I’ve wondered on and off for a while what the earliest recording of Scottish traditional music might have been. There are plenty of fellow travellers of Scottish traditional music who know more about this topic than I, so I asked them. It seems that the collective wisdom on this point is that the earliest recording of Scottish traditional music was on:
the ’28th May 1889 when the cornettist John Mittauer played “Within a mile of Edinboro Town”’ (W. Dean-Myatt Scottish Vernacular Discography, http://www.nls.uk/catalogues/scottish-discography)
Then quickly after this, two sides for Berliner (Beltona?) were recorded on the 6th of October 1898 and featured ‘PM AL Reith and Cpl. Piper R Reith’. James Scott Skinner the fiddler comes next in 1899 see https://www.abdn.ac.uk/scottskinner/.
Clearly, the cornet itself has never loomed large in Scottish traditional music (without discounting the early dance bands’ use of brass etc.) but for me, the recording itself features traditional material (Within a mile of Edinburgh Toon) so I’m taking that as the earliest recording of Scottish traditional music until somebody persuades me otherwise!
It is incredible really to think that at the same time as the preservationists were starting all sorts of societies and institutions to ‘save’ Scottish traditional music that commerce had already begun the job—and done it for profit! This has underscored my belief in the importance of commercial interests in the development of Scottish traditional music—we cannot claim aesthetics have ever had any singular importance (in my view).
Thanks to all who replied (both personally to me and to the group).
ADDED 16 JUNE 2014:
Morag Grant writes: ‘In the late 1870s, Auld Lang Syne was one of the songs Alexander Graham Bell used to demonstrate his new-fangled invention, and there is an 1890 recording probably made by Emile Berliner himself using his own new-fangled invention’.