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On Christmas day of all days, I’ve had possibly the most interesting comment ever posted on my blog with regard to the score of the Nutcracker. Jesse Kleinman has pointed out the similarity between what is normally cited as the source for the contredanse in Act 1 of Nutcracker  (Bon Voyage, Cher Dumollet) and the New England song The Steamboat Quickstep. Both songs are nominally about boats, so is the New England song a borrowing from the French song via The Nutcracker? Maybe. But as Jesse points out, “It’s possible that Steamboat originated in Scotland and went to both France and New England”.

The Nutcracker and The Steamboat Quickstep: it’s an extraordinary connection. Even stranger is when you see the same tune turn up in Basque dancing.

4 thought on “The Steamboat, the Nutcracker and Bon voyage, cher Dumollet”
  1. Very interesting! Marc-Antoine-Madeleine Désaugiers (1772 – 1827) published the song ‘Bon voyage Monsieur Dumollet’ on the 25th of July 1809 (for the Vaudeville piece ‘Le Départ pour Saint-Malo’). That doesn’t mean the tune didn’t exist before that obviously.
    It might be interesting to note that during the French revolution Désaugiers emigrated to Santo Domingo, where he was made prisoner during the Negro revolt and barely escaped with his life. He took refuge in the United States, where he supported himself by giving harpsichord lessons in Philadelphia before returning to France in 1797. He might have picked up that tune while there or ‘left’ it there. Who knows!
    However, the earliest known printed version of the tune Steamboat Quickstep is in Elias Howe’s Complete Preceptor for the Accordeon (1843), a selection of tunes arranged for the relatively new diatonic accordion in the key of ‘C’. So that is a lot later than Désaugiers’ song.

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist