Category Archives: The Minuet

The Menuet à Quatre: Figures

In my last post about the four French notated menuets à quatre, I promised to look at the figures. How do these differ between the choreographies? Where are they the same? How do they relate to the ballroom menuet à deux? These are just some of the questions to be asked.

An obvious first question is – how do each of these minuets for four begin? Presumably they all open with a révérence, although none of the notations show this. Perhaps the révérence took the same form as in the minuet for a couple, who honour the presence and then each other. In the case of the menuet à quatre, the first honour would therefore be to the facing couple. Or were the honours reversed, as they are in the later quadrille, so the first révérence is to your own partner and the second to your opposite? In any case, all four dances begin with the two couples facing each other.

Only two of the dances begin in the same way. The very first plates of the 1706 Menuet à Quatre and the 1751 Menuet aquatre figuret show the dancers performing two pas de menuet forwards and two backwards. In his Menuet à Quatre of c1713, Pecour has his couples moving sideways to the left, moving forwards to cross (right shoulders) on a diagonal and curling round to face one another again. His figure is an obvious allusion to the ‘Z’ figure of the ballroom minuet. Although the ‘Z’ figure is also referenced in the other choreographies, Pecour’s version in this dance is the most straightforward. Dezais begins La Carignan with a contredanse figure, in which each dancer casts out and then changes places with their partner.

How do these dances end? In both his Menuet à Quatre of c1713 and his Menuet aquatre figuret, Pecour has his dancers moving forwards and then backwards to end in a final révérence. In the earlier dance, they balancé forwards and back, do two pas de menuet backwards and their final coupé soutenue (which is on opposite feet) brings them together. His later choreography is simpler. The dancers do two pas de menuet forwards, one backwards and also move towards one another on the final coupé soutenue. The 1706 Menuet à Quatre has the dancers, in couples, taking inside hands and crossing (left shoulders) on a diagonal before sweeping around to return to place for the final révérence. The figure alludes to the minuet’s ‘Z’ figure but seems closer to a contredanse figure. Dezais draws on the final figure of the ballroom minuet, with his couples each taking both hands to end La Carignan, although they do so for only one pas de menuet before letting go with their outside hands for one pas de menuet forwards and one backwards before the final step into the révérence.

Taking right hands, taking left hands and taking both hands all feature in these dances for four, but transmuted into their contredanse counterparts. The 1706 Menuet à Quatre has a right hand and a left hand moulinet as well as a rond with all the dancers holding hands. Pecour’s c1713 Menuet à Quatre adds variations when taking right and left hands, for the ladies have to wait for the opposite man to cross the set to take right hands  and the men then have to wait for their partners to do the same before taking left hands. The plate for the rond shows the dancers only taking inside hands with their opposite, although each couple ends in their original place. Apart from briefly taking both hands in the final figure, Dezais’s dancers do only a right hand moulinet. He dispenses entirely with any equivalent of taking left hands.

In his Menuet aquatre figuret, Pecour runs through all the various permutations on taking hands, but this dance is a cotillon so perhaps they should be seen as changes and not as minuet figures at all. Working in couples, his dancers take right hands then left hands. After a repeat of the figure, they take both hands to move first clockwise and then anti-clockwise. The notation then has another circling figure, with a notation for taking hands that I have not seen before and cannot readily interpret.

Pecour Minuet aquatre figuret 34 detail

Pecour, Menuet aquatre figuret (notated 1751), plate 34 (detail).

Are the couples holding hands behind their backs or could this be an allemande hold? The notation for the latter is quite different in Pecour’s L’Allemande of 1702, the dance in which the hold was first recorded.

Pecour Allemande 2

Pecour, L’Allemande (1702), plate 2

Pecour then brings the four dancers together for a right hand and left hand moulinet. They all hold hands in a circle to dance clockwise and then anti-clockwise. As a final flourish, he makes them all face outwards for a rond clockwise and then anti-clockwise. This last change must have needed a bit of practice.

None of the choreographers of these minuets for four entirely loses sight of the ballroom minuet for a couple, but all have more than half an eye on contredanse figures. On the evidence of these notations, the menuet à quatre retained the challenge of the pas de menuet, but put it in a context that relinquished the ordeal of scrutiny by the assembled company in favour of the relaxed pleasure of dancing with them.


The Menuet à Quatre: Steps

What can we learn from a more detailed scrutiny of the four menuets à quatre surviving in notation? The first question to ask is do they bear any relation to the ballroom minuet? I’ll begin my answer with the steps.

