The Baroque Dance that Became an Iconic Horror Theme
One of my favorite pastimes every October is to start binging all sorts of scary games and shows. I’ve spent a lot of my time (more than I feel comfortable admitting) watching YouTube videos of popular horror games. Nights I’ve spent studying for musicology finals, writing papers, studying scores… all have occasionally been accompanied with these games and the panicked screams of those playing. I’m not sure how distracting it is, but it’s been something of a tradition for me this month.
Back in 2017, my October nights often featured Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. A game that takes place in Louisiana (my home state!), the entry was a great return to a classic first-person horror experience. There’s even a virtual reality version of the game sitting in my library that I refuse to play out of fear, though what I did try was very fun. One of my favorite aspects of Resident Evil 7 is the main theme, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, and its surprising roots in Baroque French opera.
“Go Tell Aunt Rhody” originates from a gavotte in the opera Le devin du village by Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Below I’ve posted the video where the tune appears. If you follow the YouTube link, you’ll find a number of comments referencing Resident Evil 7 which I found funny. The tune starts at 2:01 in the video.
With a history of being a children’s song, the tune has also enjoyed a long lifetime in the American folk song repertoire, as well as appearances in England, Japan, and Germany. In 1815, Johann Baptist Cramer composed a set of variations on the tune for fortepiano, which you can find here.
Sadao Mazuka has a wonderful timeline of the song’s reception history if you’d like to see a more in-depth description.
I remember back in 2017 being so excited about a horror game being set in my state, but finding the main theme has early music roots as well was pretty cool. When I’m able to access a fortepiano again, I plan to program this historical horror piece into some fun concerts.