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Welcome to The Traditional Tune Archive
The Semantic Index of North American, British and Irish
traditional instrumental music with annotation, formerly known as
The Fiddler's Companion.

September 25 2018  Featured tune:           THE BONNY LIGHT HORSEMAN

Troopers of the 1st Dragoon Guards, 7th Hussars, and Royal Horse Guards, circa 1812.

BONNY LIGHT HORSEMAN, THE. Words (via Terry Moylan) set to the air stem from the Napoleonic era, the pinnacle of the dash, glory and uniformed appearance of mounted light troops. They begin:

When Bonaparte he commanded his troops for to stand,
And he planted his cannons all over the land;
He has levelled his cannons the whole victory to gain,
And he's killed my light horseman, returning from Spain.

Broken-hearted I'll wander, for the loss of my lover,
He's my bonny light horseman, in the wars he was slain.

Sure if I was a blackbird and had wings to fly,
I would fly to the spot where my true love does lie;
And with my little fluttering wings, his wounds I would heal,
And it's all the long night on his breast I'd remain.

The melody is contained in the music copybook [1] of John Buttery (1784-1854), a fifer with British army's 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment of Foot (so designated in the army reorganisation of 1782), who served from 1797-1814. Later in life Buttery emigrated to Canada, where he died. In his manuscript Buttery identifies the tune as "A Retreat", which in military use represents the musical announcement of the end of the day's activities and a time for rest. The operant condition for a retreat was a specific drum roll, over which a melody --any melody-- could be played, and it was the drum roll (not the tune) that was the musical signal for a retreat. The Buttery manuscript, as well as other period military manuscripts, often include a variety tunes that are labelled 'Retreats', which were selections the musician employed for the duty.
Buttery's manuscript collection has also been identified as belonging to John Fife, with a suggested date of 1780. Fife was a family name, like Buttery, identified with the manuscript. It seems a bit odd that a fifer in an infantry regiment like the 37th Foot would play something that glorifies the cavalry, but he may have simply liked the melody (not to mention, the 'light horseman' is slain in the song).


THE BONNY LIGHT HORSEMAN full Score(s) and Annotations and Past Featured Tunes



%%scale 0.7 X:1 T:Bonny light horseman, The M:3/4 L:1/8 R:Air Q:"Andante" N:"County Wexford" S:Stanford/Petrie (1905), No. 779 Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:F A>G | F2 F>G AF | G2F2 A>B| c2 dc B>A | A2G2 A>G | F2 F>G AF | G2F2 A>B | c2 dc BA | {A}G4 || cd/e/ | f2 d>e fe | e2c2 cd/e/ | f2 df ed | c4 de | f2 d>e fd | c2A2 A>G | F2A2c2 | B2A2G2 | F2 F>G AF | G2F2 AB | c2 dc BA | G2F2 cd/e/ | f2d2 fd | c2A2c2 | B2A2G2 | F4 ||

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Although we are not trained musicologists and make no pretense to the profession, we have tried to apply such professional rigors to this Semantic Abc Web as we have internalized through our own formal and informal education.


This demands the gathering of as much information as possible about folk pieces to attempt to trace tune families, determine origins, influences and patterns of aural/oral transmittal, and to study individual and regional styles of performance.
Many musicians, like ourselves, are simply curious about titles, origins, sources and anecdotes regarding the music they play. Who, for example, can resist the urge to know where the title Blowzabella came from or what it means, or speculating on the motivations for naming a perfectly respectable tune Bloody Oul' Hag, is it Tay Ye Want?
Knowing the history of the melody we play, or at least to have a sense of its historical and social context, makes the tune 'present' in the here and now, and enhances our rendering of it.

Andrew Kuntz & Valerio Pelliccioni


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