Bristol polka

Also known as Mrs. Hill’s Delight.

There are 2 recordings of this tune.

Bristol has been added to 10 tunebooks.

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Two settings

X: 1
T: Bristol
R: polka
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A|dd ee|d/c/B/A/ AB/c/|dd ee|f2 eA|
dd ee|d/c/B/A/ AB/c/|dd e/d/e/f/|d2 z:|
|:f/g/|aa ff|gg e2|fd Bd|d/c/e/c/ Af/g/|
aa ff|gg e2|f/d/B/e/ dc|d2 z:|
X: 2
T: Bristol
R: polka
M: 2/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A|dd ee|d/c/B/A/ AB/c/|dd ee|f2 eA|
dd ee|d/c/B/A/ AB/c/|dd ea|d2 z:|
|:f/g/|aa ff|gg e2|fd Be|d2 cf/g/|
aa ff|gg e2|fd ea|d2 z:|

Seven comments

Bristol (polka)

I’ll say at the outset that in this instance "Recordings of a tune by this name" is 100% correct - this doesn’t always happen 😉. The tune is #267 in the William Winter collection.

The tune was brought to our attention a couple of years ago in our English session in Bristol by Geoff Woolfe, the editor of the William Winter Quantocks Tune Book. Appropriately, the tune is still played frequently in the session.

For those who may not be familiar with the William Winter collection, it is the tune book of a village musician in Somerset who flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It contains nearly 400 tunes, being a cross-section of the popular music that Winter and his fellow musicians played at village and social functions during the course of half a century. The manuscript was discovered in the early 1960s and has since been edited and published, together with a CD of selected tunes played by Robert Harbron and Friends. The published book and CD may be purchased from Halsway Manor (where the original manuscript is kept) at The tune "Bristol" is on Track 7 of the CD.

More intriguing information about this tune has recently come to light. A couple of days ago I was listening to a CD of some of Paganini’s works for violin and guitar (don’t ask!), and was surprised to hear "Bristol" being played as the last movement of a short sonata. The tune as played is very close to the Winter version, but Paganini provided a slower more lyrical middle section to as to give the movement more of a classical sonata structure. The music and playing, as one might expect, are classical and of course very Paganini, so don’t expect to hear a Kerry-type polka in an Irish style.

The question now arises, where did Paganini find the tune? Paganini performed concerts in England in the early 19th century and may have done so in Taunton, in William Winter’s area. It is possible that Winter might have seen and heard Paganini play. Did Winter pick up the tune from a Paganini performance, or did Paganini hear it first in England? I’m inclined to think neither. I’ve been told that "Bristol" (or whatever other name it was known as) was one of many popular tunes played in the very popular ballet of the time, "La Fille Mal Gardée" by Hérold, and Paganini is more likely to have heard it at a performance. I think it likely that our tune, being a popular French tune of the time, could easily have crossed The Channel independently into England. The manuscript of the ballet music is currently held in the Bordeaux Municipal Library.

A word about the Paganini CD I mentioned above. It is part of a 9-CD collection of the complete works by Paganini for violin and guitar, played by Luigi Alberto Bianchi (violin) and Maurizio Preda (guitar) - nearly 8 hours of listening. The tracks are mostly short, mostly under 5 minutes, and tend to be called "sonatas". That great tune-smith Paganini, like many composers, used folk music as a free resource, and it is fairly obvious that many of the tracks have folk music at their heart, but no tunes are named. The playing on the CDs is of an extremely high standard and is a master class in how a violin and guitar can work together - Paganini, as well as being one the world’s greatest violinists, was a top-class guitarist in his own right. The CDs, either all 9, individually, or as individual tracks, may be downloaded from Amazon in high quality mp3 format. The direct link is Our tune starts 2’35" into track 9 of disc #4, the one titled "36 Sonatas for Violin and Guitar, MS 10, "Lucca Sonatas", Set 2: Sonata No. 3"

But what is this tune really called?

