Annotation:Varsovienne (1) (The)

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X:1 T:Varsovienne [1], The M:3/4 L:1/4 Q:"Gaily" K:G B3/4c/4|BDB3/4c/4|BDB3/4c/4|ded|A2A3/4B/4| ADA3/4B/4|ADA/B/|ced|G2:||:B/c/|dgf|A2A3/4B/4| ced|B2B3/4c/4|BAB|c2A3/4B/4|ced|G2:| P:"Trio Tempo di Redowa" B/c/|(dB)d|(g2d)|(fe)c|(A2G)|(FA)c|(f2e)|(e/d/)^c/d/e/d/||

VARSOVIENNE [1], THE. AKA and see "Father Halpin's Topcoat (2)," "Shoe the Donkey (1)," "Shoe the Donkey (2)," "Valse du luthier," "Valse du vieux-Québec (La)," "Varsoviana Waltz." Irish, Varsovienne or Mazurka (3/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB, Trio. The varsovienne is a couple dance, whose French title translates as “The Girl from Warsaw,” indicating it had either Polish origins or was devised supposedly in the Warsaw style. The dance consists of one pharse of stepping—heel, toe, chassé, chassé—and on phrase of waltzing. It was introduced into Parisian society in 1853 and quickly became popular, spreading throughout Europe and America. An original composition by Francisco Alonso[1], it had eight parts, and while traditional musicians have developed melodic variations the tunes they play as the “Varsovienne” or “La Varsoviana” generally relate to some part of the original. The trio section matches the third section of Ford's "Varsovienne" and the first section of Begin's version. A number of tunes were either written for, or became associated with, the dance, as was well known to an intonement street mid-19th century journalist interviewed for Henry Mayhew's remarkable book London Labour and the London Poor (1861). Street organ players were common in London, eking out a living playing selections for a few coins:

There is two ‘Liverpool Hornpipe’. I know one these twenty years. Then com ‘The Ratcatcher’s Daughter’; he is a English song. It’s get a little old; but when it’s first come out the poor people do like it, but the gentlemens they like more the opera, you know. After that is what you call ‘Minnie’, another English song. He is middling popular. He is not one of the new tune, but they do like it. The next one is a Scotch contre-danse. It is good tunes, but I don’t know the name of it. The next one is, I think, a polka; but I think he’s made from part of ‘Scotische’. There is two or three tunes belongs to the ‘Scotische’. The next one is, I think, a valtz of Vienna. I don’t know which one, but I say to the organman, ‘I want a valtz of Vienna’; and he say, ‘Which one? Because there is plenty of valtz of Vienna’. Of course, there is nine of them. After the opera music, the valtz and the polka is the best music in the organ…It won’t do to have all opera music in my organ. You must have some opera tunes for the gentlemen, and some for the poor people, and they like the dancing tune. Dere is some for the gentlemens and some for the poor peoples.[1]

An Irish variant of the tune is "Shoe the Donkey," but it is also known by the titles “Verse Vienne,” “La Va”, “Step Waltz,” “Paddy Candy,” “Cock Your Leg Up Hi Ho” and “La Valse Du Pauvre Garçonnet.” Caoimhin Mac Aoidh reports that in County Donegal the tune is sometimes referred to as "The Reverse of Vienna," an interesting distortion of the title. In that part of Ireland 'reversing' is a term used for fiddle duet playing in octaves, and "The Varsovienne" (or "Shoe the Donkey") is a tune that is often played in octaves or in reverse, thus the 'reverse of vienna.' Mac Aoidh says: “Varsovienne - As I understand it, this is understood in Ireland to mean a single tune - the Shoe the Donkey (in its many forms). As such, it is simply a mazurka under a different name; Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman says it was danced much the same way as the Polka Mazurka (there is a 1952 recording of him playing the tune on one of Peter Kennedy’s Folktracks tapes). Native speakers of Irish in Donegal often called it a ‘Reverse of Vienna’ in confusion with the term "reverse" meaning to play in octaves.” Similarly, some dialect pronunciations have led to the word 'varsovienne' being construed as “Verse of Vienna.” County Clare tin whistle player Micho Russell (1915-1994) is remembered fondly for singing the following lyrics to the tune:

Take it aisy, take it aisy, take it aisy like me.
Take it aisy, take it aisy, take it aisy like me.
(2nd part)
Take it aisy like me, take it aisy like me,
Take it aisy like me, take it aisy like me.

These were repeated for the duration of the performance. “The Varsovienne” is also a standard Mazurka among Auvergnat musicians on the Continent.

By the end of the century the dance, which reached its height of popularity mid-century, seems to have fallen out of fashion. The editor of The Ballroom Guide opined: " formerly had a sort of ephemeral popularity. We always considered it as rather a boisterous sort of performance, and more suitable for the casino than the private ballroom"[2].

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Roche (Collection of Traditional Irish Music, vol. 3) 1927; No. 150, p. 49. O'Brien (Jerry O'Brien's Accordion Instructor), Boston, 1949.

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  1. Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, London, 1861, p. 176.
  2. Frederick Warne, The Ballroom Guide, London and New York: Frederick Warne and Co., 1888, p. 61.