Tag Archives: Jacques Dezais

Hungarian dances in the ballroom

The first dance in the 1725 Premier livre de contre-dances is the Cotillon Hongrois for four. I cannot  identify with certainty a person or an event that might have inspired the name ‘Hongrois’ but in this post I will explore the wider context for the dance and put forward a suggestion.

Hungary was the largest territory within the Habsburg Austrian monarchy. Charles VI was Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of Austria and King of Hungary from 1711 until 1740. He was also Prince of Transylvania, which had once been part of Hungary and retained strong links with that country. The history of the area in the 17th and early 18th centuries is complex. I will not even attempt to summarise it, except to say that events there influenced and were influenced by what was happening in the rest of Europe.

In his XIIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715, Dezais included La Transilvanie a ballroom duet by Claude Ballon. This choreography has some resemblance to a cotillon. The music is in duple time and, according to Francine Lancelot in La Belle Dance, it is very similar to a gavotte. The musical structure is AABACAA. The choreographic structure has ‘verses’ and a repeated ‘chorus’. The step sequence for the opening section is used again for the third and fourth A repeats, although the direction of travel and the floor pattern is varied each time. This, of course, is the collection in which Dezais advertises his manuscript versions of contredanses for eight, two of which (Le Cotillon de Surenne and L’Esprit Follet) were finally printed in 1725. Although it is not mentioned, was the Cotillon Hongrois another dance that significantly predated its appearance in the Premier livre?

There may, perhaps, be a specific reason for the name La Transilvanie. Before the accession of Charles VI in 1711, the Prince of Transylvania had been Francis II Rácóczi. He led an unsuccessful uprising in Hungary in the early 1700s, with initial encouragement from the French. Between 1713 and 1717 he was in exile in France. Was La Transilvanie dedicated to him? Does the Cotillon Hongrois date to the mid-1710s rather than the mid-1720s and does it refer to Rácóczi and his exploits in Hungary?

Adám Mányoki. Francis II Rákoczi. 1724

Adám Mányoki. Francis II Rákoczi. 1724

A portrait of Rákoczi shows him in dress similar to a hussar. Did this depiction influence the Hungarian dances that were popular on the London stage in the 1720s and 1730s? I will look at these in a separate post.

What’s in a date?

Some of the dances in Dezais’s Premier livre de contre-dances may have been created in the early 1720s, but others were probably at least ten years old. In his ‘Avertissement’ at the beginning of the XIII Recueil de danses pour l’année 1715, Dezais wrote:

‘On donne avis qu’il y a un tres grand nombres de Contredanses à huit qui ne sont pas imprimées et qui se vendent écrit à la main: scavoir le Cotillon nouveaux, la Christinne, le Pharaon, la Bœmienne, la Utrech, le Cotillon de Surenne, l’Esprit Follet, et le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie.’

The ‘Avertissement’ reveals the popularity of cotillons in the early 1700s. It also highlights the topicality of some of the dance names. ‘la Utrech’ must surely refer to the Peace of Utrecht, the name given to the several treaties signed in Utrecht during 1713 and 1714 which between them ended the War of the Spanish Succession. Dezais published Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie in his XIIIIe. Recueil de danses pour l’année 1716. Mouret’s opéra-ballet Les Fêtes ou le Triomphe de Thalie was first given at the Paris Opéra in 1714. Le Cotillon de Surenne and L’Esprit Follet must surely be the choreographies published in the 1725 Premier livre de Contre-dances so they were not quite so topical when they finally appeared in print. I will try to unravel the references within the names of both in later posts.

I will resist the temptation to investigate the other dance names in Dezais’s 1715 list. As several dance historians have noted, the names of dances may indicate that they were created some years before being published in notation. The discrepancy in dates (which may not be obvious) can also lead to false conclusions when trying to discover the references within dance names. My suggestions for the dedicatees of Dezais’s  contredanses L’Infante and La Carignan may, or may not, be correct.

What’s in a name?

Many ballroom duets and country dances have distinctive names. These might link the choreographies to their music, to a play, or to a place or a dedicatee. Dance names provide glimpses of the social and cultural milieu within which the dances were performed.

I’ve been looking at the Premier livre de contre-dances published by Dezais in 1725 and I thought it would be interesting to follow up some of the dance names in this collection. At first, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to discover very much but as I pursued my research I began to see links with other areas of my dance history interests – the ballet de cour of Louis XIV, royal and aristocratic dancers and dancing on the London stage, among other topics. I very quickly gathered enough information for several posts.

I’ll look at just a couple of the dance names here, both linked to royalty. L’Infante, the third dance in the collection, is a contredanse for eight with a structure similar to the later cotillon. The name obviously refers to a Spanish princess or Infanta. The French and Spanish royal families intermarried several times during the 17th and 18th centuries. Louis XIV’s mother was a Spanish princess and so was his wife. His successor Louis XV was briefly betrothed to the Spanish infanta Mariana Victoria. She was the daughter of King Philip V, younger brother to Louis’s father the duc de Bourgogne, so the two were first cousins. She arrived in Paris in 1721 to live at the Palais du Louvre until she was old enough for the marriage to take place. The young King was eleven, but his intended bride was only three years old. By 1725, following the King’s serious illness, the King’s ministers had realised they must find a princess who was old enough to be married and quickly provide an heir to the throne. The betrothal with the little Infanta was ended and she was sent back to Spain in March that year. In September 1725, Louis XV married the 22-year-old Polish princess Marie Leszczyńska. Mariana Victoria married the Prince of Brazil, heir to the Portuguese throne, in 1729. Was she the Infanta of Dezais’s contredanse?

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

Nicolas Largilliere. The Infanta Mariana Victoria. 1724

La Carignan, the last dance in the Premier livre, is a minuet for four. The dance’s name links it to the royal house of Savoy. Victor-Amedée of Savoy, prince de Carignan was probably the dedicatee of Pecour’s ballroom duet La Carignan, published by Feuillet in the IIme Recueil de danses de bal pour l’année 1704. Dezais’s contredanse may have honoured another member of the Savoy-Carignan family. Victor-Amedée, his wife Marie-Victoire of Savoy and their children had been resident in France since the late 1710s. Their daughter Anne-Thérèse, born in Paris in 1717, is a possible dedicatee of the 1725 choreography.

These dance names, like many others, were topical, but were dances always created – and named – close to their publication date?



L’Ecossoise is the eighth of the nine dances in Dezais’s Premier livre de contredances of 1725. It is particularly unusual among country dances for its line-up of four men and two women. In his Avertissement at the beginning of the book, Dezais says that the contredance can also be performed by four women and two men.

The music is a gavotte. Dezais notates a few of the steps, mainly pas de rigaudon but also (for the men only) half-turn sprung pirouettes.  Apart from its unorthodox line-up, L’Ecossoise is also interesting for its successive formations. At the opening of the dance, the performers face one another across the dance space in two lines with the women between the men. Although they continue to face one another for much of the choreography, there are three places where they all turn to face their audience. On two occasions they are in perpendicular or ‘right’ lines one behind the other, the first time with the women at the back and the second time with them at the front. On the third occasion, they form one ‘diametrical’ line across the space. (The terminology comes from Feuillet’s Choregraphie, via Weaver’s translation). The first ‘right’ line is immediately followed by the ‘diametrical’ line. At the end of L’Ecossoise, the dancers are in a rectangular formation, with the women top and bottom and the men to either side. The contredance has conventional country dance figures, including left-hand and right-hand stars, right and left hand turns and circles, but some of the formations suggest that it might have originated as a display dance.

The title, L’Ecossoise (Scottish lady)may come from the music, but could the dance and its music have originated on the French stage? I wondered whether it might have come from a piece given at the Paris fair theatres or the Théâtre Italien, but I can’t find anything obvious among the titles of their respective repertoires. Voltaire wrote a play L’Écossaise, but that did not reach the stage until 1760.

Was there a London connection? ‘Scotch’ dances had been popular in London’s theatres from at least 1700, but there is little to link these with dancing on French stages. One danced entertainment, The Dutch and Scotch Contention; or, Love and Jealousy, which features a Highland couple, was performed in Paris as well as London, but it dates to 1729.

There are, of course, ‘Scotch’ and ‘Highland’ dances in the many editions of Playford’s The Dancing Master as well as elsewhere. I won’t pursue these here. However, one dance did catch my eye as I was looking through various sources. Confess was published in 1651 in The English Dancing Master. It isn’t a ‘Scotch’ dance but its line-up is two men and four women. The dancing master Confess had links with the English court in the early 17th century, so perhaps this dance was intended to have an element of display. There is also a figured minuet for six ladies by Mr Shirley in Pemberton’s 1711 An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, but that takes me a little too far from my original topic.

Research into possible connections and influences between the dances of the 18th century is endlessly fascinating, but there is nothing like performing these choreographies to provide real insights. Here is one version of L’Ecossoise in performance.

A Year of Dance: 1715

The most significant event of 1715 was the death of Louis XIV on 1 September. He was succeeded by his five year old great-grandson, who became Louis XV. Philippe, duc d’Orléans, the son of Louis XIV’s brother (who had died in 1701) became Regent to the child-king. The new reign would usher in significant cultural as well as political changes.

In Britain, George I was briefly threatened by a Jacobite rising that sought to put the Catholic James Francis Edward Stuart, son of James II, on the throne. The rebellion began in September and was over before Christmas. With the succession assured, at least for the time being, the new Hanoverian dynasty began to settle into English court life.

In Paris, Dezais published the XIII Recüeil de danses pour l’année 1715. This contained only two duets – La Transilvanie by Claude Ballon and Le Menuet d’Espagne by Dezais himself. Another collection, notated and published by Gaudrau, was entitled Danses nouvelles presentées au Roy. Gaudrau had begun to publish dances by Guillaume-Louis Pecour a couple of years earlier, with a Nouveau recüeil de dance de bal et celle de ballet. The Danses nouvelles were two ballroom duets by Pecour, La Venitienne and Le Branle allemand. The former was to a piece of music from Mouret’s Les Fêtes de Thalie.

Pecour. Danses nouvelles (Paris, [1715?]), title page.

Pecour. Danses nouvelles (Paris, [1715?]), title page.

Dezais’s collection was probably published early in the year (perhaps even towards the end of the previous year). Gaudrau’s is undated, but has been ascribed to 1715. The collection must have appeared after the death of Louis XIV, for it is dedicated to his successor. Pecour wrote:

J’ay l’honneur de presenter a Votre Majesté les deux premieres dances que j’ay composées depuis son règne, je souhaitte avec ardeur les voir un jour éxécuter par Votre Majesté, …

Pecour was in his early sixties and had worked for the French court for more than forty years. It seems that he was hoping for further employment.

In London, at least nine dance publications appeared during 1715 as dancing masters vied for the patronage of the new royal family. The first to appear was Siris’s The Princess Anna, advertised towards the end of January. No copy of this dance is known to survive. A new edition of For the Further Improvement of Dancing, John Essex’s translation of Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances, probably dates to 1715. Essex dedicated it to ‘Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales’ and the only known copy may well have been the one presented to her. It included some new country dances and ‘a new French Dance, which I presume to call the Princess’s Passpied’. This duet may have been created with an eye to the Princess’s birthday on 1 March.

The dancing master Richard Shirley published his own notated versions of Ballon’s La Silvie (which had appeared in Paris in 1712) and Pecour’s Aimable vainqueur (first published 1701) in mid-March. He, too, may have had an eye on the birthday celebrations for the Princess of Wales.

George I’s birthday on 28 May was marked by the appearance of a duet honouring his eldest granddaughter Princess Anne, aged five. There were two competing editions of L’Abbé’s The Princess Royale. One was notated by Edmund Pemberton, who was to record and publish L’Abbé’s ballroom duets for many years. The other was by the music publisher John Walsh, who seems to have pirated Pemberton’s version.

L’Abbé. The Princess Royale (London, [1715]), title page.

L’Abbé. The Princess Royale (London, [1715]), title page.

Walsh also published Mr Isaac’s new ballroom dance The Friendship, which may have appeared early in the year. The Morris, Mr Isaac’s ‘new Dance for the year 1716’, was published towards the end of 1715 not by Walsh but by Pemberton.

The ninth of the dance publications was from an up-and-coming dancing master, Kellom Tomlinson. He produced his first published duet The Passepied Round O during the year. It may simply have been fortuitous that it appeared in 1715, but Tomlinson was soon to prove himself adept at attracting patronage.

One other dance may belong to 1715, although it was not published for several more years. L’Abbé’s stage dance Canaries ‘perform’d by Mr La Garde and Mr Dupré’ appeared in his A New Collection of Dances around 1725. Charles Delagarde and Louis Dupré were both among the dancers at Lincoln’s Inn Fields during the 1714-1715 season. This was the only time they are known to have danced together. The duet signals the new emphasis on dancing in London’s theatres, as well as the virtuosity of the male professional dancers working in them.

A Year of Dance: 1714

A while ago, I had the idea of looking at significant dance events year by year, placing them within a wider context and slowly developing a more detailed chronology than most dance histories can provide. 1714 seems as good a place to start as any. The year was notable for the death of Queen Anne, on 1 August, and the accession to the British throne of her protestant cousin the Elector of Hanover as King George I.

At the English court the social calendar revolved around royal birthdays, the accession and coronation days of the current monarch, New Year’s Day and Twelfth Night. All were occasions for dancing. Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February had been the occasion of festivities throughout her reign. 1714 was no exception, with music, a ball and a ‘splendid entertainment’ at Windsor in the presence of the Queen herself. Her dancing master Mr Isaac created a new dance in her honour, The Godolphin named for Lady Harriot Godolphin the grand-daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and (at the age of fifteen) a lady of the bedchamber to the Queen. The dance was published in notation on 11 February 1714.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

Mr Isaac. The Godolphin (London, 1714). Title page.

The status of another dance, published on 4 March 1714, is uncertain. The only surviving copy of The Siciliana by Siris has no title page but, like Isaac’s choreography, it was published by John Walsh and may have been intended to capitalise on the Queen’s birthday celebrations.

George I arrived in England before the end of September 1714, with his son the new Prince of Wales. His daughter-in-law Princess Caroline arrived in London, with her three daughters, in October. The coronation took place in late October 2014. There are no records of any balls at court or the publication of any dances until the following year, when the usual festivities were resumed.

One other event of note was the re-opening of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, renewing theatrical competition in London. This led very quickly to a great deal more dancing in the playhouses.  It seems that there was dancing at the first performance at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and there were at least six dancers (two women and four men) in the company. They appeared regularly throughout the season.

In London, dances were often published singly in notation whether or not they had a royal connection. In Paris, small collections of dances were published ‘pour l’année’ in time for the balls held during the carnival season (between Twelfth Night and the beginning of Lent). The XIIe Recueil de danses pour l’année 1714, published by Jacques Dezais, contained three duets – La Gavotte de Seaux and a Rigaudon by Claude Ballon and Dezais’s La Chamberi.

The Château de Sceaux was the venue for an experiment in dancing. At one of the duchesse du Maine’s ‘Grands Nuits’ of entertainments during 1714, Mlle Prévost and M. Ballon (leading dancers at the Paris Opéra) gave a scene from Corneille’s tragedy Les Horaces as a ‘danse caracterisée’. They performed with such intensity that they reduced themselves, as well as their audience, to tears. This event calls into question the idea that French stage dancing was fundamentally inexpressive. By 1714, Louis XIV’s long reign was drawing to a close and changing times were signalled at the Paris Opéra by the production of its first lyric comedy, Mouret’s Les Fêtes de Thalie.

Were all these events quite separate? Surely not, although the influences that flowed between them have yet to be explored.

La Brone and La Blonde on the London Stage

A dance entitled La Brone and La Blonde was danced by ‘Vallois, Mlle Vallois, &c’ at the end of act one of Nicholas Rowe’s tragedy Jane Shore in a booth at London’s Bartholomew Fair on 23 August 1733. The venue was not quite as down-market as it seems. The proprietors of the booth were regular members of the Drury Lane Theatre company and many of the players were drawn from there and the Covent Garden Theatre. William Jovan de Vallois had made his London debut at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre on 13 April 1732, billed as ‘lately arrived from the Opera at Paris, the first Time of his dancing in England, a Scholar to M. Marcelle’. These credentials link him to one of the leading dancers and dancing masters in Paris. I have yet to discover whether Monsieur de Vallois pursued his earlier career at the Paris Opéra itself or at the Opéra-Comique (the successor to the theatres in the Paris fairs).

La Brone and La Blonde seems to have been danced in London only that once. The ‘&c’ suggests that there were more than two dancers, but there is no way of guessing how many. Could the dance have had any connection with the choreographies recorded and published by Dezais in his Premier Livre de Contre-Dances in 1725? There is a concordance for the tune for La Blonde, in Contre-Danses et Branles qui se danse aux bals de l’opera published in Paris around the same time. This suggests that Dezais might have been drawing on (or perhaps aiming his collection at) dancing in the public balls given at the Paris Opéra. This same music had also been used for The Siciliana by Siris, a ballroom duet published in London in 1714. Both La Blonde and La Brunne are in 6/8 and their music is titled ‘Gigue’, although La Brunne has an upbeat which identifies it as a Canarie. Both choreographies are for four and in the Dezais collection La Blonde is immediately followed by La Brunne and then repeated after it to conclude the dance.

The choreographies recorded by Dezais go a bit beyond straightforward contredanses. He notates steps for two sections within La Blonde. The little enchainement performed by each of the two couples, balonné, coupé battu starting with the right foot and then the left while taking right and then left hands, is familiar from a number of ballroom duets. Its earliest recorded use (if not its origin) is in the 1702 L’Allemande by Guillaume-Louis Pecour, ballet master at the Paris Opéra. This choreography was danced by Claude Ballon and Marie-Thérèse de Subligny in the ballet Fragments de Mr. De Lully the same year as the dance appeared. La Brunne has a right and left allemande turn which might also echo the same source, although no steps are notated (L’Allemande has two balonnés, a pas de bourée and an assemblé for each turn, which would fit).

If there is a link between the London dance La Brone and La Blonde and Dezais’s little suite of contredanses, it is perhaps more likely to lie within the music than the choreography. Yet, the use of motifs from L’Allemande (if that is indeed what is happening) suggests other possibilities. Did the dance performed at Bartholomew Fair in 1733 also derive some of its choreography from L’Allemande, perhaps via the contredanses published by Dezais?

Here is a nice performance of Dezais’s La Blonde and La Brunne. The dancers choose to do pas de bourées for their allemande turns. This is, after all, a contredanse.

Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances: a closer look

I have been curious about the choreography for La Blonde and La Brunne for a long time, because a dance with much the same name was performed on the London stage in the early 1730s. Before I pursue that dance, I want to take a closer look at the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances published by Dezais in 1725. Unfortunately, the collection seems to have been unknown to the dance historians and musicologists who have done such valuable work on the dance notations surviving from the 18th century. So far as I can tell, nothing has been published on it and few concordances for the tunes have so far been identified.

The collection helps to fill a gap in the history of the cotillon, between Le Cotillon des Fêtes de Thalie published by Dezais in 1716 and the 1762 Le Repertoire des Bals by De la Cuisse. There must have been many cotillons danced between those two dates, but the interruption in the publication of notated dances means that they were never recorded in print.

Among the dances in the Premier Livre, the following have the ‘Change’ and ‘Figure’ structure familiar from the later cotillons (although the first two are for four and not eight dancers):

Cotillon Hongrois



Cotillon de Surenne

L’Esprit Follet

All are recorded in a way that shows their structure explicitly, i.e. the ‘Figure’ is notated in full the first time round and the successive repeats are merely noted after each ‘Change’. I haven’t gone so far as to analyse the choreographies for these dances, but such work would undoubtedly shed light on the early development of the cotillon.

The other dances in the collection – La Blonde, La Brunne, L’Ecossoise and La Carignan – are also worth closer investigation. L’Ecossoise is for six, four men and two women (although Dezais says in his Avertissement ‘qu’a la place de 4.  hōmes et 2. fēmes que l’on peut mettre quatre femmes et 2. hommes’.  How unusual are those line-ups among the surviving dances? La Carignan is one of several minuets ‘à quatre’, choreographies worth considering as a group.

There is much to learn from the Dezais Premier Livre de Contre-Dances.

Dances for four: Dezais, Premier Livre de Contre-Dances (1725)

Since my first blog post on dances for four, I have acquired a copy of the Premier Livre de Contre-Dances by Jacques Dezais, published in Paris in 1725. This collection contains the following dances:

Cotillon Hongrois à quatre

L’Inconstante à quatre

L’Infante à 8

Cotillon de Surenne à 8

La Blonde à quatre

La Brunne à quatres

L’Esprit Follet à 4 [in fact à 8]

L’Ecossoise à six

La Carignan menuet à quatre

So, there are five dances for four in this collection.

Dezais uses the simplified form of notation developed by Feuillet for contredanses, notating just a few steps in each dance. The pas de rigaudon appears in nearly every dance and several dances include half-turn pirouettes, balancé, pas de bourée and assemblé. Dezais obviously classified these choreographies as contredanses. He describes them as such on the title page and, as well as using the simplified notation, he refers readers to Feuillet’s 1706 Recueil de contredances for the ‘principes’ needed to read and perform each dance. Indeed, he goes further by offering to notate and publish any ‘contre-dances des Provces. [Provinces]’ he may receive. According to Dezais, then, these are definitely contredanses, for the ballroom. Nevertheless, I will take a closer look at some of them in future posts within other contexts.

There is one other interesting aspect to this collection. The Premier Livre de Contre-Dances was engraved by Mlle Louise Roussel. When cotillons began to be published in large numbers in Paris in the 1760s, one name prominent on their title pages was Mlle Castagnery. Both she and Mlle Roussel are worth further investigation.


Dances for four: a first list

My initial list of dances for four looks as follows. I give the publication date, the title of the dance and the choreographer (if known).

1705                Le Cotillon (Anon.)

1706                Le Menuet à Quatre (Anon.)

1710                Le Passepied à Quatre (Feuillet)

1711                Mr Holt’s Minuet & Jigg

[c1713]            Menuet à Quatre (Pecour)

[c1713]            Rigaudon à Quatre (Pecour)

1716                La Gavotte du Roy (Balon)

1719                L’Italiene (Dezais)

1725                Cotillon Hongrois à Quatre (Dezais)

1725                L’Inconstante à Quatre (Dezais)

1725                La Blonde à Quatre (Dezais)

1725                La Brunne à Quatre (Dezais)

1725                La Carignan, Menuet à Quatre (Dezais)

1765                Le Quadrille (Magny)

1771                Passepied à Quatre (Clement)

1771                Allemande à Quatre (Clement)

There are also two dances for which we have no date of composition or publication:

La Blonde et La Brune (Anon. Source unknown, unless this choreography is the same as the Dezais dances above)

Minuet à Quatre (Pecour. In a manuscript collection dated 1751)

So, there are around 18 dances for four among the surviving notations

The next question concerns the sources for these dances, and what they might tell us about the status of dances for four in the 18th-century ballroom.