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DUSKY NIGHT (RIDES DOWN THE SKY), THE. AKA and see "Happy Captive (The)." English, Jig or Country Dance Tune (6/8 time). D Major (Barnes, Raven, Sumner, Sweet): F Major (Keller). Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Raven (1984) states the tune was published before 1730, while Barnes (1986) dates it to 1777. Kidson (1890) believes the first part of the tune to have been suggested by an earlier song called "From Thee to Me She Turns Her Eyes," which appears in the ballad opera Fashionable Lady (1730) albeit probably predating its use in that production. Kate Van Winkler Keller (1992), however, seems to have established conclusively that the "Dusky Night" was fashioned by Thomas Arne from an old song. It was sung by Margaret Farrell, reports Keller, in a revival production of The Beggar's Opera in 1777 (originally written and produced by Gay in 1729), and was an immediate hit that continued tp be popular for many years. The melody appears in a large number of period publications of dance tunes, instrumental tutors, etc. (for which see EASMES ) by the leading London publishers of the time -- Thompson, Skillern, Longman, Cahusac, etc. It also appears in several period musicians' manuscripts in Britain and America, and can even be heard played by the workings of a musical clock by Norwich, Conn., clockmaker Thomas Harland in the 1770's.
In 1862 Bruce and Emmett's Drummers' and Fifers' Guide was published to help codify and train the hordes of new musicians in Union Army service early in the American Civil War. George Bruce was a drum major in the New York National Guard, 7th Regiment, and had served in the United States Army as principal drum instructor at the installation at Governor's Island in New York harbor. Emmett was none-other than Daniel Decatur Emmett, a principal figure in the mid-19th century minstrel craze and composer of "Dixie" (ironically turned into a Confederate anthem during the war) and "Old Dan Tucker," among other favorites. Emmett had been a fifer for the 6th U.S. Infantry in the mid-1850's. Bruce & Emmett (1862) include the tune in their section on tunes suggested reviles for their Union Army manual: "'The Dawning of the Day' and 'Dusky Night' must not be considered to belong to Reveills, at present; but the Author has placed them in their present position as that honor may become acquainted with them. In the U.S. Army they are omitted."
Source for notated version: the music manuscript book of Captain George Bush (1753?-1797), a fiddler and officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The original manuscript contains the lyrics of Arne's song [Keller]; the 1823-26 music mss of papermaker and musician Joshua Gibbons (1778-1871, of Tealby, near Market Rasen, Lincolnshire Wolds) [Sumner].
Printed sources: Bruce & Emmett (Drummers' and Fifers' Guide), 1862; p. 33. Keller (Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution), 1992; p. 25. Raven (English Country Dance Tunes), 1984; p. 30. Sumner (Lincolnshire Collections, vol. 1: The Joshua Gibbons Manuscript), 1997; p. 67 (set in the key of 'F' major in the original ms.). Sweet (Fifer's Delight), 1964/1981; p. 29. Thompson (Compleat Collection of 200 Country Dances, vol. 4), 1780; p. 53.