Saturday, April 22, 2017

Whatever It's Called

At the session I just mentioned somebody also brought up this tune, under the title of "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine." Despite it having the form of a Scottish march, the folks I was with played it with very little pointing--I thought this fit the tune charmingly. I knew finding a setting to show off here might be a little difficult because of previous acquaintance with a catchy tune called "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine," which wasn't this one at all; it was something more obviously related to the pipe march "The Battle of Waterloo," and the folk songs "Mick Maguire," and "The Regular Army-O."

To make matters rather more complicated, both tunes also carry the alternative title of "Bonaparte's Retreat" *and* there is a third tune, out of the American Old-Time repertoire also called "Bonaparte's Retreat." In case you are still with me, here's a final twist: the very Scottish sounding tune I heard at the session the other night is a standard among the old-time crowd as well (though, if YouTube is anything to go by, usually under the "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine" title).

 The old-time route seemed to be the way to go if I wanted a fairly round version of the tune (the plot thickens: if I read the Internet aright, in Cape Breton the tune, much more pointed, is called "The Braes of Dunvegan"). It seems particularly popular among banjo players. Here is a banjo version that sets out the direct simplicity of the tune just the way I like it:

Despite the form being certainly familiar, I was surprised that it was a tune I hadn't heard before. Or thought I hadn't. After a few hours, this song was dragged up from the cellars of memory. Though I still couldn't tell you where I'd heard it. It's not an identical twin, but it sounds a first cousin anyway, doesn't it? Or are the subject matter and meter just putting ideas into my mind?


Finally, going a bit further afield, here is a setting less apparently similar in the tune. I found it while looking for the Eliza Carty song above. It is included here less because it's tangential to the topic and more because if there's one thing I like as much as (or more than) disarmingly simple marches, it's masterful unaccompanied singing.


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