Lully and the Development of Baroque Dance

Jean-Baptiste Lully was the composer traditionally credited with creating a distinct French Baroque style, as opposed to the Italian style—which was the original Baroque style. Ironically, Lully was himself Italian, born in Florence, but his musical education was French. He went to Paris as a young teenager into the household of the Chevalier de Guise. In Paris, he studied composition, dance, and various instruments: violin, guitar, organ, and harpsichord. Dance was a quintessential part of all his music, even the sacred choral music, present by implication in the rhythm and shape even if not through the explicit presence of dancers. Between 1664 and 1670 he collaborated with the other “Baptiste,” the playwright Molière, on a series of comédie-ballets, ending with Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in 1670. Because of the high favor in which Lully was held by Louis XIV, he was able to make the musical side of the production predominant, so that one contemporary described it as a “ballet composed of six entrées accompanied by a comedy.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that his partnership with Moliere came to an end soon after.

Louis XIV of France established the Academie Royale de Danse in 1661. Pierre Beauchamps, director of the Academie and dancing master to the king, began work on a method for inscribing dances, but it was another dancing master, Raoul-Auger Feuillet, who actually published a system of dance notation in 1700, Chorégraphie. Several hundred theatrical and ballroom dances from the 18th Century survive in this system of dance notation. Except for Ballet des Fleurs, which they have choreographed in 18th- century style, Ms. Whitley-Bauguess and Mr. Baird have reconstructed dances for today’s program from these original sources.

Ballroom dancing was taken very seriously in the court of Louis XIV. At a formal ball, courtiers presented the steps and figures of a minuet one couple at a time while the court observed. The simple steps used in the ballroom served as the basis for more difficult and elaborate steps used in the theatre. Multiple turns on one leg (pirouettes), beating both legs together in the air (batterie), and “waving” the legs and feet (pas tortillées) are all characteristics of the theatrical style of dance and define Baroque dance as the precursor of Classical Ballet.

The Entrée d’Apolon is one of the finest examples of a virtuosic, theatrical dance in the noble style for a male dancer. Louis XIV was known for portraying Apollo, god of the sun, in numerous court entertainments, thereby acquiring the sobriquet, “the sun king.” This duple-meter dance type, entrée grave, is written in the grand style of the French Overture. It was choreographed by Feuillet (1700) with two dance steps per measure as opposed to the usual one step per measure. The mask in 18th-century theatrical dancing was used to obscure the familiar aspect of the dancer, allowing the audience as well as the performer to focus on the movement quality of a particular character being portrayed.

The full title of the Passacaille, published in 1713, indicates that it was danced by the celebrated Paris Opéra danceuse, Subligny, who appeared on the English stage during a tour to London sometime between 1700 and 1702 (Mlle. Subligny en Angleterre de l’ opéra d’Armide). The passacaille is the longest of Baroque dance types, and in this case, one of the most demanding dances in the solo female repertoire, requiring stamina, technical prowess, and a range of movement qualities.

A Pastoral Suite pays homage to the bucolic scenes populated by shepherds and shepherdesses in many theatrical entertainments of the period. French dancing masters and musicians were regularly imported to England and other European countries during the 17th and 18th centuries. “The Pastoral performed by a Gentleman and Menuet performd” by Mrs. Santlow were published in A New Collection of Dances (ca. 1725) by Anthony L’Abbé, a French dancing master working in England. This publication contains notated theatrical solos and duets performed by English and French dance stars of the London stage. The music for the Pastoral is by James Paisible, another Frenchman in England, and is written in two parts: louré, a distinctively French dance type, and hornpipe, particular to England. The Menuet, performed by the famous English dancer and actress Hester Santlow, is comprised of numerous theatrical variations on the basic, 6-count, social menuet step. The three duets in this suite are by Louis-Guillaume Pécour, perhaps the premier Parisian dancing master.

Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s first opera-ballet, Les Indes Galantes, premiered in August of 1735. Consisting of five unrelated entrées, a different plot unfolds in each exotic locale: the palace of Hébé, Turkey, Peru, Persia, and the forests of North America. As the original dances were not preserved in notation, the dances have been choreographed in 18th-century style. The finale of the Persian entrée, Ballet des Fleurs, depicts “the fate of flowers in a garden.” La Rose, queen of the flowers, presides over her fragrant domain. Her peacefulness is interrupted by a storm bringing Borée, the North Wind, who blows her furiously about. His final whirlwind overwhelms La Rose. She is then revived by Zéphire, the warm, gentle breeze. The premier cast included Marie Sallé as La Rose, Monsieur Javillier as Borée and Monsieur David Dumoulin as Zéphire. This choreography was premiered in Williamsburg, Virginia in November, 1994.

