Tag Archives: Gottfried Taubert

A Year of Dance: 1717

1717 was a busy year on the London stage, at least so far as dancing was concerned. With hindsight, the most significant event was the performance at the Drury Lane Theatre on 2 March 1717 of John Weaver’s ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing after the Manner of the Antient Pantomimes’ The Loves of Mars and Venus – now widely recognised as the first modern ballet. Weaver followed it up on 2 April with a ‘New Dramatick Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’, The Shipwreck; or, Perseus and Andromeda. Together, the two afterpieces were surely intended to show the full range of the expressive dancing that Weaver was eager to promote. On 5 December 1717, Weaver’s Harlequin Turn’d Judge was given at Drury Lane. It was later advertised as an ‘Entertainment of Dancing in Grotesque Characters’ but was, to all intents and purposes, a pantomime (a genre new to London’s theatres). Both The Loves of Mars and Venus and Harlequin Turn’d Judge were successful enough to survive into the 1720s.

The popularity of Weaver’s danced afterpieces attracted several responses from John Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Rich began with The Cheats; or, The Tavern Bilkers on 22 April 1717. The alternative title apparently refers to a much earlier piece by Weaver, which the dancing master claimed was performed at Drury Lane in 1702. Although, as Weaver’s The Tavern Bilkers was never revived, how did Rich know about it? A few months later, Rich turned his attention to Weaver’s new ballet with Mars and Venus; or, The Mouse Trap, given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 22 November 1717. He then produced Colombine; or, Harlequin Turn’d Judge on 11 December. Neither of Rich’s ripostes were anything like as successful as the originals. However, The Jealous Doctor; or, The Intriguing Dame, a pantomime given at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 April 1717 continued to be popular until the mid-1720s.

All these afterpieces had casts of dancers, and Rich did not neglect entr’acte dancing. His star dancers in 1717 were the ‘two Children, Scholars of M Ballon, lately arriv’d from the Opera at Paris’. Francis and Marie Sallé had made their London debut at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 18 October 1716. Rich billed them frequently, in a varied repertoire of serious and comic dances, between then and their last performance on 20 June 1717. Was their ‘New Comic Scene’ entitled The Loves of Harlequin and Colombine, given on 23 April 1717, intended as another hit at The Loves of Mars and Venus? They also performed ‘The Submission, a new Dance, compos’d by Kellom’ on 21 February 1717 demonstrating their versatility.

Kellom Tomlinson’s The Submission was one of the only two notated dances to be published in London this year. The other was L’Abbé’s The Royal George, according to newspaper advertisements published ‘for the Princess’s Birth Day’ in March 1717 although the title page says only a ‘A New Dance … for the Year 1717’. The title must thus honour the Prince of Wales her husband. Fortunately, the dance appeared several months before the serious quarrel between the King and his son the following November, which would divide the royal family for the next few years. The other noteworthy cultural event of 1717 was the first performance on 17 July of Handel’s Water Music for George I as he travelled by barge along the River Thames.

In Paris, the annual dance publication was the XV Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1717 published by Dezais. It contained three short ballroom duets, La Clermont and La de Bergue by Claude Ballon and La Ribeyra by Dezais himself. The last of them was dedicated ‘A Madame l’Ambassatrice de Portugal’, providing an insight into the naming of such choreographies. At the Paris Opéra, besides the usual revivals of works by Lully, André Campra was represented not only by revivals of his Fragments de M. Lully and Tancrède but also by a new opera Camille, Reine des Volsques given on 9 November 1717 (N.S.).

The most important dance publication of the year, at least for many 21st-century dance historians, was Gottfried Taubert’s monumental treatise Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister which appeared in Leipzig and provided a German view of French dancing. It shows not only how influential la belle danse was around Europe but also how this French style and technique could be moulded to suit other national tastes and ideas.

 

Learning to dance: Pierre Rameau

Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser, published in Paris in 1725, is today the best-known and most widely consulted of the 18th-century dance manuals. The same may well have been true in its own time.  Rameau’s treatise was translated into English by John Essex as The Dancing-Master and published in London in 1728. Both versions went through a number of editions. There was a second edition of Le Maître a danser in 1734 and a third in 1748. The Dancing-Master appeared in a second edition in 1731, which was reissued around 1733 with new engraved illustrations, and there was another ‘second edition’ in 1744. Rameau’s influence elsewhere can be traced in a number of treatises. Among these are the translation into Portuguese by Joseph Thomas Cabreira, Arte de dançar à franceza (Lisbon, 1760), and Pablo Minguet e Yrol’s Arte de danzar à la francesa (Madrid, 1758) for which it was the principal source.

