Tag Archives: Mr Isaac

Contextualizing Mr Isaac’s Minuets

I thought it would be interesting, and perhaps informative, to try to place Mr Isaac’s minuets within the context of other minuet choreographies of approximately the same period. It isn’t easy to date the French notated dances, other than by their dates of publication, but given that some use music that appeared earlier they, too, may have been created a few years before their first appearance in print. I have taken my investigation as far as 1709, the year that Isaac’s The Royal Portuguez was published. Apart from the minuet in Favier’s Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos of 1688, which I include here, there are six other minuets to be explored. Some are minuets only, while others are minuet sections within multi-partite dances.

La Bourée d’Achille was first published in Feuillet’s Recueil de dances composées par Mr. Pecour in Paris in 1700, one of the first two collections of dances to appear in notation. The minuet is the central section of the dance, with 48 bars of music in 3/4 time (2xAABB A=4 B=8), preceded and followed by a bourrée. The music is from Achille et Polixène, the opera begun by Lully and completed after his death by Colasse. It was first performed in 1687 and then not revived until 1712. So, the duet must antedate 1700 and could belong to the mid to late 1690s.

The Menuet à Deux was published by Feuillet in Recueil de dances contenant un tres grand nombres, de meillieures entrées de ballet de Mr. Pecour which appeared in Paris in 1704. This was the first collection of dances closely linked to the Paris Opéra (Feuillet had published a collection of his own ‘theatrical’ choreographies in 1700, but these seem not to have been associated with dancers on the professional stage). It was danced by Dumoulin l’aîné and Mlle Victoire in Campra’s Fragments de Mr de Lully in 1702 and the choreography obviously belongs to that date. As its title suggests, this is a minuet throughout which has 48 bars in 3/4 time (AABB A=8 B=16)

The Entrée pour un homme et une femme was also choreographed by Pecour and included in the 1704 Recueil de dances. The music is from Destouches’s opera Omphale, first given at the Paris Opéra in 1701 and then at court in 1702 (after which it was not revived until 1721). The notation declares that this duet was performed by Ballon and Mlle Subligny. It was, of course, a minuet for the stage rather than the ballroom with 68 bars of music in 3/4 time (a rondeau, ABACA A=16 B=8 C=12)

La Bavière, choreographed by Pecour, appeared in the IIIIe Recueil de dances de bal pour l’année 1706 published in Paris the previous year. This is a minuet followed by a forlana, to music from La Barre’s La Vénitienne first given at the Paris Opéra in 1705, so this ballroom dance must surely have been created with speedy publication in mind. The minuet has 32 bars of music in 3/4 time (AABB A=B=8)

The Brawl of Audenarde, by Siris, was published individually in London as his ‘new Dance for the year 1709’ and was obviously intended to celebrate the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Oudenarde as part of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1708. The title page says ‘The Tune by Mr. G.’, John Ernest Galliard, and the music was published separately the same year. This dance is a courante followed by a minuet and then a gigue, so it has structural affinities with some of Mr Isaac’s choreographies. The minuet has 32 bars of music in 3/4 time (ABAB A=B=8).

Le Menuet d’Alcide, another choreography by Pecour, was also published in 1709 but in Paris within the VIIe Recüeil de dances pour l’année 1709. Its music is from the opera Alcide by Louis Lully and Marin Marais, first performed at the Paris Opéra in 1693 and revived in 1705 (according to Francine Lancelot’s catalogue La Belle Dance (entry FL/1709.1/02) the music was also used in Ariane et Bacchus by Marais in 1696). This is another minuet throughout with 54 bars of music in 6/4 (3xAABB’ A=4 B=6 B’=4). It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that Pecour’s choreography dates to the mid to late 1690s.

Leaving aside issues of dating, do any of these minuets have steps or figures in common with those by Mr Isaac that I explored in my earlier post?

Favier’s minuet ‘Entrée des 2. Garçons et des 2. filles de la Nopce’ in Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos is analysed in detail by Rebecca Harris-Warrick and Carol Marsh in their 1994 book Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV (see particularly pages 144-148). This choreography uses pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, plus a single coupé and assemblé combination. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet differ from later versions, both in their component steps and their timing (see Harris-Warrick and Marsh, pp. 109, 111). There is no reference to any of the later conventional figures of the ballroom minuet. This ‘Entrée’ is a stage choreography performed within a work which uses music, songs and dances to portray an event – the marriage of ‘Fat Kate’. It is, perhaps, more surprising that it uses a standard and restricted vocabulary of steps than that it ignores the usual figures of the minuet, if these had indeed been established by 1688.

The French ballroom dances published in the early 1700s all reflect the menuet ordinaire as known from Rameau’s Le Maître à danser of 1725. The minuets in La Bourée d’Achille and La Bavière, as well as Le Menuet d’Alcide, all predominantly use the pas de menuet with some contretemps du menuet and occasional grace steps. In La Bourée d’Achille the pas de menuet à trois mouvements is favoured, while in Le Menuet d’Alcide preference is given to the pas de menuet à deux mouvements. The figures of these two minuets (particularly the latter) recognisably relate to the conventional figures of the ballroom minuet, but the minuet section in La Bavière is too short to do other than allude to the opening figure before moving on to another short figure which simply gets the dancers to their places to begin the following forlana.

Of the two minuets for the stage, the Menuet à Deux danced by Dumoulin l’aîné and Mlle Victoire is the most conventional. Of the twenty-four pas composés in this dance (which are written as if in 6/4), ten are pas de menuet à deux mouvements and eight are contretemps du menuet. Pecour begins the dance with a coupé sideways as the couple face each other, followed by a pas tombé and a jetté. The first B section of the music begins with the couple facing one another on a right line for a pas balancé forwards and backwards, incorporating a beat and an ouverture de jambe, before moving sideways away from each other with a fleuret and a pas balonné. They then repeat this sequence. Despite his choice of steps, Pecour seems not to reflect any of the ballroom minuet’s figures within his choreography – although this dance has quite a strong inward focus between the two dancers which is interesting in the context of a stage performance. Here is the first plate.

The Entrée pour un homme et une femme, danced by Ballon and Mlle Subligny in Omphale, has a far more varied vocabulary of steps with only four pas de menuet à deux mouvements and two contretemps du menuet. Otherwise Pecour uses pas composés based on a wider range of basic steps, some of which play with conventional steps from the minuet, for example the demi-contretemps followed by a pas tombé and a jetté, while others come together into sequences which echo those he uses in other dance types, like the coupé à deux mouvements followed by a coupé sans poser as the couple move sideways away from each other. There are no clear references to the conventional figures of the minuet, although the final retreat does have a contretemps du menuet as the pair move backwards upstage. Here is the final plate of this duet.

It is worth noting that this dance is far more outwardly focussed than Pecour’s Menuet à Deux. It is less easy to identify as a minuet from its choreography, but I suspect that a subtle relationship with the conventions of the ballroom minuet might emerge in the course of detailed reconstruction of the duet.

The last of the minuets seems to relate most closely to those by Mr Isaac, perhaps because Siris was working in London as well, or maybe because he was trying to emulate some aspects of Isaac’s choreographic style. Here is plate two of The Brawl of Audenarde with the whole of the minuet section.

The notation and engraving styles are strikingly different from those of the French notations and resemble those of Isaac’s dances (the printer John Walsh produced both Isaac’s and Siris’s dances). The dancers have just completed the courante, the opening section of the duet, and are facing each other offset across the dancing space. They begin by moving onto the same diametrical line with a variant of the pas de bourrée in which the last step is a pas glissé, recognisable from Isaac’s minuet for The Britannia, to which Siris adds a final plié. This is joined to a hop and a jetté, the final elements of the contretemps du menuet, to make a new hybrid pas composé emulating the sort of steps created by Isaac. Siris makes copious use of the pas de menuet à deux mouvements – there are seven in all within this 16-bar minuet (although the music is notated in 3/4, the dance steps are written in 6/4) and four are given small variations. There is a grace step, the pas de courante, which appears once in its usual guise of a tems de courante followed by a demi-jetté battu and then in an ornamented version (performed by the woman as well as the man) which has a double beat. The latter comes close to the end of the minuet section, by which time the couple are in mirror symmetry and so dancing on opposite feet. Like La Bavière, the minuet section of The Brawl of Audenarde is too short to include even allusions to the figures of the ballroom minuet. It ends with the man and woman side by side facing the presence, but improper, ready to begin the gigue with which the duet ends.

On the evidence of this small selection of early notated minuets, six French and one English (or, at least, published in London), Mr Isaac’s choreography was very idiosyncratic. The nearest to him in style is Siris. Should we read anything into the fact that, in his own translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie entitled The Art of Dancing, Demonstrated by Characters and Figures and published in London in 1706, Siris claimed that he had been taught the notation by its inventor Pierre Beauchamp in the late 1680s? As we now know, Mr Isaac had begun his career in Paris by the early 1670s and was undoubtedly acquainted with Beauchamp. Did he and Siris enjoy similar early training in belle danse, contributing to the similarities between their approaches to choreography?

Mr Isaac’s Minuets

Four of Mr Isaac’s duets published in notation include minuets:

The Rondeau and The Britannia from A collection of ball-dances perform’d at court published in 1706. The Rondeau may date to 1693, while The Britannia was danced in celebration of Queen Anne’s birthday in 1706.

The Marlborough, apparently not published until 1710 although it was a ‘new dance’ in 1705 when it was performed to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday.

The Royal Portuguez, a ‘New Dance made for her Majesty’s BirthDay’ in 1709 and published the same year. The title may refer to Maria Anna of Austria, who was escorted to Portugal in an English navy vessel for her marriage to João V of Portugal in 1708. She arrived at Spithead from Holland on 24 September 1708 in the Royal Anne.

I am reconstructing these minuets from their notations and all are springing surprises. Here, I will look at them in order of their dates of composition.

The Rondeau

In this duet, the musical structure of the concluding minuet reflects that of the preceding triple and duple time sections. It, too, is a rondeau, running AABACAA (A=B=C=8) and so has 56 bars in 3/4 time. The dance notation is also barred in triple time.

Only about a third of the steps in this minuet are recognisable as belonging to the vocabulary reserved for the dance type. There are some conventional pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet (notated as if in 6/4, but with a bar line part way through the step). There are also some ‘Grace’ steps, or variants of these. I will return to Isaac’s steps more generally towards the end of this post.

It is generally accepted that the partners in a ballroom minuet both begin their steps on the right foot and maintain this throughout the dance. In The Rondeau, as in his other minuets, Isaac ignores this convention at will. The minuet begins with the couple facing one another across the dancing space, before they turn to dance two pas de menuet upstage side-by-side and then turn to face one another again with a pas balancé. They only turn to face the presence as they change to mirror symmetry (the first of two such sequences) and perform two jettés backwards. This change gives the woman a contretemps du menuet on the left foot, shown in this first plate of the minuet.

The first floor patterns on the next plate could be interpreted as a variation of the ‘Z’  figure, as the couple face one another and move apart sideways, before returning on the same line and then passing right shoulders – all of which is done on an orientation which has been moved through forty-five degrees so it is sideways on to the presence. At the end of the dance, shown in the plate below, the figure resembles the taking of both hands (although no hand holds are included in the notation) before a final retreat with the man moving backwards and the woman forwards in more conventional minuet steps.

The Marlborough

In this dance, ostensibly created just a year before The Britannia, it is not easy to see the triple-time section as a minuet. The musical structure is difficult to analyse. It seems to be AABACBAC (A=4 B=8 C=4), but (as a non-musician) I am happy to be corrected on this. There are, in any case, 40 bars of music. The minuet follows a march, to which the choreography returns for a final reprise.

The dancers begin facing one another on a right line, the man backing the presence, and they travel backwards away from one another with steps that can perhaps be interpreted as a variation on the pas de menuet. None of the subsequent figures seem to make any reference to the conventional figures of the minuet and few of the steps clearly seem to be variants of minuet steps, although several resemble those in Isaac’s other couple minuets. In the final figures, before the return to the march, both travel sideways upstage with contretemps and pas de bourrée before facing each other on a diametrical line for pas de sissonne and coupé variants. They end facing each other ready to begin the last duple-time section. Here are the opening and conclusion of the minuet in The Marlborough.

The Britannia

Like The Rondeau, Isaac’s The Britannia has the musical structure AABACAA (A=B=C=8) although in this case neither of the preceding sections – in triple time followed by a bourrée in duple time – are musical rondeaus. Although the music is written in 3/4, the dance notation is actually barred in 6/4. There are 56 bars of triple time music. About a third of the steps can be recognised as pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, although in The Britannia these are mostly in variant form.

The minuet section begins with the couple facing one another across the dancing space and then moving diagonally, the man downstage and the woman upstage, to end facing one another on a right line with the man backing the presence. In much of The Britannia, the partners are on the same foot, but there are two sequences in mirror symmetry. One comes on plate 10, following a short sequence with faint echoes of the ‘Z’ figure, while the other is in the closing bars immediately after the couple have taken both hands. Here is the final sequence, which differs from a conventional minuet in that both the man and the woman are travelling forwards towards upstage.

The Royal Portuguez

This is the latest of Isaac’s ballroom dances to include a minuet, although it comes only three years after The Britannia (Isaac would continue to create ballroom dances until at least 1714). It follows a loure, which resembles one of the ‘Spanish’ loures to be found in the French repertoire of notated dances (rather than Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur or Isaac’s The Pastoral, both of which could be described as ‘French’). The loure is, perhaps, meant to honour the new Queen of Portugal, for whom the dance is named. The minuet has a musical structure AABB (A=8 B=12) which is rather different from the other three couple minuets, and the dance notation calls for ‘Brisk Minuet time’. Both the music and the dance notation are barred in triple-time and there are 40 bars altogether.

If its steps are unconventional, the figures of the minuet in The Royal Portuguez at least refer to some of the expected figures of the minuet. It begins with the couple side-by-side facing the presence for a passage on a right line downstage (with steps that might be construed as variants on the pas de menuet, although the dancers are in mirror symmetry). They briefly face each other before turning back to the presence and then travel sideways away from each other on a shallow diagonal. Apart from this opening sequence and another to end the dance, the couple dance on the same foot throughout. A couple of the figures hint at the ‘Z’ figure, although the dancers pass by left shoulders. The final figure begins with the couple facing one another on a diametrical line before travelling on a circular path anti-clockwise. They take hands as they perform a variant on the pas de sissonne to face one another on a right line, before a very short passage upstage to finish. Like The Marlborough, there is little to underline that this is a minuet. Here are the opening and closing plates of the minuet section of The Royal Portuguez.

Mr Isaac’s ‘Minuet’ Steps

Mr Isaac does use recognisable pas de menuet – these have three movements ending with a demi-coupé – although only The Rondeau and The Britannia include them. The contretemps du menuet appears in the same two dances. There are occasional ‘Grace’ steps, a pas balancé in The Rondeau, a pas de courante in The Britannia and paired pas de bourrée in The Rondeau and The Marlborough. Isaac seems to have liked pas composé beginning with a jumping step and ending with a pas de bourrée, which provided him with a range of variations on the pas de menuet à deux mouvements. His most often used versions were:

  • Two jettés and a pas de bourrée, which appears in The Rondeau, The Marlborough, The Britannia and The Royal Portuguez;
  • A coupé followed by a pas de bourrée, which is used in The Rondeau, The Britannia and The Royal Portuguez.

Isaac also makes quite frequent use of the jetté-chassé as an element within a pas composé. Most of these are specific to the dance in which they appear, although a coupé followed by two jettés-chassé is used in both The Royal Portuguez and The Marlborough. The jettés-chassé themselves differ, in relation to the extension (or not) of the working leg), as shown in these versions from plate 8 of The Britannia (on the left) and plate 14 of The Royal Portuguez (on the right).

It is particularly interesting that the minuet sections of three of these dances – The Rondeau, The Britannia and The Marlborough – each have several steps that appear to be unique to them.

My work on Mr Isaac’s couple minuets has called into question much of what I thought I knew about this dance. These earlier minuets range far from the conventional steps and figures set out by Rameau in Le Maître à danser and Tomlinson in The art of dancing some decades later. What does this mean for our understanding of the minuet or, indeed, other dance types among the ballroom duets.

English Court Balls, 1685 – 1702

Back in 2019, I wrote a couple of posts about dancing at the English court – The Restoration Court Ball and Catherine of Braganza: a Dancing Queen. Recent research has taken me back to the topic of court balls and I thought I would pursue birthday balls in particular up to the accession of Queen Anne. Charles II’s queen undoubtedly helped to establish the convention of balls to celebrate royal birthdays following the Restoration in 1660. As I said in my post about her, the first ball that we know of celebrating Catherine of Braganza’s birthday was held on 15 November 1666, some four years after her arrival and marriage. Several others are known from subsequent years.

By contrast, there is evidence for only one ball in honour of Charles II’s birthday, held on 29 May 1675. There may be several reasons for this (not least that the King’s restoration coincided with his birthday) but the lack of such celebrations is still worth further research.

Charles II died on 6 February 1685 and was succeeded by his brother James, Duke of York. James II was crowned on 23 April 1685 and the Hall Theatre at Whitehall Palace was apparently first prepared for a ball the following October. The new King’s birthday was on 14 October, while that of his Queen Mary of Modena was on 5 October.

Preparations for a ball in the Hall Theatre are recorded in October 1686, but there are no indications of similar work the following year. By October 1688, Britain was in crisis – William of Orange landed at Torbay on 5 November and on 23 December James II sailed to exile in France.

Researchers seem to have paid little attention to court balls during the reign of William III and Mary II, although surviving evidence indicates that such entertainments continued. The couple were reported to have danced at a ‘greate Ball’ held at the court of Charles II on 15 November 1677, not long after their marriage on 4 November. Despite his evident seriousness, William of Orange is reported to have been a good dancer.

Following their joint acceptance of the throne on 13 February 1689 and their coronation on 11 April that year, it was several months before court entertainments settled into a pattern. There was a ball to celebrate William III’s birthday on 4 November 1689, the first of what would become a series. There seems to have been no parallel entertainment for Mary II’s birthday on 30 April the following year, or indeed in later years, although the Queen apparently hosted a ball for her sister Princess Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1691. William III’s birthday was accompanied by a ball at Whitehall Palace in November 1691, November 1693 and November 1694. There may well have been a ball in November 1692 as well but direct evidence that would confirm this does not survive.

The death of Queen Mary II on 28 December 1694 brought court entertainments to a halt. In November 1695 there was no ball for the birthday of the widowed King. In November 1696, William III’s sister-in-law Princess Anne – who had taken on her late sister’s role of court ‘hostess’ – gave a ball for the King’s birthday and there were further such balls in 1697, 1698 and 1699.

Princess Anne’s birthday was celebrated by a ball at Kensington House on 6 February 1698, although this seems to have been an isolated occasion. I have recently been investigating some of the choreographies by Mr Isaac, dancing master to Princess Anne, and it is possible that those that can plausibly be dated to the 1690s include some that were originally performed at the birthday balls for William III.

It is worth reiterating that the birthday balls that were a feature of Queen Anne’s reign and continued throughout the ensuing Georgian era had their beginning in the 1660s, perhaps under the auspices of the royal dancing master Jerome Gahory (Mr Isaac’s uncle). William III himself tacitly acknowledged the importance of French dancing at his court, continuing the precedent set by Charles II, when Le Palais des Plaisirs was given at Kensington House in 1698 and again when the French dancers Claude Ballon and Anthony L’Abbé danced there before him in 1699. L’Abbé was Isaac’s brother-in-law and would continue the line of royal dancing masters when he was appointed to that post by George I around 1715.

Further research among a range of primary sources is needed on this topic. For this post, I have mainly relied on the following secondary sources:

John van der Kiste. William and Mary (Stroud, 2008)

Anne Somerset. Queen Anne: the politics of passion (London, 2012)

Eleanore Boswell. The Restoration court stage, 1660-1702 (London, 1966). Reprint of the 1932 ed.

A register of English theatrical documents 1660-1737, compiled and ed. Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. 2 vols. (Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1991)

See also:

Moira Goff. ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), pp. 537-542

Jennifer Thorp. ‘Monsieur L’Abbé and Le Palais des Plaisirs: a new source for a London spectacle’, Proceedings of the SDHS Conference 2010, pp. 335-343.

Mr. Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Motifs and Steps

In my previous post, I looked at the opening and closing sections in each of Mr Isaac’s six dances published in 1706. Here, I turn my attention to some of his choreographic motifs and his versions of some of the basic steps of baroque dance.

Choreographic Motifs: The Right Line

As I work on each of these six dances (a project which is still in progress), I am taking note of one of Isaac’s choreographic motifs in particular. In all of the six dances, except for The Rigadoon, there is at least one sequence danced on a right line. In Orchesography, Weaver describes a ‘Right Line’ as ‘that which extends itself in Length, from one end of the Room to the other’ and illustrates it as running from the presence to the far end of the room in the centre of the dancing space. He is, of course, simply translating what Feuillet says (and illustrates) as his ‘ligne droite’. The feature which makes Isaac’s motif surprising is that the couple face one another and dance along this ‘Right Line’, so one of them has their back to the presence and screens the other from view. (I am assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the presence is on the same level as the dancers and not above them).

The Richmond

The Richmond has one sequence on a right line, roughly half way through the choreography, which begins on plate 3 and finishes on plate 4.

Plate 3
Plate 4 (sequences at top and bottom)

With the woman backing the presence, they approach one another and then retreat.  Each then travels to the right for another sequence in which they move towards one another again on a right line, although they are now offset so both dancers can be seen from the front. The sequence of steps is complex, in keeping with this English hornpipe.

The Rondeau

The Rondeau also has a single sequence on a right line, this time around halfway through the minuet section with which the dance ends.

Plate 6 (the sequence begins on the central vertical line)

The man has his back to the presence. The pair approach one another and then retreat to begin a circular line (on the next plate) which will bring them face to face again, this time on a diametrical line.

The Favorite

The Favorite has two sequences on a right line. The first occurs in the chaconne with the lady backing the presence (plate 2). The second is in the first part of the bourrée with the man backing the presence (plate 5)

Plate 2
Plate 5

This was the dance that drew my attention to the motif, simply because in the chaconne the woman performs a coupé battu to the presence before she turns her back to face her partner (at the top of the detail from plate 2) and this includes a plié on the pas battu which makes it seem like a courtesy. (The man does the same step facing upstage). This figure is followed by another on a diametrical line. The second of these motifs, in the bourrée, has the man with his back to the presence and brings the two dancers together to take right hands for a circular figure.

The Spanheim

The Spanheim also has two figures on a right line. The first comes about a quarter of the way through the dance and the second just over half-way, within the full repeat of the music.

Plate 1
Plate 3

The first of these figures takes only three bars, while the second lasts for five bars. The first time, the woman has her back to the presence and the second time she faces it. The notation for the second right line shows the dancers as slightly offset, although their preceding steps and figure indicate that they are indeed face to face.

The Britannia

The last of the six dances, The Britannia, has three sequences on a right line. The first comes within the first half of the bourrée, with the woman backing the presence, and has the couple approaching one another, turning their backs and turning to face each other again.

Plate 4

The second and third right line figures are within the early sections of the minuet. Both are fleeting and the dancers face the sides of the dancing space (or even the presence and end of the room) as much as each other. In the second, the man is closest to the presence and in the third it is the woman.

Plate 7
Plate 8

There is even the hint of yet another figure on a right line, in the form of a single step just a little further on in the minuet, with the man closest to the presence.

Plate 9

Isaac reveals some preferences in his choice of steps for these right line figures. He uses paired jettés-chassés in The Richmond, The Rondeau and The Britannia, and he also turns to pas de bourrée incorporating an emboîté and a plié. Similarly, he likes to use a coupé with an emboîté and an ouverture de jambe leading to a pas sauté – either a jetté, a jetté-chassé or a sissonne (the vertical jump from two feet to one that completes the pas de sissonne).

Isaac’s Steps

For Orchesography, Weaver evidently used the 1701 second edition of Feuillet’s Choregraphie with its ‘Supplement de pas’ (Feuillet had neglected to include the pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet, alongside a variety of other steps in the notation tables of his first edition). Weaver’s ‘Suplement’ is limited to minuet steps, including some of the ‘grace’ steps, but he also includes four pas composés which he attributes to Mr. Isaac.

Weaver’s claim that these steps are ‘seldom, or ever found in any other Dances whatsoever’ needs to be explored in detail. They aren’t in Feuillet’s step tables but it would be worth checking where and when they occur in dances other than those by Isaac.

Looking through the six dances, some other individual steps stand out. Here are some examples.

The Richmond

Plate 3 (an extension with variation of the jetté-chassé).

Plate 5 (the first pas simple continues that of the preceding pas composé, note the additional ornamentation on the right, the man’s side).

The Rondeau

Plate 1 (this can be described as a coupé battu with an added temps and is a step used in other dances. It comes from the opening triple time section).

Plate 3 (a jetté followed by a coupé soutenue, but perhaps also related to Isaac’s fondness for the sort of variations shown in Weaver’s examples of his steps. This is from the second duple time section).

The Favorite

Plate 3 (two pas de bourrée with variations, from the chaconne).

The notation suggests subtle adjustments to the step as the foot moves, as well as directional changes in relation to the partner – assuming that it represents Weaver’s notation rather than the engraver’s interpretation of it.

Plate 5 (a coupé simple emboîté paired with a variant on the coupé avec ouverture de jambe, from the bourrée).

The Rigadoon

In The Rigadoon it is the sequences of steps that are unusual, rather than the individual pas composés. The most famous sequence is that of plate 2, with its glissades and pas de bourrée tracing a square or rectangular figure.

The glissades (paired coupés soutenues travelling sideways) are a feature of the step vocabulary of The Rigadoon and can be found in other dances as well, notably The Favorite.

There is also the rhythmic challenge posed by a sequence on plate 4. Three successive steps, each of which has a different number and placing of demi-coupés.

The couple travel sideways towards each other and are, at this point in the figure, quite close to the presence.

The Spanheim

Plate 3 (the two steps on the left can each be described as a pas de bourrée with a beat as well as the concluding jetté – here an assemblé – with added changes of direction).

The Britannia

Plate 1 (two jettés-chassés followed by a jetté, from the opening triple time section).

Plate 2 (a hop ornamented with a rond de jambe followed by a demi-coupé. The next step is two demi-coupés in succession. These are from the triple time section).

Plate 4 (two pas de bourrée with emboîté, ending in a plié leading to a sissonne, from the bourrée).

I hope to look at Isaac’s minuets in The Rondeau and The Britannia separately as both use a vocabulary of steps which go beyond the usual variations on and around the pas de menuet, contretemps du menuet and grace steps.

In all these steps, we can see Isaac not only constructing new pas composés from otherwise familiar elements, combining these in new ways, but also ornamenting these compound steps spatially as well as dynamically. It takes time and practice to master Isaac’s steps and sequences, which are an integral part of his idiosyncratic approach to the choreography of ballroom danses à deux.

Mr Isaac’s Choreography: The Six Dances – Opening and Closing Figures

Apart from a solo Chacone and Minuet for a girl (perhaps two separate solos), Mr Isaac’s choreography survives in twenty-one ballroom duets published between 1706 and 1716. Of these, eleven were said to have been ‘Perform’d at Court’ (another, The Northumberland, may also have been danced at court), while another seven were advertised as ‘Made for Her Majesty’s Birth Day’. Two were called a ‘new Dance for the Year’ – they were danced on stage and may have been originally intended for that purpose.

In her 1985 thesis (p. 229), French Court Dance in England: A Study of the Sources, Carol Marsh identified nine country dances that used music from Isaac’s ballroom dances (some used only one section from the music for a multi-partite dance). There appears to be no suggestion that these were created by Mr Isaac himself, although most were published close in date to his ballroom duets. There is also Isaac’s Maggot, in the ninth edition of The Dancing-Master published in 1695, which might be by him. I don’t intend to pursue any of these here or in future posts, although they may well be worth further research by those well-versed in country dances and their history.

In this post, I will look at two of the choreographic conventions demonstrated, or disregarded, in the six of Isaac’s dances published together in 1706. I will investigate some of his more idiosyncratic figures and steps in my next post. Behind this line of enquiry lies the issue of the notation, what it can (and can’t) notate, notational errors and (with Isaac’s other dances) the different approaches of individual notators and engravers. John Weaver was the notator of the six Isaac dances (which were published the same year as Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie), but at least two engravers prepared the plates from which they were printed. I will touch on these issues in my analyses, although work on the styles and practices of engravers, and notators, really needs to be done through close examination of the originals.

Early in my involvement in baroque dance, I encountered what were identified as choreographic conventions within the genre. There were two in particular: dances opened with a passage travelling downstage towards the audience, or for ballroom dances – the presence; they ended with another passage travelling upstage so that the dancers returned to their starting point. These conventions provide a useful starting point for a brief analysis of Isaac’s six dances.

Here are the opening and closing figures for each of the six dances.

The Richmond:

In the opening A section of the music for The Richmond (4 bars), the two dancers move downstage on a diagonal but quickly turn to face each other. They move sideways for one step, then turn to face the presence for two steps. Isaac divides the focus of the dancers between each other and the presence. They are closer together than appears on the notation.

The closing sequence (the final 4 bars, a petite reprise to the last section of the music) has the couple (who are improper) take inside hands as the man moves upstage and lady downstage. They then turn and repeat their pas composé taking other hands. On the next, penultimate, step they let go hands and change sides for their final step in which the man dances backwards and the lady dances forwards. She makes a half turn on the coupé soutenu into fourth position, with which they both finish.

The Rondeau:

Apart from one step, in bar 3, in which the couple face each other for a brief acknowledgement, the convention of facing and travelling downstage towards the presence is observed throughout the first 8-bar musical section. The two coupés sans poser sideways (in bars 4 and 5) would have travelled less than the notation suggests.

The Rondeau ends with a minuet and the closing figure uses the convention of the man travelling backwards, while his lady travels forwards – as if they had taken both hands, although no hand holds are shown on the notation. His final coupé soutenu ends in fourth position, while hers ends in first position implying that they immediately perform an honour.

The Rigadoon:

Isaac gives The Rigadoon, his most famous dance, an entirely conventional opening sequence, with the two dancers travelling downstage side-by-side towards the presence throughout the first A section (before turning their backs as they begin the second A).

The closing sequence is actually a repeat, with variations, of the steps from the opening of The Rigadoon. The man moves backwards as the woman dances forwards and she turns to face the presence only on her final step – both ending with a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Favorite:

Apart from their initial steps in The Favorite, which include coupés sideways towards and away from each other, the couple travel directly downstage side-by-side towards the presence, making this a conventional opening.

The Favorite is another dance for which the music ends with a petite reprise. In these final four bars, the two dancers face each other or upstage, travelling upstage on a diagonal before ending with a quarter-turn (not indicated on the notation) into a coupé soutenu into fourth position.

The Spanheim:

In The Spanheim the dancers face one another on their first step and travel sideways downstage on the next, before turning to face the presence to continue travelling downstage with their next two steps to complete the first A section of the music.

The final musical section of The Spanheim has six bars. For the first three the couple travel upstage together, turning to face the presence at the end of their second step. The floor pattern for the last three bars is more complex, using diagonals and a curving track before they make a quarter turn to face the presence at the very end. The man does a coupé soutenu into fourth position and the woman into first, so this dance also seems to end with an immediate honour.

The Britannia:

The A section in The Britannia is longer than usual, with 10 bars, and begins unconventionally with the dancers facing one another for the first 5 bars, before turning to face the presence for a sequence which travels sideways moving away, towards and away from each other.

The Britannia ends with a minuet, like The Rondeau, and Isaac also uses a variation on the taking of both hands (in this dance the notation indicates that the couple do take hands). Their final retreat is shorter (three bars of music – equivalent to one and a half minuet steps) and ends with coupés soutenus into fourth and first respectively, so presumably straight into an honour.

Although each of these dances keep to the general conventions in their opening and closing passages, Isaac is inventive in his variations of these. In all but The Rigadoon, his dancers acknowledge each other in some way. In The Richmond, The Spanheim and The Britannia their opening steps and figures are directed to each other and they only turn to the presence some way into the opening section. I am wondering whether these differences, subtle as they may seem, point to different contexts for their performance or perhaps to Isaac interpretating a theme within his music or the dance’s title. As I work on these choreographies, I question how formal were the balls at which they were performed. Were some of them danced at private or semi-private events before a small royal and aristocratic group, rather than at royal balls given before a wider audience?

The variations in the closing steps are interesting. In Le Maître à danser, published some twenty and more years later than the creation of Isaac’s six dances, Rameau specifies that at the ‘grand Bal du Roy’ and ‘Bals reglez’ honours must be made at both the beginning and end of each couple dance (pages 54, 56-57). These honours are rarely notated in the surviving dances and Weaver’s notations for Isaac seem to hint at differences in practice, signalled by the finishing position of the woman. Do these, too, point to a less formal context for the performance of some of the dances?

Mr Isaac’s Six Dances

A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court; … All Compos’d by Mr. Isaac and Writ Down in Characters, by John Weaver was published in London in 1706. There is evidence to suggest that some individual dances had already appeared, but it was certainly the earliest collection of dances to be published in London in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation. It seems to have been intended to accompany Orchesographie, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, which appeared the same year. It was also the first collection of English choreographies and close analysis suggests that these had a character quite distinct from the French ball dances being published in notation in Paris around the same time. We have no portrait of Weaver, but there is this print of Mr Isaac, engraved by George White after a portrait by Louis Goupy which seems not to survive.

The Collection of Ball-Dances was ‘printed for the Author’, presumably Weaver who had produced the notations and who had signed the work’s dedication to the Duke of Richmond. It was published by subscription – 47 names appear in the List of Subscribers, all of whom were men and most (if not all) were dancing masters. Both Isaac and his brother-in-law Anthony L’Abbé subscribed and the list is otherwise almost identical to that for Orchesography (see my recent post Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: John Weaver for more information).

So far as we know, the Collection survives in only two copies now in the USA, at the Library of Congress and Harvard University Library respectively. There is a possible third copy at the British Library, bound with other notated dances, which I hope to be able to discuss in a separate post in due course.

The order of the dances on the title page reflects their order in the volume.

This order is confirmed by pagination in the top right-hand corner of each plate, although three of the dances – The Rondeau, The Favourite and The Spanheim – have additional individual paginations in the top left-hand corner of each of their pages. The Britannia is engraved in a different style from the rest of the choreographies, not only does it have a decorative border on its first plate but the notated steps have different profiles. These details raise questions about the compilation of the collection, which may have been brought together after some of the dances had been notated for separate publication. I hope to be able to discuss some of these possibilities when I look at the individual dances in later posts.

The dedicatee of A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court was Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond (1672-1723), the son of Charles II and his mistress Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth. In his dedication to the Duke, John Weaver writes ‘from your Grace it was that I receiv’d the first encouragement in the Subscription towards this Undertaking, and all, or most of the following Dances, have been Honour’d with your Grace’s Performance’. This portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller depicts the duke around the time the Collection was published.

Weaver suggests that Richmond had provided some financial support for the publication of the Collection, although his name does not appear in the list of subscribers. Was there another unpublished list of the royal and aristocratic contributors to the costs of publication?

There is also the question of which dances the duke had in fact performed. Weaver’s uncertainty (he writes ‘all, or most’) is perplexing. We know that Isaac was the creator of all six choreographies and he would surely have been able to provide Weaver with accurate information about their performers (Isaac and Weaver were close collaborators over some years). So, did the duke perform only some of the choreographies when they were first given at court, perhaps dancing others at private gatherings to which Isaac was not privy? Whichever ones he did dance, who did he partner?

According to evidence presented by the American dance historian Carol Marsh, in her 1985 thesis ‘French Court Dance in England’, the six dances in this collection may range in date of composition from 1690 to 1706. She draws on the publication date of the music for each dance to indicate when the corresponding choreographies might have been created (the resulting chronology does not relate to the order of the dances in the volume). Isaac’s ball dances thus belong to the court culture of William III and Mary II as well as the early years of Queen Anne. There was more dancing at court in the 1690s than many historians realise, which might also have implications for our understanding of dancing on the London stage during that decade.

Isaac’s six dances have other features which are important for our understanding of ballroom dancing of the period. Here is a summary of basic information about each of the notated choreographies, in the order in which they appear in the Collection, together with an image of the first plate of notation.

The Richmond: 1695 or before. The music was published in The Self-Instructor (London, 1695). The dance is a hornpipe in 3/2, with the musical structure AABBCCDDEEFF’ (A=B=C=D=E=4 F= 8, F’=4 as a petit reprise), and has 52 bars of music.

The Rondeau: c1693. The music was published that year in the 7th edition of Apollo’s Banquet. The dance uses music in a slow 3 and duple time, with a concluding minuet. As the title suggests, the musical structure of the first part is AABACAA (A=B=C=8. A is the slow 3, B and C are in duple time). The musical structure of the minuet is also AABACAA (A=B=C=8, written in 3, i.e. 3/4 rather than 6/4). There are 112 bars of music in all.

The Rigadoon: c1695-1698. An alternative version of the music for Isaac’s choreography was published in Theatre Musick I in 1698 (there is no concordance for Weaver’s version). The dance is a rigaudon and was acknowledged as Isaac’s most famous choreography. The musical structure is AABB (A=4 B=6), played four times to provide 80 bars of music for the dance.

The Favorite: c1690 or earlier. The music was published in the 6th edition of Apollo’s Banquet in 1690, although it can also be found in the Deusiesme recueil des dances et contre-dances (Amsterdam, 1688). It is a chaconne followed by a bourrée. The chaconne has three variations (4+4 bars, 4+4 bars, 8+8 bars) and is played through twice. The bourrée is AABBB’ (A=B=8, B’=4 and is a petit reprise). In all the dance has 100 bars of music.

The Spanheim: may date between 1701 and 1705. The music was published in the Second Book of the Lady’s Banquet in 1706 and there was a country dance to the tune published in 1705. This dance is a gigue, with the musical structure AABBCCDD (A=4 B=6 C=4 D=6), which is repeated to give 80 bars of music.

The Britannia: this was the dance created for Queen Anne’s birthday on 6 February 1706. Although the music was published in 1706 by John Walsh and Joseph Hare together with other ‘new Minuets, Rigadoons, and French Dances, danced at Balls and publick Entertainments’, no copy of this is known to survive. This is another multi-partite choreography, beginning with a section in triple time, followed by a bourrée and then a minuet. The triple-time opening section has the musical structure AA (A=10). The bourrée is also AA (A=14), while the minuet has a rondeau structure AABACAA (A=B=C=8). The whole dance has 104 bars of music.

The music for The Britannia, along with that of many of the dances published after 1706, has been attributed to James Paisible, who may also have provided music for some of the earlier choreographies.

Over the years, I have performed The Richmond and The Favorite and I have worked on The Rondeau and The Rigadoon. I have never danced either The Spanheim or The Britannia, although I am looking forward to learning both of them in due course (albeit on my own, which makes analysis of these duets tricky).

There are another fifteen notated duets by Mr. Isaac, some of which can also be dated to the period between 1690 and 1706, although all were ostensibly first published after 1706. These begin with The Union of 1707 (another choreography I have danced) and end with The Morris of 1716 (a dance I hope to work on at a later date).

All of Isaac’s dances are challenging and even perplexing – as the above short descriptions of the six choreographies in the 1706 Collection suggest. They are very different in style (and even in technique) to the contemporary duets created by Guillaume-Louis Pecour. Were they the product of Isaac’s personal approach to choreography, or do they reflect the idiosyncrasies of English court dance in the French style? Isaac was part French and may well have trained in Paris (he certainly danced in some of the ballets given at the court of Louis XIV), which adds to the questions surrounding his dances. I will try to discuss each of these six dances in separate posts as and when I have done sufficient work on them. I have written on Isaac and some of his dances before and I give a list of these earlier posts below, for those who might be interested.

Earlier Posts

Isaac’s Rigadoon

Isaac’s Rigadoon: the Choreography

Reconstructing Isaac’s Rigadoon

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by Her Majesty’

Further Reading

Carol Marsh, ‘French Court Dance in England, 1706-1740: a Study of the Sources’ (unpublished PhD thesis, City University of New York, 1985)

Meredith Ellis Little and Carol G. Marsh, La Danse Noble: An Inventory of Dances and Sources (Williamstown, 1992)

Jennifer Thorp, ‘Mr. Isaac, Dancing Master’, Dance Research, 24.2 (Winter, 2006), 117-137

Moira Goff ‘The testament and last will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542

Subscription Lists and London’s Dancing Masters: John Weaver

One way to finance printing and publication in the 18th century was through subscriptions. Authors would solicit advance payment for their books from a circle of clients and supporters, enabling these to be printed. The subscribers would receive their copies soon after printing and there would be additional copies available for purchase by non-subscribers, often at a higher price. A list of those who had subscribed was printed for inclusion in the volume and can provide valuable information about the intended audience for the work. Several dancing masters of the period availed themselves of this funding method and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at their subscription lists.

I will start with John Weaver. His translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie (entitled Orchesography) as well as A Collection of Ball-Dances by Mr Isaac, which he had notated, were published by subscription in 1706. Some years later, in 1721, Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing was similarly published. Who were Weaver’s subscribers and were they different for each of the three publications?

Orchesography had 39 subscribers, all of whom also subscribed to A Collection of Ball-Dances, which had a total of 47 names on its subscription list. Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing had only 31 names, of which only nine had subscribed to Weaver’s earlier works. The first name on all three lists is that of Monsieur L’Abbé, by virtue of his place in the alphabet, although by 1721 he was also the royal dancing master – a post which placed him at the head of his profession in Great Britain. L’Abbé was one of ten men listed with the title ‘Monsieur’ in the 1706 lists, identifying them as French. He is the only one so identified in the 1721 list. The majority of the men named as subscribers in the three lists (there were no women) were identified simply by their names, but there were a handful in all of the lists who were further identified by the place where they lived and worked. I will look at each of these groups in turn.

