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From Smoke & Fire News

Musical Rambles Through History
by Sara L. Johnson ©1996


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Captain George Bush (1753-1797), a junior officer in the Continental Army, carried his fiddle with him, and kept a notebook collection of his favorite tunes, songs and dances. Here is one of those tunes, "Malbrouk" or "Malbrouk s'en va-t'en guerre", known to us today as "The Bear Went Over the Mountain", or "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". This tune has been popular in France for some 250 years, and the French words and translation can be found in Peter Kennedy's book Folksongs of Britain and Ireland. It was named after John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), whose military exploits under James II, William III and Queen Anne were well known. (And he was an ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill.) Apparently, it was a satirical song written in 1722 when France's foe Marlborough died, beginning "Malbrouk s'en va-t-en d'guerre, J'ne sais quand i' r'vindra" (Marlborough he's gone to the war, I don't know when he'll be back.)

Beethoven used this tune in his 1813 symphony Wellington's Victory. He used "Rule Britannia" to represent the British army, and "Malbrouk" to represent the French. Originally, Beethoven was commissioned by the mechanical genius Maelzel, inventor of the metronome, who wanted Beethoven to write it for his mechanical machine "orchestra" called the Panharmonicon. Beethoven then went on to arrange the music for conventional orchestra instruments.

A side note on the "Panharmonicon", from a book called Clockwork Music; An Illustrated History of Mechanical Musical Instruments, by Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume: Johann Maelzel made his first Panharmonicon about 1792, and sold it for 100,000 French francs to the Archduke Charles of Austria, a man with a sense of humor who was said to have purchased it "for the express purpose of annoying his friends."

"Malbrouk" (and other tunes) are downloadable from the music page.

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