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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine

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rteale - Posted - 04/15/2009:  15:22:32

Finally got around to learning this tune. Its an intriguing name and I was wondering if anybody knows the history behind the title or point me to a web resource? Im assuming we are talking Napoleon, but why is a tune about him (and his "Retreat" for that matter) in the OT repertoire? Any clues?


jojo25 - Posted - 04/15/2009:  15:39:30


Being of Irish ancestry I always thought that all those Bony tunes were of Irish origin and came, at least in part, from the fact that the Irish liked anyone who kicked English behind...and Bony certainly did a lot of that...but I got no hysterical facts to base that on...other than, "don't let the facts get in the way of good story"

Try this on for size,

BONAPARTE CROSSING THE RHINE [1]. AKA and see "Bonaparte's Retreat," "Bruce's March," "Caledonian March," "The Freemanson's March," "Napoleon Crossing the Rhine," "Ranahan's March [1]," "Sherman's March (to the Sea)," "The Star of Bethlehem" “St. Patrick’s March.” Old#8209;Time, March (cut time). D Major. Standard or ADae tunings. AB (Barnes): AAB (Phillips/1995): AABB (most versions). The first part of the tune shows up in several melodies from Ireland, Scotland and England; these variants include the Irish “Centenary March” and “An Comhra Donn,” and the Scottish “Caledonian March.” Barry Callaghan (2007) says the core tune was current as a military march in the Peninsular War, and probably earlier, although he cites no source for this assertion. Samuel Bayard (1944) was familiar with “Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine” as a common march tune in his primary collecting area of western Pennsylvania, and one which circulated under a variety of names including (in Fayette County) "Bruce's March" and (in Greene County) "The Star of Bethlehem." A Pennsylvania bandmaster gave Bayard the name "Ranahan's March," which he said commemorated a local bandmaster. As with several of the other 'Bonaparte'-titled tunes it is sometimes confused with similar names; for example, Bayard once heard it played by a New Jersey fiddler who gave it the ubiquitous name of "Bonaparte's Retreat." Fiddler Mack Snodderly played a slow, dirge-like version of the tune and called it "Dying on the Field of Battle.”


"The Greene County title (i.e. "Star of Bethlehem") suggests that the air may formerly have been sung to a once popular religious piece of the same name, beginning:


When marshaled on the nightly plain

The glimmering host illumed the sky.


But this hymn is now usually associated with the air 'Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon' in southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere. And there is no other indication thus far that (this tune) has been anything but an instrumental march tune in the Middle Atlantic area. We know, however, that it was used as a hymn melody in the South. Its currency in southern tradition is attested by two distinct versions used with a couple of the favorite pieces in the shapenote hymn books of fa-so-la singers. One of these, a close variant of (this tune) appears in Swan, The New Harp of Columbia (1867), No. 148 as 'France'; the other, representing a quite different#8209;#8209;somewhat more vocal#8209;#8209;development of the air, is entitled 'Family Bible' in Walker, The Southern Harmony (1835), No. 20, and Cayee, The Good Old Songs (1913), No. 217. This second version is listed by Professor George Pullen Jackson among the eighty most popular tunes in the fa-so-la song books: see 'White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands', p. 146, tune No. 63 and references. Other Pennsylvania sets are Bayard Coll., Nos. 35, 50. A variant called 'Caledonian March' appears in Howe's School for the Violin, pg. 17. Although the air sounds Scottish, it has not yet been traced outside this country (ed.—“Caledonian March” does appear in Kerr’s Merry Melodies and McDonald’s Gesto Collection. Did Bayard think that the Scots picked it up from Howe?). A tune bearing some resemblance to it occurs, in Smith, The Scottish Minstrel, IV, 12, 'The Pride of the Broomlands'; and another, still closer, occasionally appears in the commercial fiddle#8209;tune books as 'Lochnagar': e.g., Cole, p. 124; White's Excelsier Coll., p. 70; Kerr, No. 214" (Bayard, 1944).


Source for notated version: Tony Marcus [Phillips]. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes, vol. 2), 2005; pg. 43 (appears as “The First of October”, the name of a country dance by Phillippe Callens set to the tune). Bayard (Hill Country Tunes), 1944; No. 90. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; pg. 51. Callaghan (Hardcore English), 2007; pg. 30. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), vol. 2, 1995; pg. 23. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 15. June Appal 003, John McCutcheon #8209; "How Can I Keep From Singing?" (1975). Rounder 0035, The Fuzzy Mountain String Band#8209; "Summer Oaks and Porch" (1973. Learned from John Summers, Marion, Indiana).


T:Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine [1]




Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion


FG | A>B AF A2 de | f>e fa d2 dc | BcdB AFDF | E2 E>F E2 FG |

A>B AF A2 de | f>e fa d2 dc | BcdB AFEF | D2 DE D2 :: de | f>e fg a2 dc |

B>A Bc d2 AA | B>c dB AFDF | E2 E>F E2 FG | A>B AF A2 de |

Fefa d2 dc | B>c dB AFEF | D2 DE D2 :|

BONAPARTE CROSSING THE RHINE [2]. AKA and see “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps,” “Bonaparte Crossing the Rocky Mountains,” “Bonaparte’s March [3],” “First Light of Day,” “From Galway to Dublin (Town),” “Listowel Hornpipe.” March (4/4 time). A Minor. Standard tuning. AB (O’Neill): AABB (Howe). Howe (Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon), 1843; pg. 16. O’Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915; No. 101, pg. 56.


T:Buonaparte Crossing the Rhine [2]

T:Bonaparte Crossing the Alps



S:Howe – Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon (1843)

Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion

EF/G/ | A2 A>A AGEG | cdec d2 ef/g/ | aged cAGE | G2 G>G G2 EF/G/ |

A2 A>A AGEG | cdec d2 ef/g/ | aged cAGE | A2 A>A A2 :: ef/g/ |

aged cdef | gega g2 ef/g/ | aged cAGE | G2 G>G G2 EF/G/ |

A2 A>A AGEG | cdec d2 ef/g/ | aged cAGE | A2 A>A A2 :|

Don''t forget to play all of the quasihemidemisemiquavers!!
Drop thumbs, not bombs


brokenstrings - Posted - 04/15/2009:  21:13:24

That's an awesome piece of research!


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

rteale - Posted - 04/15/2009:  21:58:24

Answering my own question, after a bit more research, it does indeed seem that the Bonaparte tunes derive from Irish rebels in the 18th/19th century who hoped Napoleon would rescue them from the dastardly Hanoverian English, and consequently celebrated him in tune and song. The best resource on line I could find is this one:

which is a history of the French landing in Mayo and explicitly mentions "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine" on page 147.

You learn something everyday.


Richard - Posted - 04/16/2009:  06:06:21

Look forward to playing it with you, Ray !
great tune.


"There is nothing whatsoever that does not become easier with acquaintance" - Santideva

hear my band:

my own page:

Stop by my homepage and hear my new tunes !

Matt Buckley - Posted - 04/16/2009:  07:14:42

This tune, of course, is a real chestnut. But the funny thing about certain chestnuts is that they become so for a good reason - they are really great tunes. I never tire of playing the tune.

Cheers, Matt

Julian44_4 - Posted - 04/17/2009:  03:41:35

Here is the link to comments about BONAPARTE CROSSING THE RHINE

A wonderful community resource.

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