Back to Excuse Me
EXCUSE ME. English, Country Dance Tune (6/8 time). G Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBCC. "Excuse Me" was once an extremely popular tune, to judge from the number of times it appears in print and in musicians' manuscript collections. It was first published in John Playford's 7th edition of the Dancing Master, published in London in 1786 and was retained in the long-running Dancing Master series through the 18th edition, published at the time by the heir to the Playford publishing concern, John Young, in 1728. It was also published by the Walsh family in their Compleat Country Dancing Master, editions of 1718, 1731 and 1754. The fashion for English country dancing crossed to the Continent, and "Excuse Me" appears in several European collections as well, including Raoul Auger Feuillet's Recueil de Contredances (1706), Le Cler's Premier Receuil de Contre Danses (1729), and Antoine Pointel's Airs de Danses Angloises Hollandoises et Francoises a Deux Parties (1700). "Excuse Me" can be found in the music copybooks of London musician Thomas Hammersley (1790), and Lorin Andre's 1685-87 collection entitled Livre de Contredance Presente au Roy.
Musicologist John M. Ward, in his 1991 article "'Excuse Me': A Dance to a Tune of John Dowland's Making" , finds Playford's "Excuse Me" to be a derivative of a piece by English composer John Dowland  (1563-1626), a song in gallaird rhythm called "Can she excuse my wrongs with vertues cloake," one of his most popular compositions. It published in his First Book of Songes or Ayres (London, 1597, No. 5), and the composer later fashioned an instrumental arrangement of the melody for his volume Lachrmae (London, 1604) called "The Earle of Essex Galliard" (No. 12). Ward suggests the tune may already have been danced to in 1609, but the earliest mention of it is in James Shirley's play Hyde Park (1632, act II, sc. ii) in which a character is forced to dance against his will and asks, "Will you excuse me yet?," whereupon his tormentor commands the musicians, "Play 'excuse me'." There are other references to the dance tune throughout the 17th century, and it may have been already considered by some in Playford's era to have been a relic.
The time was changed for the country dance from 3/2 to 6/4, and the three strains reorganized to suit; Ward calls is "a fine example of scissor-and--paste composition!" His candidate for the transformation is not Dowland but rather Thomas Robinson, for his New Cithearen Lessons (1609), which contains other Dowland pieces presumably arranged by Robinson (see note for "Frog Galliard (The)"). Ward points out: "Robinson was certainly responsible for setting "Excuse me" for the cittern; Dowland is not known to have written for the instrument."
In addition to instrumental variants, the familiar air was employed for songs in numerous early 18th century ballad operas, including John Gay's Polly (1729), The Lover's Opera (1729), The Mad Captain (1733), The Mock Lawyer (1733), Cure for a Scold (1735), The Footman (1732), and others. Thomas D'Urfey employed the tune for a song called "The Crafty Mistris's Resolution" in Wit and Mirth: or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (London, 1700), and other songs to it were issued on broadsheets. "Excuse Me" is often said to have been called "Buff Coat" or "Buff Coat Hath No Fellow (The)" in earlier editions of Playford (Chappell, 1857, for one says this), but the melodies are dissimilar and apparently all such references are a repeated mistake.
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Barlow (Complete Country Dances from Playford's Dancing Master), 1985; No. 242, p. 62. Barnes (English Country Dance Tunes), 1986. Christian (A Playford Assembly), 2015; p. 33. Walsh (Complete Country Dancing-Master, Volume the Fourth), London, 1740; No. 189.