Bonny Jean of Aberdeen

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BONNY JEAN OF ABERDEEN. AKA – "Bonny Jane," "Bonnie Jean of Aberdeen." Scottish, Reel. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Popular in the 18th and early 19th century, but does not generally appear in collections later than that. There are six main text versions of the tune: The Cumming Manuscript (1723), Munro's Scots Tunes (1732, as a sonata and Munro's "masterpiece"), the McFarlane Manuscript (1740), a flute MS. of 1770, the McLean Collection (1772), the Little Manuscript (c. 1775). Johnson (1983) clearly traces the transmission of the tune through these manuscripts. Purser (1992) says of Munro's sonata: "(The piece) shows how a Scots song can, with a little rhythmic ingenuity and melodic gift, become as lovely a minuet or as lively a gavotte as any thoroughbred classic." See also James Oswald's version under the title "Bonny Jane."

A tune called "Bonney Jean" is in the Gillespie Manuscript' of 1768, and as "Bonny Jean" it appears in the music manuscript copybook of 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 Quebec 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. Versions were published in America in Daniel Steele's New and Complete Preceptor for the German Flute (Albany, N.Y., 1815) and Philadelphia publisher John Aitken's edition of the Scots Musical Museum (1797).

An Irish origin for "Bonny Jean" was proposed by Bunting, who attributed the tune to Thomas Connellan, a Sligo harper of the late 17th century who worked for some time in Scotland (Loughnane, Kathleen, The Harpers Connellan, 2009.)

The original lyrics, preserved on a mid-18th century broadside, are mildly bawdy - Bonny Jean's lover impregnates her and she vows "he's never got another bairn wi' me" [1]. The air was later used for a number of other songs, most notably the Scots dialect "Castles in the Air" by 19th-century poet James Ballantine. Ballantine's song was converted to a minstrel-style "straight jig" in the mid-19th century, a version printed in Ryan's Mammoth Collection. A different set of "Castles in the Air" lyrics praising Shakespeare, Burns and Moore was performed on the American variety stage in the 1860's by Gus Williams and others (see Henry De Marsan's New Comic and Sentimental Singer's Journal, Issues 1–60, New York, 1871). In modern times, the first strain of "Bonny Jean" has served as the melody of bawdy song "The Ball of Kirriemuir" ("Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness," etc.), popular with Scottish rugby supporters.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Neal (A Collection of the Most Celebrated Scotch Tunes), Dublin, c. 1724. Howe (1000 Jigs and Reels), c. 1867; p. 125. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1983; No. 65, pp. 170–179 (Munro's sonata version). Manson (Hamilton's Universal Tune-Book, vol. 1), 1854; p. 96. Mattson & Walz (Old Fort Snelling: Instruction Book for the Fife), 1974; p. 51. McGibbon (Collection of Scots Tunes, vol. 3), 1762; p. 71. Thumoth (12 Scotch and 12 Irish Airs), 1742; No. 9, pp. 38–39. Daniel Wright (Aria di Camera), London, 1727; No. 32.

Recorded sources:




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