The following is a guest post by retired cataloger Sharon McKinley.
We all know that the concept of occasionally adding a day or more to the calendar to keep the seasons where they belong has been around for a long, long time. A couple of millennia, in fact. I was wondering how long the term “leap year” had been in use, and came up with an entry in my trusty, teeny-tiny-print compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary that traces it back at least as far as 1387. (Oxford: OUP, 1971. Trevisa, Higden (Rolls) IV, 199). This may not seem to have much to do with LC’s vast sheet music collections, but I did turn up a few lovely examples of leap-year-themed music.
“The Leap Year Mazurka,” by S. Engelman, (New York: C.H. Ditson, 1884) is dedicated to Miss Annie Mullen. Given the flood of piano music in this time period, Engelman may have wanted to ensure that at least Miss Mullen (a student, possibly) and all of her friends would buy it. It was published in 1884, a leap year. Why not take advantage of a special day to help sell your music?
Another interesting work from that year is “The Leap Year Waltz,” written for one or two guitars by Edward Schoenfeld (New York: Henry Bollman and Sons, 1884). The guitar had gained popularity among Americans throughout the middle of the century, and this piece is one of several in a popular style contained in Schoenfeld’s “Guitarist’s Album.”
And, just for fun, here’s “A Leap Year Vision (When Nellie Came to Woo)” (Words by E. Field; music by Adam Geibel. New York: Louis Bergé, 1884 (again!)). While the fella pictured on the cover looks pensive, or maybe asleep, this a comic number. Nellie turns the matrimonial tables on her lover by proposing on Leap Day. According to Irish tradition, women may propose marriage on February 29, giving them a chance to do the asking for once (This is not Sadie Hawkins Day, which was invented by Al Capp for the comic strip Li’l Abner; that “holiday” is in November). Oh, yes, the beautiful suitor is completely ready to serve her new husband. But she did get to do the asking.
As a bonus, here’s a graphic presentation of Leap Year from Puck magazine on March 26, in that busy music publishing year of 1884, which just happens to be the same year Grover Cleveland was elected president for the first time. Think of how we might have used this particular view of our own primary process!
Read more about Leap Day here.