The earliest notated and published dances for four appear in the recueils or collections of dances published in Paris annually from 1702.
Le Cotillon is from IIIIe Recueil de dances de bal pour l’année 1706.
Le Menuet à quatre is from Vme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1707.
Feuillet’s Le Passepied à quatre is from IX. Recueil de danses pour l’année 1711.
Another fourteen such recueils were published, the last being the XXIII Recueil de dances pour l’année 1725 issued by Dezais. Many of these later collections focussed on choreographies by the dancer and dancing master Balon. Only two include dances for four.
Balon’s La Gavotte du Roy is from XIIIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1716.
Dezais’s L’Italiene is from XVII. Recueil de dances pour l’année 1719.
Dezais must have recognised that these choreographies belonged to a different genre among the dances for the ballroom. In 1725 he issued a Premier livre de contre-dances, with at least five dances (out of nine) for four – Cotillon Hongrois à Quatre, L’Inconstante à Quatre, La Blonde à Quatre, La Brunne à Quatre and La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre. Was he responding to changes in fashion? Or was he aware that amateur dancers were tiring of the difficulties of the danses à deux and turning instead to less technically demanding and more sociable choreographies for larger groups?
The publication of dances in notation followed a very different pattern in England (another topic for a later post). Only one dance for four was ever published in London, Mr Holt’s Minuet and Jigg which appears in Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing of 1711. This collection of eleven dances was probably targeted at dancing masters specialising in the teaching of girls, who are the intended performers of all the choreographies. The dances are for three to twelve female dancers, with three female solos added in the second part of the collection. Only Mr Holt’s dance is for four.
A couple of years later, around 1713, The Nouveau recueil de dances de bal et celle de ballet included two dances for four, Pecour’s Menuet à Quatre and his Rigaudon à Quatre. These were among nine ballroom dances included at the beginning of what was, predominantly, a collection of theatrical choreographies performed by leading stars at the Paris Opéra.
The publication of dances in notation all but ceased after 1725. Among other factors contributing to their demise, they had perhaps become less popular with the provincial dancing masters who seem to have formed an important market for these publications. Over a twenty-year period times, and tastes, had changed.
No more dances are known to have appeared in notation until 1765, when Magny’s Principes de Choregraphie was published in Paris. Magny included eleven choreographies in his treatise. Several of them were old favourites – duets from the early 1700s – but one, Le Quadrille, was for four dancers.
A few years later, in 1771, the dancing master Clement published his own Principes de Coregraphie (both he and Magny drew on Choregraphie, Feuillet’s 1700 treatise on dance notation). He accompanied it with two dances for four, a Passepied and an Allemande. By this time, the most popular of the ballroom dances was the cotillon or contredanse française for eight. Did the dances for four provide welcome relief from the frenetic demands of cotillons?
French dances, and dance notation, spread throughout Europe during the 18th century. A Spanish/Portuguese manuscript dating to 1751 records several choreographies popular much earlier in the century. It also includes a ‘Minuet a quatre figuret’ attributed to Pecour. The dance is not the same as his Menuet à Quatre of some forty years earlier.
What can we learn from the individual dances for four and from the contexts within which they were published?