Aldridge's Rant

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ALDRIGE'S RANT. AKA and see "Highland Reel (A)." English, Scottish; Reel. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBCC. The title refers to the renowned stage performer Robert Aldridge (b.c. 1738-1793), whom Chambers describes as 'a famous pantomimist and dancing master'. The melody was first printed in Charles and Samuel Thompson's Compleat Collection, vol. 3 (London, 1773). As with numerous other tunes from the Thompson's 1773 collection, it was entered into the 1780 music manuscript copybook of fiddlers John and William Pitt Turner (Norwich, Conn.). Glasgow publisher James Aird included the tune in his Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 5 (1797, No. 12, p. 5) as the generically-titled "Highland Reel (A)." The tune is ancestral to the Irish reel "Humors of Ballyconnell (1) (The)," famously recorded by Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman in the 78 RPM era.

All of these were preceded by the melody under yet another title, "Aldridge's Rant," from London music publisher Charles and Samuel Thompson, perhaps named for famed dancer and ballet master Robert Aldridge (died in Edinburgh, 1793). Aldridge was born in the town of Ardee, County Louth, and spent his early years teaching music and dancing in Drogheda, while working in Smock Alley, Dublin. In 1756 Aldridge went to Drogheda and met Gordon McNeill, a splendid hornpipe dancer, upon whom he modeled his style (it is tempting to link this fact with the title "McNeil's Maggot," another name for the present tune). At the beginning of the 1762-63 season, and for the next twenty years, Aldridge was the principal dancer at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. Lee Lewes (Memoirs, 2:163) recalled that Aldridge was:

...never compared to any other, because he was universally allowed to be like none of them, but in every respect an original...Although Aldridge's whimsical performances, the Fingallian Rant, and other pleasing Hibernian ballets, seemed only calculated for the meridian of Dublin, and would indeed have been no better than clod-hopping directed by any other; yet the skill and management of Aldridge were such as to reconcile them to the taste of the most refined judges of dancing in England. All his Irish jigs, etc. wee so improved by his singular address and mode of conducting them that, while he continued in London, none was surprised to find the Bog of Allan transplanted, or if you will, transported to Drury Lane theatre. .... [quoted in John Greene's Theatre in Dublin, 1745-1820, 2011]

The reel printed in London by the Thompsons was entered as "Aldridge's Reel" into the large 1840 music manuscript collection of multi-instrumentalist John Rook of Waverly, near Wigton, Cumbria.

Baltimore button accordion player Billy McComiskey wrote three additional parts for the tune which have some currency in the Washington/Baltimore area, according to Philippe Varlet. Varlet finds a precursor to the tune appears in Aria di Camera (1747) under the title "Role the Rumple Sawny" (meaning 'Roll your Rump Sandy'). We return to maggots (a trifle, or whim) in the 6/8 time setting, "O'Neill's Maggot," from Irish concert violinist R.M. Levey's 1873 collection.

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