I will start with Orchesography and A Collection of Ball-Dances. Here are their lists of subscribers, to left and right respectively.

Among the Frenchmen, Cherrier, Debargues (usually called Desbarques) and Du Ruell were all stage dancers appearing regularly in London’s theatres during the early 1700s. Together with L’Abbé, Weaver singles out all three for praise in his Preface to Orchesography. The other ‘French’ names raise a series of questions. The first dancer we know called Camille to appear on the London stage was a ‘Young Mr. Camille’ at the Queen’s Theatre in 1712. The epithet suggests that he could, possibly, have been the son of an earlier dancer named Camille for whom we have no record of appearances in London. The dancer Cottin was billed at Drury Lane between 1700 and 1705, but there is no suggestion in the advertisements that he was ‘Monsieur’ Cottin. Monsieur Le Duc and Monsieur D’Elisle bear the same names as French dancers who had performed in the court masque Calisto in 1675. Did they stay in London to dance and to teach or are these other men? The Biographical Dictionary of Actors (full reference below) wrongly conflates Monsieur Le Sac with Queen Anne’s dancing master Mr Isaac. Le Sac was billed on the London stage in 1699-1700 and 1709-1710 and there was a musician of the same name working at Drury Lane during that period. Were the dancer and the musician one and the same? Finally, there is Monsieur Serancour, declared by the Biographical Dictionary of Actors to be the Davencourt who performed in a Grand Dance alongside L’Abbé and others at the Queen’s Theatre in December 1705. A quick look at the original advertisements in the Daily Courant reveals these to be the source of the confusion – ‘Davencourt’ in the first bill becomes ‘Serancour’ in subsequent ones.

The provincial dancing masters listed as subscribers in the two 1706 lists are not quite the same. They are scattered geographically in a way that suggests that Weaver’s appeal for subscribers was mainly concentrated on London. Norwich, Salisbury, Derby and York are represented in both lists, with the addition of Coventry in A Collection of Ball-Dances. Mr Delamain ‘of Dublin’ is joined there by Mr Smith in the Collection of Ball-Dances, while Mr Counly ‘Of Barbadoes’ in Orchesography becomes simply Mr Counly in the Collection. Without further research, we cannot tell why these differences appear, although they may well be simple omissions during typesetting.

This leaves us with the subscribers we are invited to assume are London dancers and dancing masters. Several names are well known from other contexts. There is Thomas Caverley, one of London’s leading teachers of ‘common Dancing’ (as Weaver calls it in the last chapter of his 1712 An Essay towards an History of Dancing) and one of Weaver’s close associates. Antony Caverley, who follows him in the lists, may have been Thomas’s son – unless he was his brother. ‘Mr. Essex’ is, of course, John Essex, who would go on to translate Feuillet’s 1706 Recüeil de contredances in 1710 as For the Furthur Improvement of Dancing. Weaver and Essex seem to have been friends. The Holts, represented in these lists by Walter ‘Senior’, Walter ‘Junior’ and Richard, belonged to a dynasty of dancing masters. I tried to disentangle them in an earlier blog post – Mr Holt and His Minuet and Jigg for Four Ladies. They seem to have been teachers of common dancing with no links to the stage. ‘Mr. Lally’ was perhaps the founder of a family of stage dancers. He was surely Edmund Lally (c1677-1760) whose son Edward was later to enjoy a short but promising stage career. I am not sure about the relationship between Edmund and the far more famous Michael Lally, they may have been father and son or uncle and nephew.

There are some other familiar names that I have passed over. John Groscourt (d. 1742) would be the dedicatee of John Essex’s translation of Pierre Rameau’s The Dancing-Master (1728), while ‘Mr. Gery’ (or Geary) was accorded a place in the preliminary pages to Weaver’s 1712 Essay, alongside Groscourt, Couch, Holt, Firbank and Lewis, as ‘happy Teachers of that Natural and Unaffected Manner which has been brought to so high a Perfection by Isaack and Caverly’. All, except for ‘Firbank’ (the musician and dancer Charles Fairbank), subscribed to both Orchesography and A Collection of Ball-Dances. Sharp-eyed readers will also have noticed an overlap between Weaver’s subscribers and the contributors to Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing published in 1711. I will have more to say about that work in another post.

What about Weaver’s Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures upon Dancing, published some fifteen years later? Here is the list of subscribers, spread over a spacious two pages.

This list has only nine names in common with the earlier ones – Caverley, Couch, Essex (John), Holt (Walter), Lally (Edmund), Orlabeer, Pemberton (Edmund) and Shirley. The forenames come from the List of Subscribers and distinguish between members of the same family. William Essex, William Holt. Edward Lally and James Pemberton were all the sons of earlier subscribers. There are again a handful of provincial dancing masters, none of whom had subscribed earlier and, so far as I can tell, about eight men who were professional dancers in London’s theatres. They include William Essex (John’s son) and ‘Mr. Shaw’ who must surely be the much-admired English dancer John Shaw (d. 1725). Like the 1706 works, the majority of subscribers seem to have been dancing masters rather than dancers.

These subscription lists add to our knowledge of Britain’s (especially London’s) dancing masters, but they also call into question some aspects of our understanding of that world. Weaver’s criticisms of French dancers are well known, yet several were happy to subscribe to his English translation of a work they would surely have known in its French original. The appearance of several families of dancing masters should perhaps be no surprise, although their individual subscriptions suggest they had separate dancing schools. As I put this post together, I was struck by the amount of research still needed to uncover this network of dancers and dancing masters based in London and elsewhere. John Weaver’s Lists of Subscribers are certainly one place to start.


Philip H. HIghfill Jr, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans, A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, … in London, 1660-1800. 16 Volumes. (Carbondale, 1973-1993)

Mr Isaac’s ‘The Favorite A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’

I have been learning Mr Isaac’s The Favorite, described on its first plate as ‘A Chaconne Danc’d by her Majesty’. This duet was one of the six notated choreographies included in A Collection of Ball-Dances perform’d at Court published in 1706 by John Weaver and perhaps intended to accompany Orchesography, Weaver’s translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie. ‘Her Majesty’ was, of course, Queen Anne, although by the time of the dance’s appearance in notation poor health had forced her to give up dancing. Mr Isaac has an idiosyncratic choreographic style and his ballroom duets shed important light on court culture under the late Stuart monarchs, so I thought it would be worth looking more closely at this dance.

The Favorite is actually in two parts, for it is a chaconne followed by a bourée. The music was first published in Amsterdam in 1688 and it appeared as ‘the new French Dance’ in 1690 in the sixth edition of Apollo’s Banquet. When it was reissued by John Walsh around 1712, the title page named the composer as ‘Mr. Paisible’. The chaconne has three variations, which are then repeated, giving 64 bars in all. The bourée has the structure AAAABB and a petite reprise of four bars to give 36 bars. At 80 bars, the dance seems long for a ballroom choreography intended for performance at court but Isaac’s other dances in A Collection of Ball-Dances are mostly the same or even longer (the exception is The Richmond at only 52 bars).