I learnt this tune from (the late) Hugh Blake about twenty years ago - a long time before the recent transcribed publication of the William Winter MS!

Hugh knew the tune as "Mrs Hills Delight". Now Hugh (amongst his many musical activities) often played for Scottish country dancing. So it’s possible that Hugh’s name for it is actually the name of a Scottish dance called "Mrs. Hill’s Delight", rather than a tune that goes with it. Maybe some Scottish country dancing aficionado could cast some light on this?

Futhermore, I don’t personally believe that "Bristol" was ever the correct name for it. Who knows, maybe Wintour just heard it in Bristol, didn’t get the name of it, and just wrote down "Bristol" for want of something better to write down.

If this Wikipedia entry is to be believed:

.. the tune was an old French air - in which case, it’s unlikely to have been entitled Mrs. Hill’s Delight OR Bristol. It’s possible perhaps (given the Jacobite Scottish/French association) that the tune was brought from France to Scotland.

Here is the text of the Wiki quote:

"The 1789 score for La fille mal gardée was itself an arrangement of 55 popular French airs and has survived to the present day in the form of fifteen orchestral parts at the Bordeaux Municipal Library"."

Are there any thesession members living near Bordeaux (or planning to visit that city) who could check this out? If so, I would be most interested to hear the outcome …

I’ve been told by the editor of the William WInter Collection that a version of this tune in F can be found on the web site of Newfoundland and Labrador University (I don’t have the full reference). Like many Scots tunes, Mrs Hill’s Delight clearly crossed the Atlantic.
I also wonder if it could have found its way to the Quebec region of Canada - perhaps from a French source rather than Scottish.

Bristol-Bordeaux connection?

Perhaps it is no coincidence the tune may have Bristol and Bordeaux connections as they have had close maritime links since Roman times.
And there are still regular ‘cultural exchanges’, as Bordeaux is ‘twinned’ with Bristol, and was the first city to be so,more than 60 years ago

Bristol, X:2

This is Paganini’s version (see my initial post), slightly different in bar 7 of the A-part and bars 3, 4 and 7 of the B-part, but perhaps this is because he got it from a different source, such as French light opera. Paganini was a great fan of opera.

As in the first version, I have not, as a matter of policy, inserted ornaments. Robert Harbron, whose band on the CD played some of William Winter’s music, including this tune, makes this useful observation in the William Winter’s Quantocks Tune Book, on ornaments and performance:

"… the tunes recorded are only outlines: skeleton forms of what Mr Winter and his contemporaries might have played. In the process of aural transmission, a tune has its corners rounded off and its edges blurred … stripped down to its bare essentials the whole tune is subject to variation and decoration.
As often as not, the tune will be subtly different each time it is played. To notate a tune thus played is to write down just the barest skeleton of the tune, in the understanding that the player will fill in the gaps.
For a traditional musician, the dots of a tune represent perhaps ten percent of each final performance."

The above is a short extract from a longer discussion on page 138 of the William Winter book.

I have amended a transcription error in bar 7 of the B-part of Version X:1. I am grateful to Mix O’Lydian for drawing the error to my attention.

Re: Bristol

One of the Scottish Folkdance books for piano (of which there are many) has "Mrs Hill’s Delight" as the name.
I’m familiar with the 2 IRISH folkdance books where each tune often has 2 titles, one for the dance itself (you can see the dance steps opposite page!) and one for the name of the tune itself. (old books you will often see bound in libraries). Example : "The Walls of Limerick" - the dance and the tune name "Boys of Limerick".
Another example "The Waves of Tory " dance and "Biddy the Bowl-wife" (tune).

Just wondered if "Mrs Hill’s Delight" COULD be the name of the dance in Scotland, if Mrs Hill delighted in the dance in particular? By analogy with BK 1 Irish which is the only folkdance old book I still own|? (NB bk 2 Irish has some wonderful tunes including "The Sweets of May" a great favourite of mine and overall slightly more complex tunes). But I digress, sorry and I may be being woolly about this….