French baroque music dance styles and forms
Baroque dance, a precursor of classical ballet, was established and developed in France at the court of Louis XIV in the Renaissance and Baroque era closely linked with Baroque music, theatre and opera.
Baroque dance is the conventional name given to the style of dancing that had its origins during the seventeenth century and dominated the eighteenth century until the French Revolution. Baroque dances are historical dances. That is, they are dances which went out of fashion long ago. Today both amateurs and professionals are performing reconstructions of old dances, mainly the social dances. Baroque musical dance is dance of the baroque era. Traditionally, it is associated with nobility. Remnants of this period of dancing remain in modern dance. Baroque dance refers most broadly to any dance done during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Specifically, it refers to dances of this period from Europe. More precisely, baroque dance was dance done in the baroque era in France under the reign of King Louis XIV. There are popular french musical dance types including bourrée, canarie, chaconne, courante, entrée grave, forlane, gavotte, gigue, loure, menuet, musette and passacaille.
Baroque period and art history
The Baroque period (1643–1715) hosted social (ballroom) and theatrical (ballet) & musical dance. Styles included: Menute Passepied, Belle Danse, Country Dances, and French noble style which was often carried out in a symmetrical pattern. The use of arms was very precise in this form of dance. King Louis XIV, a dancer and patron of the arts, required a notation system to be developed in order to: record, teach, and spread French Baroque dance. The King established the world’s first ballet school, the Academie Royal de Danse. Giovanni Baptista (Jean Baptiste Lully) served the king as the composer for the courts dances and eventually took over the Academie Royal de Danse.
Musical dance styles and forms
The French Noble style
The great innovations in dance in the 17th century originated at the French court underLouis XIV, and it is here that we see the first clear stylistic ancestor of classical ballet. The same basic technique was used both at social events, and as theatrical dance in court ballets and at public theaters. The style of dance is commonly known to modern scholars as the French noble style or belle danse (French, literally “beautiful dance”), however it is often referred to casually as baroque dance in spite of the existence of other theatrical and social dance styles during the baroque era. Primary sources include more than three hundred choreographies in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, as well as manuals by Raoul Auger Feuillet and Pierre Rameau in France, Kellom Tomlinson and John Weaver in England, and Gottfried Taubert in Germany. This wealth of evidence has allowed modern scholars and dancers to recreate the style, although areas of controversy still exist. The standard modern introduction is Hilton.
English country dance
The majority of surviving choreographies from the period are English country musical dances, such as those in the many editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master. Playford only gives the floor patterns of the dances, with no indication of the steps. However other sources of the period, such as the writings of the French dancing-masters Feuillet and Lorin, indicate that steps more complicated than simple walking were used at least some of the time. English country dance survived well beyond the Baroque era and eventually spread in various forms across Europe and its colonies, and to all levels of society. See the article on English country dance for more information.
In addition to the social dances, there were also ballets, opera-ballets and other entertainments performed at court, as well as at theatres such as the Paris Opera. Much of the dancing in these productions was in the same style as the social dance, and shared the same basic steps. However as well as partner dances there were also solo dances, and dances for larger groups. The performers would wear sometimes outlandish costumes and masks, depending on the character they were portraying – often the fantastic characters of classical mythology, although shepherds and shepherdesses seemed to turn up rather a lot too.
The theatrical style built on the ballroom style with the addition of virtuoso steps – like cabrioles (jumps where you beat your legs together), entrechats (jumps where you cross your legs in the air several times) and pirouettes on one foot – and more complex combinations of the basic steps. Also the dancers were meant to portray characters so, while a god would dance in the Noble Style, more lowly characters like peasants, sailors, drunks or Harlequin would have characteristically “grotesque” motions.
Social dance styles
Other dance styles, such as the Italian and Spanish dances of the period are much less well studied than either English country dance or the French style. The general picture seems to be that during most of the 17th century, a style of late Renaissance dance was widespread, but as time progressed, French ballroom dances such as the minuet were widely adopted at fashionable courts. Beyond this, the evolution and cross-fertilisation of dance styles is an area of ongoing research.
Baroque Dancing Music
Baroque dance is linked closely to baroque music, which accompanied the dances. Among prominent baroque composers whose music was used for dancing included J.S. Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Jean-Baptiste Lully. These composers understood the steps associated with each dance and were able to compose music that paired naturally with the physical movements the dancers had to do.
Just like modern dancers, baroque dancers needed variety in their dances to accommodate different music, numbers of dancers, the dancers’ skill and the overall mood the dancer or dancers wanted to convey. Subsequently, many different types of baroque dances exist, each with their own steps and emphases. Some of the most popular included the courante, sarabande, allemande and gigue, although the bourrée, passacaglia, hornpipe, gavotte and chaconne also were common.
The Rise of Instrumental Music
During the Baroque era, instrumental music became as important as vocal music for the first time in history. New instruments were developed while old ones were vastly improved. Great virtuosos such as Bach and Handel at the organ, and Vivaldi on the violin (see Chapter 19 and 20), raised the technique of playing to new heights. On the whole, composers still thought in terms of line rather than instrumental color, which meant that the same line of music might be played on a string, a woodwind, or a brass instrument. But the late Baroque composers began to choose specific instruments according to their timbre, and they wrote more idiomatically for particular instruments, asking them to do what they could do best. As instrument designations became more precise, the art of orchestration was born.