Johnny Cope Reel | Bowing Down Home
About this tune
This haunting reel is a distinctive local variant of an old Scottish tune. The original tune was quite popular in Scotland during the latter half of the 18th century (see below), and it is very likely that it was carried across to PEI by the first waves of immigration. In any event, newspaper accounts indicate that the tune was played by contestants at the Great Contest of 1926.
Sir John Cope commanded English forces at the battle of Prestonpans in 1745, where he was defeated by Jacobite forces under the command of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (Charles Edward Stuart). Lyrics commemorating the victory were soon penned to an already extant air by a local song writer named Adam Skirving (1719-1803); another set was later written to the same air by famed Scots poet Robert Burns (1759-96). The air that Skirving and Burns adopted soon grew popular in its own right, and appeared in numerous late 18th and early 19th century collections; one of the earliest was A Collection of Favorite Scots Tunes[. . .] by Charles McLean (1774).
In the early 19th century, the German composer Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827) was commissioned by an Edinburgh publisher named George Thomson to write settings for numerous Scottish songs: Johnny Cope among them. Beethoven’s arrangements featured a fully composed piano part, a vocal line, and optional parts for second violin and cello. His settings were published in volumes V and VI of Thompson’s Original Scottish Airs (1818 and 1841, respectively).
Elaborate sets of variations for Johnny Cope have become extremely popular among fiddlers world-wide. Cape Bretoners often play a set in G-“minor” first recorded in the 1930s for Celtic Records by Angus Allan Gillis. In Ireland, a 6-part version in A classified as a “hornpipe” is widely played.
Notation for this tune as played by “Young Peter” Chaisson is in Fiddle Music of Prince Edward Island.