Les Rats Quadrilles is a set of five tunes composed by G. Redler as alternate music for the first set of French quadrilles. The tunes are unusually good, and the set became enormously popular and was reprinted for many years, not only in England but in America and Australia as well. In 1854 a piano-duet (four hands) version arranged by J. C. Vierec was published in Philadelphia.
Some editions featured the "tree roots" version of the title shown at left, and others a small orchestra of rats with various instruments. American editions seem to have credited the composer as "J. Redler", but English sources consistently give his first initial as "G".
I do not have a definitive initial date for the first publication of Les Rats, but in 1846, A. M. Hartley, in his The academic speaker, a system of elocution (Glasgow) mentions on page 319 the inclusion of "Redler's popular Rat Quadrilles" in Volume I of the collected Hamilton's Cabinet of Music, a sheet music series, which puts Les Rats into the first half of the 1840s.
Redler was a prolific composer of new quadrille music, and the success of Les Rats led him to follow up with a whole series of animal-themed sets: Les Chats (cats), Les Souris (mice), Les Singes (monkeys), and Les Chiens (dogs). A copy of Les Chats may be found at the Levy Sheet Music Collection. Like Les Rats, it is simply a new set of tunes for the first set. The image below is taken from a listing of new music publications in the fourth edition of James Alexander Hamilton's A new musical grammar (London, 1849).
The tunes from Les Rats apparently captured the imagination of Massachusetts fiddler, dancing master, and music publisher Elias Howe (1820-1895), who included them in at least one of his numerous music books, the Musician's Omnibus (Boston, 1861) with his own dance figures appended. The figures were reprinted in Howe's American dancing master and ball-room prompter (Boston, 1862) under the title "Rats" Quadrille.
Howe packed his dance manuals with calls for dozens of popular sets of quadrille tunes, but the figures are extremely generic and repetitive, with many minor variations on the first three figures of the first set and a repertoire of extremely standard calls, often littered with minor errors. I doubt that they were composed with anything like the care and creativity of important sets of figures like the Caledonians or Prince Imperial Quadrille. They strike me more as completely random assemblages that would have been intended less for memorization in a dancing academy than for use on the fly with dancers accustomed to moving under the direction of a live caller. Many are duplicated exactly among different sets.
What I find most notable about Howe's calls are their old-fashioned elements. Howe was notably precocious, already fiddling for dances (and probably calling as well) in his teens and publishing his first music book before his twentieth birthday. He would have learned quadrille figures while growing up in the late 1820s and early 1830s, and his calls hark back to moves of the early nineteenth century, with the old "balance and turn" rather than the eight-bar balance recommended by other dancing masters in the 1860s, and a penchant for using figures like chasse out which are rare by the mid-nineteenth century.
Because of their generic nature, I would not normally bother reconstructing individual sets of calls from Howe. But I've had requests for a reconstruction of Rats lately because the noted dance band Spare Parts has recently released a new CD of mid-nineteenth century dance music, Returning Heroes, which includes the five tunes of Redler's Les Rats. The recording was structured, per the sheet music, to match the first set of quadrilles (Le Pantalon, L'Été, La Poule, La Pastourelle, Finale), but modern custom links music and figures more tightly together than was the case the nineteenth century, and people are resistant to the idea of these simply being alternate tunes for the same figures. Since the tunes are fun and the recording superb, I decided it was worth reconstructing Howe's figures, even though using them would require editing two figures of the recording to match.
The next two posts in this series will cover the five figures given by Howe for the Rats Quadrille in the sources mentioned above, with notes on how the Spare Parts recording matches, or fails to. For those with access to musicians, the links earlier in this post will take you to sheet music for Rats, enabling you to avoid the issue of recording structure altogether.
The three-part Rats series of posts is dedicated to dancer Tom Willson from the English Country Dance mailing list, who asked a few months back to see my reconstruction of Howe's "Rats".