \tempo \markup { \smaller \italic Slow. } \relative d'' { d8 b d e g4 g | e8 d e g a4 a | d,8 b d e g a b a16 g | e4 e d2 \bar "||" a'8 g a b d4 d | b a8 g a2 | a8 g a b d4 d | b a8 g d'2 | a4 b g a | e g d2 \bar "||" } }
Mr. Dauney, editor of the Skene MS., supposes the Liltpipe to have been a shepherd's pipe, not a bagpipe, and the Lilts to have sprung from the pastoral districts of the Lowlands.

[ R. P. S. ]

  1. See Mr. Chappell's criticisms, 'Popular Music,' p. 614.