Audio Recording Bonaparte's Retreat

About this Item

Bonaparte's Retreat
Contributor Names
Jabbour, Alan (Transcriber)
Jabbour, Alan (Collector)
Reed, Henry, 1884-1968 (Performer)
Created / Published
Reed family home, Glen Lyn, Giles County, Virginia, November 26, 1966
Subject Headings
-  Marches
-  Instrumental music
-  Fiddle tunes
-  Folk music--Appalachian Region
-  Ethnography
-  Music
-  Field recordings
-  United States -- Virginia -- Giles County -- Glen Lyn
Field recordings
-  Meter: 4/4
-  Strains: 3 (low-high-high octave, 4-4-4)
-  Key: E
-  Rendition: 1r-2r-3r-2r-1
-  Phrase Structure: ABCD QRQC A"B"A"D" (abcd aeb'f qrst qrb'f a"b"c"d" a"b"gf')
-  Compass: 11 (18 counting lower drone)
-  Stylistic features: Tuned E-B-E'-E"
-  "Bonaparte's Retreat" is a well-known march among fiddlers of the Upper South, and by now it has moved into general circulation as a specialty fiddle tune. The tune is a scion of an old Irish air, "The Eagle's Whistle." Bayard, Hill Country Tunes, #87 gives a Pennsylvania set of "Bonaparte's Retreat" and excellent comparative notes. Petrie, The Complete Collection of Irish Music, #305 and #306 are good Irish examples, and the Journal of the Folk Song Society 2 (1905-6), 88-89 provides two song versions of "The Island of St. Helena" ("Boney's in St. Helena") using the same tune, so clearly the tune was associated with Bonaparte in the British Isles as well as in the American South. For American sets, both published and recorded, see the notes to the performance by Kentuckian W. H. Stepp on the documentary Library of Congress recording American Fiddle Tunes (Library of Congress, AFS L62). The Stepp recording has a special niche in American musical history, since it became the basis for the "Hoedown" in Aaron Copland's music for Rodeo (see "Copland's Kentucky Muse" in Civilization (June/July 1999: 110)).The tuning Henry Reed uses is the old special tuning favored in the Upper South for "Bonaparte's Retreat," transcribed in this collection as EBEE (high to low) and often described in fiddling literature as DADD. Henry Reed's performance is actually tuned somewhere between E and D by current standards. Like Stepp, he uses the lowest string exclusively as a drone. He played this tune because he had been discussing the practice of tuning the fiddle in different tunings, and the fiddle had been placed in the tuning EBEE. He had abandoned the practice of retuning the fiddle at some point as a young man, and though he found ways to convert most tunes to standard tuning that had been previously played in other tunings, a few specialty pieces such as "Bonaparte's Retreat" seem to have been lost along the way. During this session he was experimenting with recovering some of these old specialty pieces.
-  Performed by Henry Reed, fiddle.
-  Spoken: ALAN JABBOUR: That's it./HENRY REED: I can't . . . .
-  Recording chronology: 082
-  Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds
Audio tape
Call Number/Physical Location
AFC 1967/007: AFS 13037A12
Source Collection
Alan Jabbour duplication project, part 1
American Folklife Center
Digital Id
Online Format

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Credit line

Please cite the source collection title, collection number, and repository, for example:

Alan Jabbour duplication project, part 1 (AFC 1967/007), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Alan Jabbour duplication project, part 2 (AFC 1969/008), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Fiddle tunes of the old frontier: the Henry Reed collection online presentation (AFC 1999/016), American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Cite This Item

Citations are generated automatically from bibliographic data as a convenience, and may not be complete or accurate.

Chicago citation style:

Jabbour, Alan, Alan Jabbour, and Henry Reed. Bonaparte's Retreat. Reed family home, Glen Lyn, Giles County, Virginia, 1966. Audio.

APA citation style:

Jabbour, A., Jabbour, A. & Reed, H. (1966) Bonaparte's Retreat. Reed family home, Glen Lyn, Giles County, Virginia. [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

MLA citation style:

Jabbour, Alan, Alan Jabbour, and Henry Reed. Bonaparte's Retreat. Reed family home, Glen Lyn, Giles County, Virginia, 1966. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.