The anonymous Menuet à Quatre of 1706 uses pas de menuet à deux mouvements throughout most of the dance. These travel forwards in all but one of the figures, in which the step moves sideways to the left. Although, in three figures, the final pas de menuet ends with two steps backwards. The dance concludes with coupé soutenue en arrière into a révérence. after the music ends.

Pecour’s Menuet à Quatre of around 1713 uses both the pas de menuet à deux mouvements and the pas de menuet à trois mouvements. The latter are used only when travelling sideways to the left. Pecour occasionally adds ornaments – a battu after the first step of the pas de menuet in one case and a three-quarter turn on the third step in another. His final figure begins with pas balancé forwards and backwards and ends with a pas de bourrée and coupé soutenue into the final révérence.

In La Carignan in 1725, Dezais uses both pas de menuet à deux mouvements and pas de menuet à trois mouvements. The latter are used only when travelling sideways to the left. He adds pas balancés to several figures, forward and back (ornamented with a battu) and side to side. His final step uses a coupé plus coupé soutenue for the man and coupé plus pas de bourrée for the woman, taking both dancers into a révérence.

The Menuet aquatre figuret, attributed to Pecour when it was written down in 1751, uses pas de menuet à deux mouvements throughout (even when travelling to the left – as does the 1706 Menuet à Quatre). It ends with coupé and coupé soutenue for the man and pas de bourrée with coupé soutenue for the woman, into the closing révérence.

All these dances follow the conventions of the ballroom minuet, at least so far as the steps are concerned. They do, of course, use a narrower range of steps than the latter. Perhaps this should be expected in dances where the figures, or at least the ever-changing spatial relationships between the dancers, are more complex than in the danse à deux. What about the figures in these dances for four? I’ll make that the subject of my next post.

Enjoying the Minuet ‘à Quatre’

About three years ago, I wrote some posts about dances for four. With the earlier ones, I speculated that they were more enjoyable than the danses à deux because they were less technically demanding. This very obviously applied to the minuets ‘à quatre’ of which five survive in notation.

Le Menuet à Quatre. Anonymous, 1706.

Minuet & Jigg. Mr Holt, 1711

Menuet à Quatre. Pecour, c1713

Minuet aquatre figuret. Pecour, [1700-1725? Manuscript collection compiled 1751]

La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre. Dezais, 1725

I discussed Mr Holt’s Minuet & Jigg back in 2015, so this time round I will look just at the four French choreographies.

Unlike the English dance, the French ones are all simply minuets using the pas de menuet pretty well throughout. Before I analyse each of them in more detail, here are some facts and figures for comparison.

The anonymous Menuet à Quatre appears in Feuillet’s Vme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1707 published in 1706. It is the last of the three dances in that collection, the other two being danses à deux. The source of the music has not been identified, although it does appear in a set of ‘Suites de danses … qui se joüent ordinairement à tous les bals chez le Roy’ dated to the first decade of the 18th century. In his Avertissement for the collection, Feuillet says that the minuet is ‘si en vogue qu’il ne se fait aucune assemblée où il ne soit dansé’, adding that he has ‘pris le 1er air qui m’a tombé sous la main car tous les menuets y sont également bons’. The choreography has the musical structure AABBAAB (A=B=4) and is short, with only 28 bars in 6/4.

Pecour’s Menuet à Quatre appears in the Nouveau recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet published by Gaudrau around 1713. This collection brings together 9 ballroom dances and 30 theatre choreographies, with the Menuet à Quatre as the last but one of the ballroom dances. The musical source has not been identified. The choreography has the musical structure ABACABACA (A=B=C=8) giving a rondeau form and 36 bars in 6/4 (the music is written in 3). Again, this dance is short. In his Preface to the collection, Gaudrau tells us that Pecour’s choreography was danced at the last ball at Marly (Louis XIV’s country retreat, where the King could relax away from the rigorous etiquette of Versailles).

Dezais includes La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre in his Premier livre de contredances published in 1725. Little or no research has been done on this collection (which does not feature either in the Little & March 1992 catalogue La Danse Noble or Lancelot’s La Belle Dance of 1996) so I cannot tell whether there is a concordance for the music. This choreography uses a musical structure 3 x AABB (A=B=4). At 48 bars of 6/4 music it is a little longer than its predecessors.

