Tag Archives: Augustin Noverre

Aimable Vainqueur on the London stage

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.

Pecour. Aimable Vainqueur (Paris, 1701), Title page

Pecour. Aimable Vainqueur (Paris, 1701), Title page

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.

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Cotillon Balls in 1769

In 1769, cotillon balls were even more popular than they had been the year before. The earliest advertisement of the year appeared in the Public Advertiser for 27 February 1769.

‘Mr. Noverre’s Ball will be where it was last Year, on Wednesday the First of March. Tickets at Half a Guinea each; to be had only of his Scholars, or at his House in Surry-street in the Strand. … After the Minuets and French Cotillons till Ten o’Clock by Mr. Noverre’s Scholars, there will be a Ball and Refreshments for those Ladies and Gentlemen who Honour him with their Company.’

A later advertisement provided the additional information ‘The Doors to be opened at half an Hour after Six. Minuets to begin at seven precisely’. The time devoted to minuets and cotillons was extended to ten-thirty.

Mr. Noverre was Augustin, younger brother of the famous choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre. Augustin pursued a career as a dancer and dancing master in England, publishing at least two collections of cotillons and other dances. He later moved to Norwich, where he established his son Francis as a leading dancing master. He is one of very few dancers and dancing masters of the period for whom we have a portrait.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Augustin Noverre. Artist Unknown. The portrait was presumably painted while Augustin was working in London.

Cotillons are currently enjoying a revival in 21st-century Norwich.

The Public Advertiser for 1 March 1769 repeated Noverre’s notice of his ball. It also advertised ‘Mr. Yates’s Ball’ to be given on 7 March at Haberdashers Hall. Tickets were again half a guinea and ‘After the Minuets and Cotillons are over [these were presumably performed by Mr Yates’s pupils], there will be a Ball for the Ladies and Gentlemen’. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 9 March 1769 advertised ‘the first of the two Nights Subscription for Minuets and Cotillons’ (the date of this event is illegible) at Almack’s, as well as Mr. Prevel’s ball on 15 March which offered the usual pattern of minuets and cotillons by his scholars followed by a ball. The ladies and gentlemen who attended the latter ‘(tho’ they are not his scholars) may dance the minuet, country dances, and cotillons, if they chuse it’. There seem to have been some well-established conventions surrounding these events.

Gallini’s turn came a little later. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 16 March 1769 announced:

‘Mr. Gallini’s Annual Ball … at Almack’s Assembly-Room, in King-street, St. James’s square, on Friday the 7th of April. After his scholars have danced Minuets, Cotillons and Allemandes, the company in general may dance Country-dances and Cotillons.’

These events seem to have been intended to recommend the dancing master’s teaching through the performances of his scholars. The minuets at such balls were apparently a showpiece for well-drilled pupils. The ‘company in general’ were expected to do no more than watch a sequence of these exacting duets, before they enjoyed the easier dances.

As spring advanced, the pleasure gardens began to offer their entertainments. The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for 8 May carried advertisements from both Vauxhall Gardens and Ranelagh. On 10 May, Vauxhall was to offer ‘A Ridotto al Fresco, (for one night only) to consist of Grand Illuminations, Extraordinary Decorations, a Concert, and a Ball’. Three different spaces were allotted for dancing, with one room devoted to cotillons. On 12 May, at Ranelagh there would be ‘A Jubilee Ridotto, or Bal Pare. … besides the usual entertainments, there will be country dances and cotillons’. The new contredanses françaises were indispensible not only at balls, but also at London’s most fashionable amusement venues.

Unfortunately, a report in the St James’s Chronicle for 9-11 May 1769 revealed that at Vauxhall ‘The Place was so crowded, that no Ladies of Condition chose to dance, … Some few Cotillons however were danced in the Princes Room’. Would-be dancers may have fared better at Ranelagh where, according to the London Chronicle for 11-13 May 1769, despite the ‘exceedingly numerous’ participants and a great variety of other attractions ‘The company also danced country dances and cotillions’.

The newspapers for this year record many other balls, in provincial cities as well as in London. However, the craze for cotillons is tellingly underlined by an advertisement of a different sort.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

St James’s Chronicle, 1-3 August 1769.

Did this satire ever appear (if indeed the notice is not a spoof, or a reference to another form of entertainment)? I have not yet been able to track down a copy.