The first dance in the 1725 Premier livre de contre-dances is the Cotillon Hongrois for four. I cannot identify with certainty a person or an event that might have inspired the name ‘Hongrois’ but in this post I will explore the wider context for the dance and put forward a suggestion.
Hungary was the largest territory within the Habsburg Austrian monarchy. Charles VI was Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of Austria and King of Hungary from 1711 until 1740. He was also Prince of Transylvania, which had once been part of Hungary and retained strong links with that country. The history of the area in the 17th and early 18th centuries is complex. I will not even attempt to summarise it, except to say that events there influenced and were influenced by what was happening in the rest of Europe.
In his XIIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715, Dezais included La Transilvanie a ballroom duet by Claude Ballon. This choreography has some resemblance to a cotillon. The music is in duple time and, according to Francine Lancelot in La Belle Dance, it is very similar to a gavotte. The musical structure is AABACAA. The choreographic structure has ‘verses’ and a repeated ‘chorus’. The step sequence for the opening section is used again for the third and fourth A repeats, although the direction of travel and the floor pattern is varied each time. This, of course, is the collection in which Dezais advertises his manuscript versions of contredanses for eight, two of which (Le Cotillon de Surenne and L’Esprit Follet) were finally printed in 1725. Although it is not mentioned, was the Cotillon Hongrois another dance that significantly predated its appearance in the Premier livre?
There may, perhaps, be a specific reason for the name La Transilvanie. Before the accession of Charles VI in 1711, the Prince of Transylvania had been Francis II Rácóczi. He led an unsuccessful uprising in Hungary in the early 1700s, with initial encouragement from the French. Between 1713 and 1717 he was in exile in France. Was La Transilvanie dedicated to him? Does the Cotillon Hongrois date to the mid-1710s rather than the mid-1720s and does it refer to Rácóczi and his exploits in Hungary?
A portrait of Rákoczi shows him in dress similar to a hussar. Did this depiction influence the Hungarian dances that were popular on the London stage in the 1720s and 1730s? I will look at these in a separate post.