The Minuet aquatre figuret by Pecour is recorded in the manuscript compiled by the dancing master Felix Kinski in Oporto in 1751. It appears among other French ballroom choreographies, presumably brought together (and taught) by Kinski. This minuet for four is very different from the others. The choreography’s music, for which no source has been identified, has the structure 7 x AABB + AA (A=8 B=16) with 120 bars in 6/4 (the music is written in 3). The dance has a ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure very much like a cotillon. As I mentioned in posts back in 2014, the form of the cotillon goes back at least as far as 1705 and Feuillet’s ballroom dance for four entitled Le Cotillon. Such dances seem to have been popular around 1715-1725, so perhaps Pecour’s choreography belongs to that period.

What do these facts and figures tell us? The evidence confirms a couple of things. One is that menuets à quatre were danced at French royal balls and were popular lower down the social scale. Another is that, like the menuet à deux, they could be danced to any minuet music (though, perhaps, the A, B and, sometimes, C strains needed to be the right length).

I will address other questions in later posts, for example how the menuets à quatre relate to the menuet à deux as recorded by Pierre Rameau in his 1725 treatise Le Maître a danser and how they relate to each other.

Anon Menuet a Quatre 1

Anonymous. Le Menuet à Quatre (Paris, 1706), First plate.

Prince Frederick

Prince Frederick, ‘A New Dance’ by Anthony L’Abbé, was notated and published in 1725 by Edmund Pemberton.

Prince Frederick Title Page

L’Abbé, Prince Frederick (1725), Title Page

The title indicates that the dance was dedicated to the eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales (who would soon become King George II and Queen Caroline). The publication of the dance was advertised in the Evening Post for 9-11 March 1725. The date links it to Caroline’s birthday on 1 March, although the bare description of it as ‘A New Dance’ suggests that it was not performed at court. I have not been able to find any record of a court ball in honour of the Princess’s birthday that year.

Prince Frederick was still in Hanover, where he had remained as the representative of the electoral family when his parents travelled to England in 1714 following the accession of his grandfather (Elector of Hanover) to the British throne as George I. In 1725, Frederick turned 18 and thus officially came of age. This event was celebrated in Hanover, where the festivities included a ball at which Frederick opened the dancing with the Countess Amalie von Platen (who may have been the daughter of George I). Perhaps L’Abbé intended his ballroom dance to honour Frederick’s majority and be a compliment to the prince’s mother. If so, it was unlikely to have found favour in London – both of the prince’s parents disliked him.

L’Abbé’s Prince Frederick is described on the notation as a ‘Slow Minuet’. The music has been identified as a song The Beauteous Cloe. The single-sheet version is undated (although ascribed a date of 1715 or 1720 in some sources). It also appears in A Choice Collection of English Songs Set to Musick by Mr Handel, published by John Walsh around 1730. It has been further identified as a reworking of Teofane’s aria ‘S’io dir potessi’ in act 2 of Handel’s 1723 opera Ottone. If, as has been suggested, Handel himself transformed the aria into the song, he must have been happy to do so soon after the first performances of Ottone on the London stage. Did he perhaps revise the music for the ball dance first? Handel was employed by George I at the same period as L’Abbé was dancing master to the King’s grand-daughters. The two must have known one another, and Handel – like L’Abbé – may have wished to honour Prince Frederick, who would in due course become Prince of Wales and might one day be king.

The description ‘Slow Minuet’ on the notation cannot be taken too literally, but it accords more with the slow sad aria of Ottone than the lively light-hearted song The Beauteous Cloe. I am currently working on L’Abbé’s Prince Frederick so I will return to the choreography and its interpretation in a later post.

The minuet versus the waltz

An early dance friend recently suggested to me that the 19th-century waltz is more difficult than the 18th-century minuet and invited me to discuss the idea. So, here goes.

I have danced many minuets over the years and I am well acquainted with the challenges of the ballroom minuet, as described by Pierre Rameau in Le Maître a danser (1725) and Kellom Tomlinson in The Art of Dancing (1735). I am nowhere near as practised in the early waltz. My friend did not specify any particular version, so I will look at Thomas Wilson’s A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816).

The minuet was the duet that opened 18th-century formal balls. It was danced one couple at a time before the scrutiny of all the other guests. It was, in effect, an exhibition ballroom dance. This did not mean that it was slow and stately, 18th-century minuets were lively and quite fast dances. It had specific steps and figures (floor patterns) that had to be performed in a set order. It also allowed for some improvisation, mainly through the use of ‘grace steps’ in place of the conventional vocabulary. Controlled and elegant deportment was essential, not least to enable the partners to manage and display their elaborate attire, including the gentleman’s hat.

What was difficult about the minuet? Apart from the pressure of performance, both the steps and the figures were exacting. Minuet music is in  3 / 4 but the basic pas de menuet takes two bars of music, so four steps have to be fitted into six musical beats. There are two main timings, and both could be used within a ballroom minuet. The contretemps du menuet, the other basic step, had another different timing over six beats. All the steps of the minuet require a great deal of practice if they are to be performed with ease and elegance. There are five figures: the opening figure; the Z-figure; taking right hands; taking left hands; taking both hands, which is the closing figure of the dance. The Z-figure is the principal figure of the minuet. It can repeated at will and is often, but not always, reprised just before the final figure. Some idea of the steps and figures of the minuet is given by Kellom Tomlinson’s notation of the dance.

Kellom Tomlinson. The Art of Dancing (1735), Plate U

Kellom Tomlinson. The Art of Dancing (1735), Plate U

At balls, the minuet was addressed to the two highest ranking members of the audience, referred to as ‘the presence’. The dancers had to begin and end facing them and the figures had to be oriented in relation to them. The accurate performance of the figures, as well as their placing and orientation within the dancing space, needs a great deal of practice.

Musically the minuet was challenging. The couple could begin their dance at any point in the music (taking care to start on an odd-numbered bar), so their dance figures would inevitably cross the musical structure and phrasing at several points. Tomlinson tries to suggest such musical challenges in his notation of the minuet. This, too, needs much practice to master.

What about the waltz? How difficult was it? The waltz was always danced with a number of couples on the floor at any one time. It was a social dance and not meant as a display piece. Wilson distinguished between the French waltz and the German waltz. The French waltz began with the ‘Slow Waltz’, changed to the ‘Sauteuse Waltz’ and ended with the ‘Jetté, or Quick Sauteuse Waltz’. As the titles suggest, the dance got progressively faster. Each of these little waltzes had its own steps. In the slow waltz, these were a half-turn pirouette and a pas de bourée, over two bars of 3 / 4 music. The rhythmic pattern is reminiscent of the simplest timing of the basic pas de menuet. I can’t help feeling there was a link between them. The sauteuse waltz replaces the pirouette with a jetté-step combination and makes the first step of the pas de bourée a jetté. The jetté or quick sauteuse waltz had just one step,  a jetté-hop combination, performed first on one foot and then on the other. Wilson’s explanations are not entirely clear and I am radically condensing them. It is obvious, though, that these steps need practice if they are to be well performed.

The German waltz was Wilson’s undoubted favourite.

‘The Construction of the Movements is truly elegant; and, when they are well performed, afford subject of much pleasing Amusement and Delight.’

This version of the waltz had two quite different, and slightly more complicated, steps than those in the French waltz. In all Wilson’s versions of the waltz, the dancers needed good deportment but – just as their dress was freer than in the 18th century – a degree of informality was acceptable.

There are no figures in the waltz, which simply follows a circular track around the dancing space with the partners turning as they go. The dance is not directed at those who may be watching. It simply tries to make best use of the available dancing space.

Thomas Wilson. A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816), plate

Thomas Wilson. A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816), plate

One of the most complicated aspects of the early 19th-century waltz is the varieties of what would today be called ‘hold’. Wilson’s pretty frontispiece shows several of these.

Thomas Wilson. A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816), frontispiece

Thomas Wilson. A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816), frontispiece

The partners had to change hold as they dance. I suggest that this would have taken quite a bit of practice, certainly rather more than the basic steps. This is one area where the waltz is definitely more difficult than the minuet, in which the partners merely take hands from time to time.

Musically the waltz does not pose challenges. The dancers could start anywhere (although, like the minuet, on an odd bar) and they didn’t need to worry about musical structure or phrasing since the waltz is repetitious. However, they did need to worry about being in time with each other and fitting their steps and turns around each other. Again, this would have taken practice, just as it does with the modern waltz. There was also the speed of the dance, at least with the sauteuse and jetté or quick sauteuse waltzes, which made neat footwork a challenge. Giddiness with all the turning was perhaps seen as a pleasure rather than a difficulty.

So, which dance do I think was the most difficult? It has to be the minuet, for its status as an exhibition dance, the complexity of its steps and figures and the challenges of its musicality. The waltz has its fair share of challenges, but a simple early 19th-century waltz can be learned and enjoyed quite quickly. There is no such thing as a simple ballroom minuet.

Does Authenticity Matter?

Two performances I’ve seen recently brought the topic of authenticity back into my mind. Both were minuets that reminded me of ‘baroque dance’ I’d seen a good few years ago which owed very little to the surviving 18th-century dance manuals and notations.

In an earlier post, I voiced my uncertainty, and my scepticism, about ‘authenticity’ in historic dance. Yet, these performances reminded me that authenticity does sometimes matter. One took place in a gallery with a wonderful collection of 18th-century fine and decorative arts. The other was in a historic house dating originally from the mid-1700s. Both called for performances that were true to their surroundings in terms of style and technique.  Expert knowledge of the treasures on show, as well as accessibility, is important to galleries and historic houses open to the public. Why should the occasional dance performances in such venues be exempt from the same values?

One reason is, of course, the status of dancing – seen as merely a frivolous pastime rather than a socially and culturally significant art form.  Another is the widespread ignorance of the dancing of the 18th century. It is all too often seen as simple yet full of affectation – very far from the classically inspired beauties of the surviving choreographies. Yet another is the fixation on costume, at the expense of the dancing – even though deportment, so important to the correct wearing of period costume, was of fundamental importance in the 18th century. I should say here, that I believe that costuming does matter. After all, whatever the period, the dancing of the past was crafted around the prevailing style of dress – as indeed are modern dance genres.

The steps described in 18th-century manuals, as well as the choreographies preserved in notation bear witness to a refined and sophisticated style and technique in the ballroom as well as in the theatre. None of the modern attempts at ‘baroque dance’ routines I have seen come close to the originals for variety, energy or elegance. The dances of the 1700s reflect the complexities of the other arts of the period – from music to garden design. All share the same aesthetic space.

Unfortunately, baroque dance is difficult. It takes a great deal of time and much hard work to master. An effortless performance of the minuet is the result of years of practice of the steps and figures described in the original sources. I am uncertain whether any of the dancers in the performances I saw really understood that such work either could or should be done. I don’t want to enter into a critique of either of the ‘minuets’ on show, but I can’t help feeling sad that such a beautiful dance and such a wonderful dance form should still be so little known and so often poorly represented. The visitors to those and other wonderful places that preserve the material evidence of 18th-century life surely deserve better.



Le Menuet d’Espagne

I have been meaning to return to the minuet for a while, and I would like to open my discussions with a choreographed version of this most revered of ballroom dances. Le Menuet d’Espagne by Dezais was published in his XIII Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715 alongside Balon’s La Transilvanie (discussed in an earlier post). The collection appeared early in the year, aimed at the carnival season which took place several months before the death of Louis XIV on 1 September.

Le Menuet d’Espagne is one of a number of choreographed minuets published in notation during the 18th century. There are about 20 in all and a dozen or so of them date to the early 1700s. Among all these dances are several minuets for four, figured minuets for larger groups of dancers, solo minuets (mostly intended for the stage) and minuets within dance suites that display a number of different dance types in a single choreography. I will return to each of these in due course.

The music for Le Menuet d’Espagne is a rondeau with the structure ABACA (A has sixteen bars, B and C each have eight bars), but the source of the tune has not so far been identified. The choreography is almost a ballroom minuet in miniature. The steps are limited to pas de menuet à deux mouvements, pas de menuet à trois mouvements and contretemps du menuet, with just a couple of agréments or grace steps. The figures are essentially those of the ballroom minuet. The minuet’s opening figure has been simplified. The Z figure has been freely adapted – the sideways steps at the beginning and end are there, together with the crossing of the dancers, but the order of these elements, the paths of the dancers and the spatial relationships between them are quite different. The taking of right hands, then left hands and the closing figure, in which the dancers take both hands, are all clearly recognisable. The whole dance has just 64 bars of music, rather shorter than was expected for a ballroom minuet.

Why is this very French choreography titled Le Menuet d’Espagne? Could it have been a compliment to King Philip V of Spain, grandson of Louis XIV, who had married his second wife Elisabeth Farnese on 24 December 1714? Their proxy marriage on 16 September 1714 would have allowed Dezais plenty of time to create a new ballroom dance honouring the couple. What better duet to choose than a minuet,  performed at royal and other formal balls before (and sometimes by) the highest ranking guests?

I would like to have included a video of this charming duet, but the version I had in mind is not so far available on YouTube. Here is the close of the dance in notation, showing the couple taking both hands as they retreat from the presence.

Dezais. Le Menuet d’Espagne (Paris, 1715), final plate

Dezais. Le Menuet d’Espagne (Paris, 1715), final plate