Well, sometimes they are anyway. For many people, especially dance teachers, ‘hornpipe’ is synonymous with 2/4 time. But there are also triple meter hornpipes, often notated in 3/2, particularly common in English baroque music, an example being Purcell’s Hole in the Wall (see below). Another example is the Scottish tune ‘Dance to your Daddy‘, the rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazer that’s used in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or the hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. The only person I’ve ever heard refer to hornpipe in a class and mean the baroque triple meter kind, is Mark Morris (see earlier post on that event).
Until about a year ago, I had never realised those last three tunes were in three at all—I hadn’t ever considered what their metre was, because in fact, metre in the sense of regular grouping accents doesn’t seem to emerge from those tunes – they just seemed to me to flow as melodies without sensing that they’re in 3 or 2 – or anything in fact. I sometimes wonder why I would teach people to try and perceive patterns in music that I don’t perceive myself, even with my musical training. I’m afraid I have no answer to that yet.
The Hole in the Wall
And the water music hornpipe: