Tag Archives: Guillaume-Louis Pecour

The Passacaille

As every musician knows (but not necessarily every dancer), the passacaille is a set of variations over a repeated 4-bar bass line. It shares this musical form with the chaconne, although the notated dances surviving from the 18th century reveal several differences between them. In her recent book Dance and Drama in French Baroque Opera, Rebecca Harris-Warrick looks at passacailles and chaconnes from various perspectives. Her observations are of interest in relation to the appearance of these dances on the London stage. Harris-Warrick points out that passacailles have a slower tempo than chaconnes and that they are often found in association with women ‘not infrequently when seduction is involved’ (p. 60). She also explains that they are the longest of the dances performed on stage and usually feature soloists and groups of dancers in their choreography (although this is not the case with the notated dances).

Passacailles are indeed the longest of the surviving recorded choreographies, in particular two solos created for female professional dancers: Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’ for Hester Santlow to music from Desmaret’s 1697 opera Vénus et Adonis, 209 bars; Guillaume-Louis Pecour’s ‘Passacaille pour une femme’ for Marie-Thérèse Subligny to music from Gatti’s 1701 opera Scylla, 219 bars. In all six passacailles survive in notation, published between 1704 and the mid-1720s. All are to music from French operas, four are female solos, one is a female duet and one is a duet for a man and a woman.

Advertisements indicate that the passacaille was performed in the entr’actes at London’s theatres quite regularly between the 1705-1706 and 1735-1736 seasons. It was given either as a solo or a duet but not, apparently, as a group dance. The solos are exclusively performed by women, from Mrs Elford at the Queen’s Theatre on 13 June 1706 (when she danced a ‘Chacoon and Passacail’) to Mrs Bullock at Goodman’s Fields on 13 October 1735. Duets were quite rare, although four different couples were billed between 1715-1716 and 1725-1726. After 1735-1736, the dance type disappears from the bills, except for a single performance of ‘A New Dance call’d Le Passecalle de Zaid’ by Anne Auretti at Drury Lane on 26 March 1754 (the occasion was her benefit). The passacaille reappears in the early 1770s for occasional performances until the mid-1780s.

For most of the passacailles performed in London, it is all but impossible to know what was danced either in terms of the music or the choreography. There are exceptions. The earliest is Pecour’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s 1686 opera Armide, created as a solo for Mlle Subligny and performed by her ‘en Angleterre’ during the winter of 1701-1702 – the only time she visited London. This demanding solo (a mere 149 bars) was published in notation around 1713.

Pecour Passacaille Armide 1

Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ‘Passacaile’, Nouveau recueil de danse de bal et celle de ballet (Paris, [c1713]), pl. 79

Anthony L’Abbe’s version of the passacaille from Lully’s Armide was created as a female duet, and must have been danced late in the 1705-1706 season in the brief interval between Mrs Santlow’s debut and Mrs Elford’s retirement.

Labbe Passacaille Armide 1

Anthony L’Abbé, ‘Passacaille of Armide’, A New Collection of Dances (London, c1725]), pl. 7

In his Preface to The Art of Dancing, the manual of dancing he published in 1735, Kellom Tomlinson referred to ‘Miss Frances, who, on the Theatre Royal in Little Lincoln’s Inn Fields, performed the Passacaille de Scilla, consisting of above a thousand Measures or Steps, without making the least Mistake’. He seems to be referring to the music from Gatti’s Scylla, if not to the choreography created by Pecour for Mlle Subligny (although neither the music nor the notated dance extends to a thousand bars). A Miss Francis did in fact dance a ‘new Passacaille’ at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 19 March and again on 27 April 1719. The other exception is, of course, L’Abbé’s solo for Mrs Santlow referred to above. Although no date or place for a performance of this choreography is known, it is a stunning example of the challenges of such a dance.

Was the music for the other passacailles billed in the early 18th century invariably French? There are some beautiful examples of the dance type (usually titled chaconnes but with the features of passacailles) among late 17th-century music by English composers. Some of these were undoubtedly danced in the semi-operas of the period. Did any of the other performers billed in passacailles dance the choreographies that have survived? Mrs Bullock is known to have been a virtuoso dancer. She danced a passacaille with Charles Delagarde at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 7 May 1716 as well as her later solo, either of which could have drawn on notated dances. Since they were showpieces, it is not surprising that most passacailles were billed for benefit performances, although not always the dancer’s own. It is interesting that not one of the named performers, male or female, of passacailles given in London up to 1735-1736 is French. There are many puzzles about French dancing in London’s theatres in the early 18th century.

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Serious Dancing

In his An Essay towards an History of Dancing (1712), John Weaver described three distinct genres of stage dancing ‒ serious, grotesque and scenical. He drew on all three in The Loves of Mars and Venus, beginning with serious dancing in the first two scenes of the ballet, which introduce in turn Mars and Venus. I have quoted this passage from Weaver’s Essay before, in a piece about stage dancing posted more than two years ago, but it is worth repeating:

Serious Dancing, differs from the Common-Dancing usually taught in Schools, as History Painting differs from Limning. For as the Common-Dancing has a peculiar Softness, which would hardly be perceiveable on the Stage; so Stage-Dancing would have a rough and ridiculous Air in a Room, when on the Stage it would appear soft, tender and delightful.’

Weaver was drawing attention to the greater power and amplitude in the performance of dancing on stage. His list of ‘some Steps peculiarly adapted to this sort of Dancing’ reveals its innate tendency to virtuosity, for he mentions ‘Capers, and Cross-Capers of all kinds; Pirouttes [i.e. pirouettes], Batteries, and indeed almost all Steps from the Ground’. These are among the more difficult steps recorded in Feuillet’s Choregraphie and Weaver had himself recorded them in notation for his translation of that work.

Is he contradicting himself when, in his next paragraph, he declares that serious dancing is ‘the easiest attain’d’ of the genres, even if he adds that ‘a Man must excel in it to be able to please’?

Despite his dismissal of serious dancing, at least so far as his ambitions for dance drama are concerned, Weaver provides further insights into its demands.

‘There are two Movements in this Kind of Dancing; the Brisk, and the Grave; the Brisk requires Vigour, Lightness, Agility, Quicksprings, with a Steadiness, and Command of the Body; the Grave (which is the most difficult) Softness, easie Bendings and Risings, and Address; and both must have Air and Firmness, with a graceful and regulated Motion of all Parts; but the most Artful Qualification is a nice Address in the Management of those Motions, that none of the Gestures and Dispositions of the Body may be disagreeable to the Spectators.’

He is, of course, talking about the rigours of classical dancing, the genre that strives for formal technical perfection.

Weaver is forced to admit that ‘the French excel in this kind of Dancing’ and he singles out Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra, as an exemplar in the genre. It is interesting that Weaver lauds Pecour for his mastery of ‘the Chacoone, or Passacaille, which is of the grave Movement’. In London, Anthony L’Abbé created two highly virtuosic solos: the ‘Chacone of Amadis’, to music from Lully’s 1684 opera Amadis, for Louis Dupré – Weaver’s Mars; and the ‘Passagalia of Venüs & Adonis’, to music from Desmarets 1697 opera Venüs & Adonis, for Hester Santlow – Weaver’s Venus. Both choreographies post-date Weaver’s Essay and perhaps date to shortly before The Loves of Mars and Venus. They reflect the tradition of French serious dancing to which Weaver’s two principal dancers, and indeed Weaver himself (as a teacher at least), belonged.

‘Jouissons les plaisirs’

My work in baroque dance has always had a strong practical element. I find it easier to understand and write about the dances I have reconstructed. Much of my earlier work was based around dances I actually performed. Performance opportunities are few and far between nowadays, for a variety of reasons, but I try to continue reconstructing notated choreographies as part of my research.

I’ve recently been working on a loure, a duet to the air ‘Jouissons les plaisirs’. The music is identified on the notated ‘Entrée pour un homme et une femme Dancée par Mr Balon et Mlle Subligny au Ballet des Fragments de Mr de Lully’ in the Recüeil de dances contenant un tres grand nombres, des meillieures Entrees de Ballet de Mr. Pecour published in Paris in 1704. The work of reconstruction has had its difficulties – I have a recording of the music which is beguiling but otherwise not great and I have nobody to partner me, which all too easily leads to misinterpretation of the notation. Yet, I have found this little dance to be utterly charming. It is so prettily evocative of the early 18th century that it has been a delight to learn. I would love to see it in a good performance.

I like to know about the original contexts for the notated dances I reconstruct. In this case the air seems to have been written for the 1670 comédie-ballet Les Amants Magnifiques – the ballet in which Louis XIV apparently did not after all make his final performances as a dancer. The notated choreography, and its music, are instead associated with the Ballet des Fragmens de M. Lully first given at the Paris Opéra in 1702. This ballet brought together pieces of Lully’s music from the ballets de cour and comédies-ballets of the late 17th century into several entrées arranged by Campra. Its popularity was such that it was revived in 1708, 1711, 1717 and 1722. In Les Amants Magnifiques ‘Jouissons les plaisirs’ was a vocal duet by shepherdesses, in the Ballet des Fragmens it was entitled ‘[Air] des Jeux Pithiens’ and formed part of the first entrée, a ‘Fête marine’, as a vocal duet by female sailors accompanied by the dance. I can’t quite relate either the song or the dance to the later context, but I’m probably missing something.

I have been looking at ‘Spanish’ loures, but this dance surely falls into the ‘pastoral’ category. It is short, with only 54 bars, and the music is a rondeau (ABACA, A has 9 bars, B has 12 and C has 16 bars). The music has the time signature 3, in common with the famous ballroom duet Aimable vainqueur. It is quite unlike the ‘Spanish’ loures in 6/4. Although it is a stage dance, there are no difficult steps in this little entrée. Many of the pas composées incorporate quarter, half or (occasionally) full turns and nearly half include small jumps, so the sequences are flowing and lively. There are coupés avec ouverture de jambe which provide a pleasing suspension of movement and several other steps with a similar feel of extension. I like to draw on ballet’s ronds de jambes, even demi grand ronds de jambe, to give a greater sense of amplitude. The little jumps woven throughout add energy and make the pas de bourée and other ‘walking’ steps feel light and playful rather than languid. I haven’t yet mastered the musicality of this choreography, but I’m sure that if and when I do it will add to the pleasure of dancing it.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the dance is its figures, not so much the movement of the dancers within their stage space as the continually changing spatial relationships between them. They turn towards and then away from each other, face or turn their backs on one another, approach and retreat as they dance. On the page, the floor patterns look completely conventional, even banal, but they are transformed by the way the dancers turn on their own axis and move around each other. Without a partner it is difficult to be sure, but my guess is that the figures are quite tight and the couple stay close to one another much of the time, particularly when they circle and cross. There are many opportunities for interaction, through glances, turns of the head and épaulement as they move through their shared space. Even without a partner, the choreography conjures up the graceful flirtation of a fête galante. It brings to mind the paintings of Watteau, Lancret and Pater. It would be so easy to perform as a tiny drama of pastoral love and pleasure.

Lancret’s painting of Mlle Camargo and her partner is some thirty years later than the dance to ‘Jouissons les plaisirs’, but it gives a good idea of the style and affect of such a duet.

Nicolas Lancret, La Camargo Dancing (c1730)

Nicolas Lancret, La Camargo Dancing (c1730)

‘Spanish’ dances

In an earlier post, I looked at the ‘French’ saraband. I thought I’d turn to the ‘Spanish’ saraband, but I quickly got caught up in a confusing web of ‘Spanish’ dances.

There are four notated dances that can be defined as ‘Spanish’ sarabands, because of their music. Two are solos for a man, one by Favier (in an undated manuscript) and the other by Feuillet (in his 1700 Recueil de dances). The other two are solos for a woman, from Feuillet’s 1700 collection and Pecour’s 1704 Recueil de dances. All four choreographies use the ‘Ier Air des Espagnols’ from the Entrée ‘L’Espagne’ in the Ballet des Nations at the end of Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. I’ll come back to these dances later.

There are four surviving choreographies to the Folie d’Espagne music.  This is, of course, also a saraband. Two of these dances are very closely related: Feuillet’s solo Folie d’Espagne pour femme published in 1700 was lightly adapted to become a duet, recorded in a manuscript collection where it is attributed to Pecour. There is also one solo for a man by Feuillet, surviving only in manuscript, and another by Pecour in his 1704 Recueil de dances. I will return to these four choreographies too. On the London stage, the Folie d’Espagne was advertised under that title only once – at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 29 May 1718 when it was performed ‘by a Little Girl that never danced on the Stage’.

Feuillet’s Sarabande Espagnole, a solo for a man in his 1700 collection, is actually a loure or gigue lente, another dance type that often has ‘Spanish’ connotations. There seem to be both ‘French’ and ‘Spanish’ loures, for some of the choreographies using this dance type have a pastoral or amorous context, at least so far as their music is concerned. The most famous ‘French’ loure is Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur.

Another eight notated dances are designated ‘Spanish’ either in their titles or through their music. Five are loures, three of which are male solos. Two are by Feuillet, an Entreé DEspagnol surviving in manuscript and a Sarabande Espagnole pour homme in his 1700 collection. The third solo is the Spanish Entry in L’Abbé’s A New Collection of Dances dating to the mid-1720s. Pecour has an Entrée Espagnolle pour une femme and an Entrée pour deux hommes in his 1704 Recueil de dances. Both use the same piece of music from the Entrée for Spain in Campra’s L’Europe galante of 1697, as does Feuillet’s Entreé DEspagnol. The other two male solos use another tune from the Entrée L’Espagne in the Ballet des Nations.

Spanish dances were quite popular on the London stage. There were male and female solos, as well as duets, trios and a variety of dances for larger groups. It is virtually impossible to know what these choreographies were like, although the links of so many of the dancers to France and their training in ‘French’ dancing suggest that many were sarabands or loures or perhaps the Folie d’Espagne itself. Most of the advertisements for a ‘louvre’ probably refer to Aimable Vainqueur. However, there are a few billings for male and female solos, which may well be ‘Spanish’ loures. Among the last of the dancers to be advertised in a solo ‘louvre’ was La Barberina in the 1740-1741 and 1741-1742 seasons.

There is also the question of what made a dance ‘Spanish’ (apart from its music). I’ll come back to this.

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.

Reconstructing Ballroom Dances: La Mariée

I am currently reconstructing La Mariée, one of the most famous ballroom dances of the early 18th century. I have performed many notated ballroom dances over the years, but this is my first encounter with Pecour’s much-loved duet. So far, it has been a bit of a struggle! In my own defence, one hour a week with no dancing partner is not the easiest way to learn such a long and complex choreography.

When I began on La Mariée, I had been working on a couple of English solos ‘for a Girl’. Turning to Pecour’s dance I felt like I was grappling with a completely different language – which, of course, I was. The only recording of the music I could find initially was too fast to use while I was learning the steps. I subsequently found another much slower version, but it only had the music once through instead of twice as required by the choreography. Such problems, of tempo and repeat structure, are all too common with commercial recordings of baroque dance music. Still, at least I have the music. There are far too many dances for which there is no recorded music at all.

After several weeks, I am finally getting to grips with this dance. I’ve pretty well committed to memory the steps and figures and my body is beginning to learn these too. Now, I’m ready to make decisions about how I want to perform the steps and sequences. Since I began to take baroque dance seriously, I have worked with many different teachers – all of whom have their own approaches to dance style and technique. I have drawn something from each of them. The various ways in which steps might be performed provide a wide range of interpretations for individual choreographies. Even in a single dance, I might perform particular step differently when it occurs within new context, although I do try to find a unified style.

My version of La Mariée will be shaped by the fast recording. At my last session working on the dance, I found myself considering how I should perform the pas de sissonne that punctuate the choreography. Should I follow the teacher who took the first assemblée to a small fourth position with the working leg on the following saut in a low attitude? Or should I go back to my earlier lessons (and, apparently, the notation) with an assemblée into fifth position and the raised foot on the saut close to the supporting ankle? I obviously need to go back to Rameau’s Le Maître a danser to see what he says. At the moment, I’m inclining to the more compact approach with an emphasis on the upward motion of the springs.

Whatever I decide to do with the individual steps, I want to create a lively and dynamically varied performing version of a teasing and witty choreography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Mariée on the London stage

La Mariée, a ballroom dance for a man and a woman, was one of the dances Pierre Rameau described as the most beautiful choreographies created by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Rameau included his own notation of the dance in his Abbregé de la nouvelle methode,dans l’art d’ecrire ou de traçer toutes sortes de danse de ville, published in Paris probably in 1725. The duet already had a long history by then, for it was first published in 1700 in Feuillet’s Recueil de dances composées par M. Pecour, one of the collections that accompanied Choregraphie.

Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recueil de dances (Paris, 1700), plate 12, opening of La Mariée

Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Recueil de dances (Paris, 1700), plate 12, opening of La Mariée

The dance historian Rebecca Harris-Warrick showed, in an essay published in 1989, that La Mariée was almost certainly originally a stage dance created for a revival of Lully’s opera Roland in 1690. She suggested that the dance entered the French ballroom repertoire during the 1690s. It may have been danced in mascarade entertainments during the 1700 carnival season at the French court. It may well have continued to be danced on the stage of the Paris Opéra in later revivals of Roland, by such stars as Ballon and Mlle Subligny (1705) and David Dumoulin and Mlle Prévost (1709). It was mentioned in many dance treatises and republished in notation many times between 1700 and 1765. After that it apparently faded from view.

Pecour’s popular duet had probably reached London by 1698, when the music was published in John Walsh’s compilation Theater Musick, being a Collection of the Newest Ayers for the Violin. Harris-Warrick speculates that it may have been danced at William III’s birth night ball that year. If so, one of the performers could have been Anthony L’Abbé who had already danced before the King in May 1698. On 1 June 1703, L’Abbé was billed at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in The Wedding Dance. This was described in advertisements as ‘compos’d by Monsieur L’Abbé, and perform’d by him, Mrs Elford, and others’. The piece seems to have been a divertissement, which may or may not have incorporated Pecour’s La Mariée.

In later years, ‘Wedding’ dances reappeared every so often among the entr’acte entertainments in London’s theatres. There was a Wedding Dance ‘by Prince and others’ at Drury Lane on 20 July 1713 and a Grand Comic Wedding Dance, created by Moreau, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 14 January 1717. Moreau’s Wedding Dance was performed by three men and three women together with the Sallé children, Francis and Marie. I am inclined to think that La Mariée was performed as part of Moreau’s divertissement, possibly by the Sallés. On 15 May 1718, a dance titled Marie was given at Drury Lane by Cook and Miss Schoolding. Apart from the ongoing dance rivalry between the theatres, which caused much copying of repertoire, Cook had danced in Moreau’s piece and Miss Schoolding was Mrs Moreau’s younger sister.

Thereafter The Marie (as it was often billed) was regularly given as an entr’acte dance. The Sallés performed it, as adult dancers, several times during the 1725-26 and 1726-27 seasons. The duet was later taken up by Leach Glover, one of the leading dancers in John Rich’s company, who gave it regularly at his benefit performances during the 1730s. Pecour’s famous ball dance apparently made its last London stage appearance, after a gap of many years, on 24 April 1759 at Covent Garden. It was performed ‘By Desire’ by Lalauze and Miss Toogood at his benefit. Did they really dance the choreography as created some seventy years earlier?