Performed January 23, 2022 and January 31, 2021
Friends, it’s time to kick up our heels, French Baroque style. We can’t stop humming the earworms in these pieces… come on down and join us to shake off some winter blues!
When we premiered this concert in 2021, we asked renowned musicologist and Baroque dance expert (also Sylvia’s aunt) Judith Schwartz to prepare a lecture/demonstration of the dances involved. We’d like to share that with you again, click here to watch.
The reign of Louis XIV was significant in history for turning France from a feudal backwater plagued by wars, infighting and religious unrest into the cultural center of Enlightenment-era Europe. From his newly constructed palace-estate of Versailles, Louis presided over a revolution of etiquette, fashion, art, music… and dancing. Louis had all the nobles in court take dancing lessons, and participate in elaborate balls, serving the dual purpose of creating a new French culture and also keeping the nobility too busy to plot against him. The French dancing masters incorporated dances from all over Europe, adapting them to the sensibilities of the French court. The court composers wrote suites, or collections of dances, that could then be performed by musicians of the court. Here are some of the dances that appeared in these suites:
Prelude – Most suites started with a prelude movement, not a dance itself but serving to introduce the listener’s ear to the key and affect of the suite. Preludes were often solo fantasias, formlessly meandering through the key and its secondary keys. Others were written as French overtures, in a style made popular by the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully. These had a short section in a slow tempo, characterized by a stern military air and dotted rhythms, followed by a fast virtuosic section.
Allemande – This was the first actual dance of the suite. Originally German in origin, this dance is mostly a procession, with frequent bows to the King, to the audience, to one’s partner. The music is slow and stately, though composers often liked filling in the space between beats with running notes.
Courante – This is the French version of an Italian Corrente, a fast running dance. The French court slowed this dance down, and set it to a consistent triple meter, though it shifts rhythms often, particularly before cadences. The dance is based on a stylized run through the steps.
Sarabande – This is the slow dance of the Baroque era. Originally from Spain and quite lively, the Sarabande was slowed down for the French court. A typical French sarabande is moderately slow, in triple meter, and a Sarabande Grave (slow sarabande) is performed quite slowly, with a strong second beat.
Gigue – Based on the English (or Irish) Jig, this is a quick and lively dance, usually in six. Though this also got slowed down by the French court, it remains one of the liveliest dances in the suite. True to its origins, a gigue is performed with a quick hopping gait.
Gavotte – This had its roots as a French country dance. It is played in a rhythmic duple meter with a strong upbeat. This dance is commonly played as a Rondeau, where the music repeats the main melody after each new section.
Minuet – This dance is perhaps the most iconic of the dances, and continued to be in fashion through the end of the 18th century. Originally French, the minuet is a fairly simple triple-meter dance with a repeating dance step. Minuets were often composed in pairs, in parallel major and minor keys.
Though these dances were the most common, many other types of dances appeared in these suites. In addition, 18th-century dance suites often featured character pieces, illustrating a particular character or idea.
Morel’s Premier Suite in A minor contains a French-overture Prelude, an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande, a Gigue, a character piece “Le Breton” and a set of two Minuets. Rebel’s Troisième Suite in D contains a short Prelude, an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande, a Gigue, a Gavotte, a Minuet, a Rondeau and a character piece “Les Cloches” (the bells). You can keep track… or just dance along!
Sunday, January 23rd at 4pm PST/7pm EST, join us on YouTube for our livestream concert.
Suggested donation $20/household, or pay-what-you-can.
Donations above $20 gratefully accepted and go a long way in the musicians’ lives!
Patreon supporters get free access—join or log in here: https://patreon.com/gutsbaroque
The access link will be emailed to you on the day of the livestream, 90 minutes before concert time.
Jacques Morel: Suite 1 in a from Livre de pieces de violle
Jean-Féry Rebel: Suite 3 en D La Ré B Quare from Pieces pour le violon
The Program is available! Available as a full booklet or 1-page PDF: