Annotation:Rule Britannia

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X:1 T:Rule Britannia M:C L:1/8 R:Air and March B:James Aird – Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 3 (Glasgow, 1788, No. 524, p. 200) N:”Humbly dedicated to the Volunteers and Defensive Bands of Great Britain and Ireland” Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:D A|:d2d2 (d/e/f/g/) ad|e2 {fg}g2f2 zA|d/e/d/e/ f/g/f/g/ aefe|d(e/f/e)d {d}c2zA| e2 dc a^g/f/ e/d/c/B/|A2B2A2z2|{Bc}d2 dABG zf|gfed {d}c2 ze| Ta2 Tg2 f/d/g/e/ a/f/e/d/|A2Te2 {de}d4||f3f g/f/g/ zf| gfed {d}Tc2c2|Ta2Tg2 (f/d/)(g/e/) (a/f/e/d/)|A2Te2 {de}d4:|]

RULE, BRITANNIA. AKA and see “Smile America.” English, Air (cut time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. The music was composed by Dr. Thomas Augustine Arne (1710-1778) for his masque of Alfred (some sources say the opera was The Judgement o’ Paris), first performed as the end of an entertainment before Frederick, Prince of Wales, at Clivedon House, near Maidenhead, August 1st, 1740, under the title “When Britain First.” The masque was in commemoration of the Hanoverian succession and was held on the birthday of Princess Augusta, the daughter of Frederick. Kidson[1] says the first of August was for a long time kept as an event by people opposed the the Jacobite cause, and that "Dogget's coat and badge was rowed for on the river on that day." The opera was revived in 1759 and the song was printed in Clio and Euterpe, or British Harmony, vol. 1 (1758) under the “Rule, Britannia” title, the words of which were the work of Scottish poet James Thomson.

Composer Richard Wagner remarked "the first eight notes of 'Rule Britannia' embodied the whole character of the British people"[2]. The tune was reworked by Handel for his Occasional Oratorio, and by Beethoven in 1804. Emmerson (1972) states the song was inspired by imperialistic fervor engendered by the so-called War of Jenkins' Ear, in which England vied with Spain in dispute of access to the South American continent. As a nationalistic song it was a favorite of British troops in the American Revolution, who also used the titles “When Britain First by Heav’ns Come” and “Hail Britain, Hail thou Glory’s Pride.” As with several popular British songs, the tune was co-opted by the Americans with new lyrics, and appears in the Henry Beck Manuscript (p. 9) of 1786 as “Smile America.” Peter Mackenzie, "the genial reminiscer of Glasgow" (Emmerson, 1971), mentions the tune as one of the favorite songs of the early 19th century in Lowlands Scots centers.

The ending of the E major fugue in the 2nd Book of Bach's 48 is identical with the end of "Rule, Britannia."

"Rule, Britannia", along with "Speed the Plough," are regimental marches of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. For more, see William Chappell's[3] discussion of the piece.

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 3), Glasgow, 1788; No. 524, p. 200. William Cahusac (The German Flute Preceptor), c. 1814; p. 15. Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Times, vol. 2), 1859; pp. 191-192.

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  1. Frank Kidson, "The Vitality of Melody," Proceedings of the Musical Association, 34th Sess. (1907-1908), pp. 81-99.
  2. Oliver Thomson, "Rule Britannia", PdD Thesis, Univ. of Glasgow, 1994, p. 122.
  3. William Chappell, Popular Music of the Olden Times, London, 1859, pp. 192-193.