'Isabeau s'y promène'
'Isabeau s'y promène'. Preserved sometimes in song form, sometimes in dance form, this song probably originated in Normandy. Ernest Gagnon, who gives the best-known song form in his Chansons populaires du Canada (Quebec City 1865), notes that it was sung in Champagne to a different tune but one with rhythmic similarities to that known in Canada. In dance form, it was collected in 1916 in Charlevoix County, Quebec, by Marius Barbeau and published in his Alouette (Montreal 1946).
There are two principal versions of the text. In one, the beautiful girl, who has boarded a ship to learn a song from the youngest of 30 sailors she has met, begins to cry because her ring has fallen into the water; the sailor dives for it and drowns. In the other, moved by the young man's song, she cries because of the inconstancy of her heart, which she keeps losing. The sailor tells her not to worry, and that if she will just sing someone will return it to her.
Among Canadian composers inspired by the song form have been Violet Archer (Variations on a Canadian Folk Tune, 'Isabeau s'y promène,' 1941, for piano), Hector Gratton (Variations libres sur 'Isabeau s'y promène,' 1954, for strings, piano, celesta and harp), and Keith Bissell (Variations on a Canadian Folk Song, 1973, for strings, recorded by the Chamber Players of Toronto). Arrangements of the tune were made by Healey Willan for violin and piano (B743, 1929), and by Claude Champagne for four equal voices (Waterloo 1960). Besides the 78s by Éviola Gauthier, Édouard LeBel, and Joseph Saucier, LPs containing the song have been made by Pierre Boutet (Victor PC-1149, Victor LCP-1021) and by the Chorale de l'Université St-Joseph (Col FL-234).