The Sailor's Hornpipe
The usual tune for this dance was first printed as the "College Hornpipe" in 1797 or 1798 by J. Dale of London. It was found in manuscript collections before then – for instance the fine syncopated version in the William Vickers manuscript, written on Tyneside, dated 1770. The dance imitates the life of a sailor and their duties aboard ship. Due to the small space that the dance required, and no need for a partner, the dance was popular on-board ship.
Accompaniment may have been the music of a tin whistle or, from the 19th century, a squeezebox. Samuel Pepys referred to it in his diary as "The Jig of the Ship" and Captain Cook, who took a piper on at least one voyage, is noted to have ordered his men to dance the hornpipe in order to keep them in good health. The dance on-ship became less common when fiddlers ceased to be included in ships' crew members.
The Sailor's Hornpipe
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In dramatic stage productions, from around the sixteenth century, a popular feature was a sea dance. But the nineteenth century saw the more familiar form of the "sailors’ hornpipe" introduced. Nautical duties (for example the hauling of ropes, rowing, climbing the rigging and saluting) provided the dance movements.
In artistic and popular culture
During the Last Night of the Proms in London, the spectators bring miniature foghorns and party horns and blow them along to the music, creating a loud, frenetic finale as the music reaches its fastest speed.
In the 1941 children's novel The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, Joey Moffat is supposed to do the hornpipe in a dancing school recital. Overcome by stage fright, he can't remember the steps until a tiny lap dog – formerly a sailor's pet – hears the music and jumps into the center of the floor to take up the dance.
The tune was played in the animated Popeye cartoons beginning in the 1930s, usually as the first part of the opening credits theme, which then segued into an instrumental of "I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".
The tune is also frequently heard as background music in many Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, usually in situations concerning sailing, ships, or the sea.
In the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore, Sir Joseph Porter tells Ralph Rackstraw "All sailors should dance hornpipes. I will teach you one this evening". In their later opera, Utopia, Limited, a slower version of the melody introduces "Captain Corcoran, K.C.B." In their opera The Gondoliers, it's quoted in the accompaniment for the line "With Admirals all round his wide dominions" from the song "There lived a King." An entire dance routine of a Hornpipe is included in Ruddigore.
This tune has been recorded by:
- Mike Oldfield on Tubular Bells (1973) and Tubular Bells 2003 (2003)
- Achim Reichel as “Piratentanz” on Klabautermann (1977)
- Quilty on A Drop of Pure (1995)
- Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O'Connor on Appalachia Waltz (1996)
- Carlos Núñez on Cinema Do Mar (2005)
- Broadside Electric, on Black-edged Visiting Card
- The Spotnicks as "Bach goes to sea" in 1963
- The Tornados as "Popeye twist" in 1962