The most famous ballroom duet of the 18th century was undoubtedly Aimable Vainqueur. Pecour’s choreography was first performed before Louis XIV at Marly early in 1701 and published in notation later that same year.
By the time the dance appeared in Magny’s Principes de Choregraphie in 1765 it had been printed at least ten times. It also features in four manuscript collections of choreographies. Did all these copies drive the duet’s popularity, or did they simply reflect it?
Pecour took his music from Campra’s opera Hésione, given its premiere at the Paris Opéra in December 1700. Hésione proved popular, enjoying three revivals by 1743. Pecour was obviously quick to capitalise on its success. I will say more about the duet’s original performances in another post. Aimable Vainqueur attracted attention beyond the French court. A new notation by the dancing master Richard Shirley was published in London in 1715. The dance was mentioned by Taubert in his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister published in Leipzig 1717. John Weaver included it, under the title The Louvre in response to its dance type – a loure, in the second edition of Orchesography (his translation of Feuillet’s treatise Choregraphie) which appeared in the early 1720s.
I haven’t pursued the performance history of Aimable vainqueur at the French court and in Paris, but it was first performed on the London stage on 14 May 1726 at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre by Dupré and Mrs Wall. He was not ‘le grand’ Dupré, as is often claimed, but he was probably French and may have been from the same family. The dance was almost always titled The Louvre in advertisements for its stage performances, perhaps following Weaver. It wasn’t given again until 5 April 1731, when Francis Sallé performed it at Lincoln’s Inn Fields with his sister Marie. Thereafter it quickly became a staple of the benefit performances of London’s leading dancers.
The dancer responsible for the popularity of Aimable Vainqueur on the London stage was probably Leach Glover, French-trained and a leading dancer at the Covent Garden Theatre. Glover performed The Louvre at his annual benefit performances from 1731 (when he partnered Marie Sallé) to 1741 (when he danced it with the Italian ballerina Barbara Campanini, known as ‘La Barberina’). Other leading dancers to perform Aimable Vainqueur regularly at benefit performances included Michael Lally, who pursued a very successful career in London’s theatres, and later Augustin Noverre, brother of the famous ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre. The last recorded performance of The Louvre on the London stage was on 23 April 1777 at Drury Lane, when the Miss Stageldoirs danced it with a Minuet and an Allemande. The bills are silent on whether one of the girls danced in ‘boy’s clothes’ although, given their repertoire together, this is quite likely.
What choreography did these dancers actually perform? I cannot give a definitive answer, but as well as the dance recorded in notation in 1701 there are some interesting possibilities. I will consider these in a later post.
I wonder if the dance Gennaro Magri presents in his treatise he calls “La Charmente, the Amabile” is related? He writes that it was once very popular but then fell into disuse. In his book he writes that he is reviving it by filling it with new steps and adds new music and states it is new in every way except for name. Indeed a cursory comparison of the two dances shows little similarity except for that it is a duet and both are lovely dances. But the name “Amabile” is curious?
I’m inclined to think that he was indeed referring to Aimable Vainqueur, although there seems to be no evidence to prove it beyond doubt. This duet was apparently very widely known. I guess you have come across the manuscript notation in a Portuguese source, which records a version which has ornamentation on many of the steps and adds a minuet to complete the choreography. Minuets were quite often added to this and other early French ballroom dances when they were performed on the London stage. More research would probably throw up all sorts of other links.