Glaswegian born Erik Chisholm (1904-1965) is now being recognized as an important musical figure in Scotland's musical history, and John Purser's fine biography, published in 2009 by Boydell & Brewer, underlines the important contributions he made to the musical life of particularly Glasgow and Cape Town and to the people with whom he came into contact.

This Catalogue raisonné is intended to supplement the selected list of works in the biography. It attempts to reproduce the original sources, both literary and musical, on which Chisholm relied for his inspiration. It includes an Essay on Erik Chisholm and his use of Scottish music, literature and Gaelic legend, and in particular, his love of piobaireachd (bagpipe music) and the use he made of Rev Patrick McDonald's Collection of Airs and Dances of 1784. The McDonald Collection he received as a gift aged ten years and it accompanied him throughout the rest of his life. He used these airs and dances not only in piano pieces and ballets, but most importantly, in the over 300 songs meant for inclusion in his Celtic Song Book. A chart is provided of the Airs & Dances found throughout Chisholm's oeuvre under McDonald Usage. It also describes his startling clash with Hindustani music in the last years of WWII.

The Chisholm Collection, which includes manuscripts and papers, is in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the University of Cape Town Libraries, and copies are kept in the Scottish Musical Institute, Glasgow.


Erik Chisholm's creative life was, in the main, infused with his Scottish background, and his utilization of Scottish airs and dances, piobaireachd, and Celtic legend and folklore, was a major contributor to his "nationalism".

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In the attempt to piece together Erik Chisholm's thoughts on being a "nationalist" composer, his own words, found in his writings on the matter, will be used as much as is possible.  Also included will be quotations from scholars of Celtic studies that he himself found useful in putting together his various talks and lecture/recitals; and, added to these, will be explanatory notes and amplifications found constructive and informative by the compiler of this catalogue, and located in the writings of other experts in Celtic studies.

I and Pangur Bán my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

from The Book of Leinster quoted by Robin Flower in
The Irish Tradition p 24.

Erik Chisholm, throughout his creative life, used the airs and dances collected by Joseph and the Rev. Patrick McDonald, published in 1784, and he found no difficulty in including them, as well as piobaireachd in his instrumental works and ballets.  A few of the airs in the collection had titles attached but not one had a text.  Therefore, he set himself the task of the poet above, of “hunting words” with which to write his own texts, fashioning them from ideas and lines he found in Celtic poetry, legend and myth, and to fit them to the airs and dances in the McDonald collection.  The compiler of this catalogue has been sent on the same course - to uncover the materials that Erik Chisholm used. Read more...