Annotation:Belle Isle's March

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X:1 T:Bellisle March, The M:4/4 L:1/8 B:Thompson - The Compleat Tutor for the Fife (1760, p. 16) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:D A2|d2 d>f e2 e>g|d2 d'>b {b}Ta3g|f2 (3afd e2 (3gec|d2 d>d d2:| |:A2|a>ba>g f2f2|g>ag>f {f}Te4|a>ba>g f>gf>g|ab ag/f/ {f}Te2A2| d2 d>f e2 e>g|f2 d'>b {b}Ta3g|f2 (3afd e2 (3gec|d2 d>d d2:|]

BELLE ISLE'S MARCH. AKA - "Belisle March," "Bellisle's March." AKA and see "Monk's March," "General Monk's March," "(Lewis) Proudlock's Hornpipe," "Review (2) (The)." English, March and Morris Dance Tune (cut or 4/4 time). G Major (Bacon, Riley): D Major (Keller). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABA (Bacon): AABB (Keller, Sumner, Riley). This very popular melody was published by Playford (see note for "annotation:Monk's March"). The morris dance version was collected from the village of Longborough, Gloucestershire, in England's Cotswolds. Kate Van Winkler Keller (1992) suggests the title may refer to the small island of Belle-Île-en-Mer, located off the coast of Brittany in the Bay of Biscay, that was occupied by the British from 1761 to 1763. The march was published in a song-sheet under the "Bellisle" title to commemorate the occasion on the 27th of June, 1763, when King George III reviewed 3 regiments of footguards in Hyde Park (hence the alternate tite, "The Review"). "Belisle's March" appears in the Scottish Gillespie Manuscript of Perth (1768) and in Longman & Broderip's Entire New and Compleat Instructions for the Fife (London, 1780). A dance by that title was mentioned by MacTaggart in an account in The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia of 1824 as being taught at a country dancing school of the time.

Morris dance researcher and writer Roy Dommett wrote about "Belle Isle's March" in a 2004 essay[1]

[The 'Belle Isle']of interest arose when the Marquis de Belle Isle was the French War Minister during the Seven Years War, 1756-63, and held the large island of Belle Isle, off Brittany's Atlantic Coast and heavily fortified. Pitt the Elder thought small raids were what Britain could mount and believed the taking of Belle Isle would rile the French. It was achieved on 7 June 1761 after an initial reverse. There had been so many delays and reconnaissances the defence had plenty of warning. Eight of fourteen current British regiments have it as a battle honour because of the difficulty of the assault, although the honour was not awarded until 19511!

The celebrations at the end of the war included a march past by the British Army in front of the new King George III, like an early King's Official Birthday ‘Trooping the Colour’. As a gesture of conciliation, the French Ambassador in London was invited to join the salute. As each regiment passed, it changed to the quick march "The Belle Isle", as a Swiss hymn tune that had been picked up had become known! The tune continued to be used at least on ceremonial occasions and at the Trooping the Colour into the 1970's.

The morris version of the tune is called after Monck at Sherborne and Bledington, but elsewhere, including places quite close to these two, it was called "Belle Isle's March", as at Longborough, Lower Swell and Brackley. It was published soon after the march past as "Lady Petersham's March" in "Twenty Four Country Dances with proper tunes and directions to each dance as they were performed at Court, Bath and all publick entertainments for 1764". It was probably named after Lady Caroline Petersham. The hymn writer Thomas Lynch used it for 'My Faith it is an Oaken Staff'. Quite dissimilar tunes called “Monk's March" or "The Mad Monks of Bangor" have been found in printed collections.

The march was played in America in Colonial and Revolutionary eras, and appears in the music manuscript copybooks of fifer Thomas Nixon [1] (Danbury, Ct.), fiddler George Bush and flute player Henry Livingston, Jr. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Québec from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774-1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York.

The tune was recorded in July, 1906, by Cecil Sharp, who 'discovered' two men working on a sewer outside his home in Hampstead who were whistling morris tunes. Sharp immediately invited them inside where he made the recordings of two tunes (including "Belle Isle's March") whistled by "Mr. Stagg" and "Mr. Stagg Sr." of Hammersmith.

See also a 3/4 time minuet setting of the tune as "Belisle Minuet."

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 5), Glasgow, 1797; No. 54, p. 21. Bacon (The Morris Ring), 1974; p. 260. Elias Howe (Musician’s Omnibus Nos. 6 & 7), Boston, 1880-1882; p. 633. Johnson (A Further Collection of Dances, Marches, Minuetts and Duetts of the Latter 18th Century), 1998; p. 9 (appears as "Belisle March"). Keller (Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution), 1992; p. 19. Edward Riley (Riley's Flute Melodies vol. 1), New York, 1814; No. 321, p. 89. Sumner (Lincolnshire Collections, vol. 1: The Joshua Gibbons Manuscript), 1997; p. 73 (appears as "Bellisle March"). Thompson (Compleat Tutor for the Fife), 1760; p. 16. Willig (Compleat Tutor for the Fife), 1805.

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  1. Roy Dommett, "Belle Isle's March", in Morris Matters, 2004, p. 180 [2]