Tune of the Day: The Four-Hand Reel
This melody appears, under the title “Langford's Reel”, in the mid-19th century music manuscripts of uilleann piper James Goodman. The present setting is taken from Francis O'Neill's Waifs and Strays of Gaelic Melody, published in Chicago in 1922. O'Neill remarks:
“The Four Hand Reel” as far as the writer is aware was first brought to Chicago in 1886 by Barney Delaney, an excellent Irish piper. So versatile was he, like most great Irish musicians, in the manipulation of his instrument, that he varied his tunes according to fancy without detriment to tone or rhythm, but rather to the advantage of the general effect. Although not included in any collection of Irish music published beyond the Atlantic, the strain must have been quite popular in the Eastern States, for we find the tune in a Boston publication no less than four times, and named respectively: “Corporal Casey's Favorite”, “Lady Gardner's Reel”, “Parnell's Reel”, and “Yellow-Haired Laddie”; all consisting of but two parts each. The setting here presented was memorized from Delaney's playing, but no bare scoring of measured bars could do justice to his inimitable execution. Since the foregoing was written I find that “The Five Mile Chase” in R.M. Levey's Second Collection of the Dance Music of Ireland, London, 1873; consisting of but two parts, is also a variant of “The Four Hand Reel”.
The reel had actually been in general circulation in the United States for some years prior to 1886. Around 1867 it appeared under the “Four Hand Reel” title in 1000 Jigs and Reels by Elias Howe, who records:
The Scotch are indefatigable when dancing this Reel; they seem almost intoxicated with it—they snap their fingers—throw their arms and feet in the air—screech out—and make such quick, and difficult steps, that the eyes have trouble following them. The figure is danced by two ladies and two gentlemen forming a line of four, the ladies in the center. They begin with a chain in passing in and out of each other, until the two gentlemen return to their places, the ladies finish facing the gentlemen; then they set (or balance) as long as they can—in fact, they never seem tired, and seem to acquire fresh strength each time they come to the balance.