Library and Information Services, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Friday, 30 May 2014

What was dance music like, in 1781 London? Thompson Revisited ...

Book Review: Thompson Revisited (18th century dance tunes)

Karen's eyes lit up when she found this - she's researched the rare Caledonian Muse, a dance book by the Thompson publishing dynasty, and now, here's a book compiling dance music published between 1781-1788.  What could be more intriguing or delightful?  We bought it for the Whittaker Library and it's hitting the shelves any day now.  (Details here.)

The book contains the tunes as they were published 'for violin, German flute and hautboy [oboe]'. The tunes are re-set, not in facsimile, which makes them larger and clearer for performance, and there are ample dance instructions.  There's no accompaniment - just tunes - but a basic understanding of harmony would enable a musician to improvise a bass.  The whole book is edited and rewritten by Boyd Rothenberger, who is on the board of governers of CONTRALAB, an international organization of contra dance leaders.  He teaches 'dances from the American Revolutionary War and War of 1812 periods of history to military re-inactors across the country ...', and found these Thompson books when he was visiting Exeter in Devon.  

There's a useful alphabetical index, and an invaluable glossary of dance terms.

From a researcher's point of view, the transcription of the original title page is not entirely accurate - unless there was perhaps a choice of title pages for different years.  An introduction with bibliographical and contextual information would have been useful.  However, as far as dancers are concerned, here's a great collection of dance tunes as performed at 'Court, Bath, Tunbridge [and] all Public Assemblies' at the end of the eighteenth century.  It's available from Amazon.

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