Copyright © 2000, Paige Whitley-Baugess

Bach & the “Brandenburg” Concerti

In 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach sent a beautifully written-out score of six concerti grossi to the Margrave of Brandenburg. (Brandenburg is a suburb of Berlin, and this Margrave was the uncle of the king of Prussia, and great-uncle to the future King Frederick the Great, for whom C. P. E. Bach worked for many years.) Bach had visited Berlin in 1719 to pick up a new harpsichord for the court of Anhalt-Cöthen where he was employed, and apparently met and played for the Margrave then. The dedication on the 1721 manuscript, addressed to the Margrave, mentions that he had asked for Bach to send some examples of his work. However, Bach did not compose six new concerti during the two-year interval: rather, he revised and expanded six existing pieces. Some came from as recently as 1719—the 5th Concerto with its solo harpsichord part was composed to celebrate the arrival of the above-mentioned new harpsichord; but the original music for the 3rd Concerto apparently dates back about 10 years to Bach’s time as Court Organist for the Duke of Weimar.

The reason that Bach went to the trouble of selecting, revising, and copying the six concerti is not known for sure. It was not a commission, and he received no fee for the music. More likely he intended it as an implicit job-application. Outwardly Bach’s six years at the ducal court of Anhalt-Cöthen were happy and rewarding; but his first wife had just died there, and he was a devout, orthodox Lutheran working at a Calvinist court, where he could not advance his lifelong ambition of creating a “well-regulated church music,” and had adolescent sons for whom he wanted a good (Lutheran) university education. However, the Margrave did not take the bait, and Bach had to wait until 1723 to move to the city of Leipzig.

Most of Bach’s contemporaries, when they published a set of six or twelve concerti, assembled a group with similar, or even identical, instrumentation; but Bach’s set of six for Brandenburg have the widest diversity of colors of any Baroque music. The 1st and 2nd have unique mixtures of brass, winds, and strings; the 5th combines a flute and a violin with—for the first time ever—a solo-part for the harpsichord; the 4th mixes solo violin with a subsidiary solo-group of two recorders. The 3rd and the 6th, on the other hand, use only strings, which seems on the surface more traditional. Looking deeper reveals highly original ways of combining string instruments. The standard complement was in four or five parts: two violins, one or two violas, and bass (consisting of cello and bass). The 3rd Brandenburg has instead three groups of three—three violins, three violas, and three cellos—supported by a bass section of bass and harpsichord, which allows a dizzying array of combinations. Each one of the nine soloists can play alone, or all three within a section can play together in unison, or each section can present a full three-voice harmony within itself and in dialogue with the other sections. The 6th is even more unorthodox. There are no violins at all; the solo instruments are the two violas with the cello, with a bass and keyboard, and two violas-da-gamba to fill out the texture.

The 3rd concerto employs and extreme economy, of thematic resources, in contrast to the richness of tonal resources. The first movement is derived entirely from a single theme which is heard in unison at the very beginning. After this theme is developed in various instrumental combinations, when it returns in its original key it is joined by another theme of very simple triadic outline. The second movement consists merely of two chords: presumably one of the two leaders of the ensemble (the first violinist or the harpsichordist) were expected to improvise something which would then end with those two chords from the orchestra. The final movement is a whirling gigue, based—like the opening movement—on a single theme.

The 6th concerto exercises almost as strict an economy. At the very first, the two violas play a very close canon (one playing precisely the same melody as the other, except one 8th-note later) over static harmonies. This section forms the “ritornello” for the movement, the recurring refrain which binds the form together. The intervening solo-sections, for the two violas and cello without the viols or the basses, use new melodies which are nevertheless based on the ritornello. This concerto does have a proper slow movement, which is a rapturous duet for the violas, with an elaborate bass line in the cello supported by the bass and harpsichord outlining the rich harmonies. The two viols, which were silent in the slow movement, rejoin in the final one: as in so many of Bach’s concerti and sonatas, this is a lively but intricate gigue.

Copyright © 2000, Daniel Pyle