Henry Briggs, Glasgow, mid-20th century
Gifted in 2002
Musical Instrument Collection: MIMEd 4224

The Clarsach is seen as Scotland’s oldest national instrument. It appears in stone carvings as early as the 8th century, some seven centuries before the bagpipe began to take hold in Scotland. Two of the oldest surviving Celtic harps are in the collection of the National Museum of Scotland – the ‘Queen Mary’ from the 15th century and the ‘Lamont’ from the 16th century.

The popularity of the instrument has fluctuated, with major revivals in the 19th century and the early-20th century. Since the 1970s there has been a renewed enthusiasm to research the instrument’s history and its construction and to make ever-more accurate reproduction instruments.

This instrument, gifted by Peter Cooke, was made by Henry Briggs. Born in Yorkshire and raised in Glasgow, the son of a violin maker, Briggs studied violin making in Germany. On his return, he began to make harps in the early 1930s at the request of the newly-formed Clarsach Society. Although they may not be considered as the most historically accurate, these instruments are an important part of the revival in interest in the early Scottish harps and the popularity of the clarsach today.

Peter Cooke (1930- ) was born in Cardiff and spent his early working life teaching music in secondary and tertiary education settings. In 1964 he travelled to Uganda and took up the post of Head of Music at Makerere College School. Soon after, he established a new music department at what is now Kayambogo University. Whilst there, Peter began to learn about and study Ugandan traditional music.

Following his return to Britain in 1968, Peter cane to Edinburgh where he worked in the School of Scottish Studies, researching traditional Scottish music. As well as completing his own PhD on fiddle music traditions, Peter set up the teaching of ethnomusicology in the Faculty of Music.

Peter has done a great deal to ensure that the musical traditions of Uganda and Scotland are not lost, depositing his field recordings and other material in the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University and the British Library Sound Archive in London, as well as giving or lending numerous instruments to the collection here. Peter remains active as a scholar and musician in his retirement.

Story by Dr Jenny Nex, Curator, Musical Instrument Collection