Rameau was well aware of the pre-eminence of French dancing (the quotation is from Essex’s translation, which I will use in these and other posts).

‘We may say to the Glory of our Nation that it has a true Taste of fine Dancing. Almost all Foreigners far from disallowing it, have very near an age admired our Dancing, and formed themselves in our Academies and Schools: Nay there’s not a Court in Europe but what has a Dancing-Master of our Nation.’

Rameau wrote ‘près d’un siécle’, translated by Essex as ‘near an age’, dating French dominance of the world of dance to the early 17th century and the reign of Louis XIII, father of the Sun King.

Like Taubert, who was following French practice, Rameau deals with standing, walking and bowing before turning to dancing itself. In his first chapter ‘Of the Manner of disposing the Body’, Rameau declares:

‘I have laid down a Plan, or Method of Teaching, for the Master to lead his Scholar from one Step to another, and at the same Time instruct him in the different Motions of the Arms, to make them agreeable to the different Steps in Dancing: …’

He goes on ‘And as it is essential to dispose the Body in a graceful Posture, that shall be explained in this first Chapter’, referring the reader to an illustration showing a man ready to begin walking. In his preface, Rameau had said ‘I have caused many Copper Plates to be engraved, which represents the Dancer in the several Positions: For Precepts communicated by the Eye have always a better Effect’. Undoubtedly, demonstration was a key element in Rameau’s teaching methods. It is interesting that Taubert did not try to illustrate his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister. The illustration of 18th-century dance manuals, and indeed of dancing itself during that period, is a topic worth pursuing in its own right.

Rameau begins his second chapter, on walking, by referring back to his illustration of ‘The Disposition of the Body’ making clear that  ‘the Manner of Walking well is very useful, because on it depends the first Principle of Dancing a good Air’. In his third chapter, Rameau turns to ‘the Positions’. Taubert had paid little, if any, attention to the five positions of the feet, whereas Rameau devotes six chapters to them, explaining:

‘What is called a Position, is no more than a just Proportion, found out to divide, or bring the Feet nearer together, in a limited Distance, whether the Body be in an easy Balance, or perpendicularly upright; or whether it be in Walking, Dancing, or Standing.’

These positions have survived into the 21st century, although they are now mainly associated with classical ballet.

After the positions, Rameau turns to ‘Honours in General’. He begins with those for Gentlemen, for whom the management of the hat was an important skill – ‘It is very necessary for every one, in what Station of Life so ever he be, to know how to take off his Hat as he ought, and to make a handsome Bow’. There are four chapters on the various bows to be made by gentlemen, after which Rameau turns to the ladies and instructions for how they should walk and make their curtsies. Like Taubert, Rameau directs his treatise first and foremost to gentlemen.

Only after fourteen chapters – dealing with standing, walking, the positions of the feet and bowing – does Rameau feel his pupils are ready to begin dancing. Of course, he turns immediately to the minuet. Whether this was actually the approach he followed in his lessons is impossible to tell. Were pupils routinely taught alone, in couples (to learn the danses à deux) or groups? We have little real evidence, although one illustration to Le Maître a danser (copied by The Dancing-Master) shows a couple under the tuition of their dancing master, who is playing his pochette.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

Pierre Rameau, translated by John Essex, The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Plate facing opening page of chapter 1.

Learning to dance: Gottfried Taubert

The first dance manual to describe the minuet in detail was Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffner Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717. This German treatise is a mine of information on all aspects of learning to dance but, without a complete and accessible translation into either English or French, it has remained little known compared to other dance manuals of the 18th century. With the publication in 2012 of a complete English translation it is now widely available for use and study. I will be drawing on this translation for my posts.

Gottfried Taubert. Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717). Title Page.

Gottfried Taubert. Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717). Title Page.

As Taubert’s translator Tilden Russell makes clear, the minuet was central to Taubert’s view of the 18th-century world of dancing. In this post, I will look at his general approach to teaching rather than his specific instructions for the steps and figures of the minuet. In his Foreword, Taubert declares he will provide ‘a clear, methodical and thorough introduction to the theory of the well established art of French dancing’. He makes clear that he will be ‘mainly concerned with presenting a comprehensive discussion of both the theory and practice of the three world-renowned fundamental dances’. He identifies these as the courante, the minuet and the bourée, although his focus throughout most of the treatise is the minuet. He uses the term ‘la belle danse’ for the style and technique used in ‘all ballroom dances’ and makes his debt to French dancing abundantly clear. So far as Taubert was concerned, the French were undisputed rulers of the world of dance.

Taubert lays great emphasis on the necessity for the systematic teaching of dance. He begins with la belle danse and ballroom dancing, setting out his ‘instruction of the fundamental dances and general method’.

  • First, standing, walking and bowing;
  • Second , ‘first principles and universal steps’;
  • Third, how to execute ‘the prescribed basic step for each fundamental dance correctly’;
  • Fourth, how to execute ‘the other most important simple and compound steps’ introducing theatrical steps alongside those for the ballroom;
  • Fifth, how to read and understand the symbols in Feuillet’s Choregraphie as well as the notated dances.

He promises that ‘all this shall be examined topic by topic, methodically and coherently’.

Standing and walking get a chapter each, followed by five chapters on bowing. Taubert is adamant that dance instruction should not begin until the student has mastered ‘how to stand gracefully; how to walk with ease; and how to bow politely and make the proper révérences for any occasion’.

When it comes to the dancing, Taubert says he will address:

  • ‘the formation of steps and motions’;
  • ‘the connection of steps’;
  • ‘the cadence and division of steps according to the meter’;
  • ‘the figures and tracts along which one dances’;
  • ‘the air or manner with which one should dance’.

Each and every one of these is as important to the modern student of baroque dance as it was to the 18th-century dancing master and his pupils. All are fundamental to an accomplished performance of the minuet.

Before I turn to the teaching of steps and figures of the minuet and other dances, I will take a look at what Pierre Rameau and Kellom Tomlinson have to say about the fundamental aspects of dance technique.

The Minuet: Sources

The topic of Georgian balls brings me to that most terrifying of dances with which they all began – the minuet. This was the one duet that everyone had to learn, if not to master, if they hoped to gain a place within polite society.

The minuet disappeared from the ballroom, and from dancing lessons, some 200 years ago. There is no recognisable descendant among our modern ballroom dances. We must, therefore, turn to written sources if we wish to reconstruct the dance. None of the surviving dance manuals and notations is entirely clear and, between them, they pose many problems of interpretation.

The earliest surviving notated minuet is a dance for four (two men and two women) from the mascarade Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos, created by Jean Favier the elder for performance at Versailles in 1688. Favier recorded the whole entertainment in his own system of dance notation. The steps of the ballroom minuet were published in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation in 1701. Feuillet inexplicably omitted them from the first edition of Choregraphie in 1700 and had to add a ‘Supplément de pas’ to the second edition.

The earliest dance manual to describe and explain the ballroom minuet in detail is Gottfried Taubert’s Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717. Better known, at least to baroque dance aficionados, is Pierre Rameau’s Le Maître a danser (Paris, 1725) with its translation by John Essex The Dancing-Master (London, 1728). Kellom Tomlinson, whose The Art of Dancing appeared in London in 1735, followed them by devoting several chapters to the steps and figures of the ballroom minuet. Like Taubert, he provided a notated version of the duet. It is reasonable to assume that all three treatises reflect the teaching practice of the dancing masters themselves.

During the 18th century dance treatises were published throughout Europe. Many drew on Rameau’s work and included the minuet as part of a course of instruction in ‘French Dancing’. Alongside these were the minuets published in notation. Many are duets for a man and a woman. There are also minuets for four (two men and two women), as well as dances for five or more and a number of solos. In addition, there are several dances that include the minuet as one of the sections in a small-scale ‘suite’ of differing dance types.

I will look more closely at these and other sources for the minuet in future posts, as I explore the various facets of this familiar but little-known and much-misunderstood dance.

The Illustration is from George Bickham the younger’s An Easy Introduction to Dancing: or the Movements in the Minuet Fully Explained published in London in 1738. This little work draws heavily on The Dancing-Master, for which Bickham had provided new illustrations when it was reissued in the early 1730s.

Bickham Minuet