Painting of Niel Gow, violinist and composer (1727-1807) -...
Painting of Niel Gow, violinist and composer (1727-1807) - By Sir Henry Raeburn, 1787
Gow (1727-1807), the son of a plaid weaver from Inver in Perthshire, was a largely self-taught fiddler of great virtuosity.
A major influence on the development of Scottish folk music, he was taken up by the aristocracy, and the Duke of Atholl and the Duchess of Gordon were particular patrons. The poet, Robert Burns, visited Gow and his wife in 1787 and described him as 'a short, stout-built, honest highland figure, with his greyish hair shed on his honest social brow - an interesting face, marking strong sense, kind open heartedness mixed with unmistrusting simplicity'.
His compositions and arrangements were enormously popular, and he published several collections, including a Collection of Strathspey Reels in 1784. As a fiddler, he was especially acclaimed for the strength of his 'up-bow', or returning stroke, 'which never failed to surprise and delight'. He was also noted for 'the sudden shout' which often accompanied his playing and which was said to electrify dancers.