This dance probably dates to the years around 1690, when the music was first published. Princess Anne (as she then was) hosted a ball for William III’s birthday in November 1688, while her sister Queen Mary II gave a dance for the Princess’s own birthday in February 1691. Both were occasions when Anne (then between pregnancies) might have performed before the assembled court a duet specially created by her dancing master.

Can this notated choreography tell us anything about Isaac’s approach to choreographing these dances of display or Princess Anne’s dancing skills? The notation shows that Isaac used a basic vocabulary of steps throughout the two parts of the dance, although he sometimes combined them in ways that required particular skill from his dancers. For example, the first plate includes two balancés. The first ends in first position on beat two, with a pause on beat three, while the second has a battu on the second beat with an extension of the working leg in the air on beat three (as a preparation for the pas tombé and jetté in the next bar). It is a point for debate whether the Princess would have balanced on the ball of each foot in turn or performed these balancés on a flat foot. The fifth plate, with notation for the bourée, includes several bars which have two coupés travelling sideways. Much practice is needed to execute these fast-moving steps clearly and correctly.

Isaac ornaments only one of Princess Anne’s steps, the coupé avec ouverture de jambe in bar 22 of the chaconne, which has a pas battu around the ankle before the working leg opens towards the fourth position. There are five bars within the chaconne in which the man’s steps have either a pas battu or a rond de jambe. Such explicit ornamentation of the man’s steps, but not the woman’s, occurs in other notated dances by Isaac.

The chaconne has some 17% of steps with small jumps within them, whereas the bourée has around 44%. The steps most often used throughout the two parts of The Favorite are the pas de bourée, with its final jetté, the contretemps and (in the bourée section) the pas de sissonne. Isaac also repeats sequences in both the chaconne and the bourée.

The figures in The Favorite hint that this dance is not simply an abstract display. One of Isaac’s repeated motifs has the dancers coming together and then parting (or vice-versa) across the dancing space. They first do this at the very beginning, with a coupé sideways and a tems de courante forwards, before travelling towards the presence according to convention. The following figure has the dancers travelling sideways away from the presence – the only extended sequence of sideways movement in the dance – which allowed them to face the spectators who would have surrounded them as they moved. These figures can clearly be seen in the first plate, even if you don’t read Beauchamp-Feuillet notation.

They begin the third variation of the chaconne back-to-back, with the woman (Princess Anne) facing the presence – her previous step (a contretemps forwards) can be seen just beneath the word ‘Majesty’ on the notation above. Both perform a coupé battu with a plié on the beat. This has the effect of a bow or curtsey towards those watching at each end of the room, before the dancers turn to face one another and come together. They then turn to their right for a more extended sequence in which they travel apart before turning to come together again.

Apart from the occasional mistakes in the notation, the practice of crowding several figures onto a single page can make it difficult to read. The Favorite has five plates of notation, with plates three and five being the busiest (with 32 bars and 28 bars of music and dance respectively). The second half of the chaconne (notated in full on plate three) begins with a double version of the approach and retreat motif. The dancers first turn towards each other and then away before continuing to travel apart and then return, moving on shallow diagonals. Isaac repeats this theme of retreat and approach twice more with another variation, as he places the dancers side-by-side to face the presence. The chaconne ends with the couple turning to face one another across the dancing space. They have been in mirror symmetry (dancing on opposite feet) for most of it, but the woman does a tems de courante and the man a coupé to begin the bourée in axial symmetry.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, so I will skip to the second plate of the bourée which contains three-quarters of its notated steps.

After two circular figures, the dancers can be seen facing one another up and down the dancing space – the man is nearest the presence with his back to it, while the woman faces him. There must be some distance between them as they have two travelling steps to come together (Beauchamp-Feuillet notation does not show figures with spatial accuracy). They dance in a circle, taking right hands, and then travel away from each other and back again in another instance of the retreat and return motif. Isaac’s repeated use of two coupés in a bar (mentioned earlier) can be seen to either side of the page, about two-thirds from the bottom, then to either side of the centre and finally about a third from the bottom of the page – just before the dancers begin their final sequence of steps to the petite reprise which take them to the back of the dancing space before they turn to face the presence with a coupé soutenu, which presumably precedes their final bow (not included on the notation).

I have enjoyed working on Isaac’s The Favorite. It isn’t a difficult dance technically but it certainly isn’t easy either. It would be rewarding to be able to work on it with a partner and a musician or two, to explore the interpretative possibilities of both music and dance and see how the choreography might work in performance. The steps and figures in these five plates of notation suggest that Isaac’s choreography had wit as well as elegance and liveliness.

Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet

I have recently been working on Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet and I thought I would look more closely at the two different versions of this solo that survive in notation. One was published by Edmund Pemberton, who gives it the subtitle ‘A New Dance for a Girl’, while the other survives in a manuscript version by Kellom Tomlinson. They differ enough from one another to be thought of as two dances rather than two versions of the same dance. There is another solo minuet for a female dancer, Mr Isaac’s Minuet, which was published by Pemberton in 1711 and is clearly linked to both versions of the Slow Minuet. I will mention this third dance from time to time.

The Sources

Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet ‘A New Dance for a Girl’ was among the series of notated ball dances published by Edmund Pemberton between 1715 and 1733. The notation is undated and has been ascribed to 1729, a date I accepted when I wrote about Pemberton in 1993 (references to the sources I have used are given at the end of the post). However, fresh examination of the dance notation suggests that it was probably notated and engraved much earlier. The title page (with its mention of ‘Mr. Firbank’ as the composer of the tune) was also used for the anonymous solo La Cybelline – another ‘New Dance for a Girl’ – but has clearly been altered for Caverley’s dance. La Cybelline was published in 1719, so the Slow Minuet might have appeared around the same time. However, there is another piece of evidence which might place the work of engraving the dance a few years earlier. The dance notation is densely laid out, mainly because Pemberton would have wanted to save on the cost of paper for printing by fitting it into four pages. The engraving is somewhat rough and ready, reminiscent of the first dances that Pemberton published independently after he stopped working for the music publisher John Walsh in 1715. Could the Slow Minuet have been the first dance notation that Pemberton produced himself and then re-issued with a new title page at a later date? Both Caverley and Isaac were keen proponents of the new art of dance notation, so Caverley could have favoured Pemberton with a dance just as Isaac had done a few years earlier. Here is the title page alongside the first plate of Pemberton’s version of Caverley’s Slow Minuet.

The manuscript version of the solo, titled ‘The Slow Minnitt: by Mr: Caverley:’ was transcribed by Kellom Tomlinson into his WorkBook, along with other notes and dances. The WorkBook was discovered in New Zealand and published in facsimile in 1992, edited by the dancer and dance historian Jennifer Shennan. Tomlinson was apprenticed to Thomas Caverley between 1707 and 1714 and would go on to publish several of his own dances in notation between 1715 and 1720. His version of the Slow Minuet is undated but probably belongs to the period of his apprenticeship – the WorkBook contains material which can be dated from 1708 to 1721. Tomlinson’s notation is actually more assured than Pemberton’s (he had fewer restrictions as to paper and gives a separate page to each section of the dance). His notational style differs from Pemberton’s (a topic to which I will return). Some of the differences between the two versions are discussed and analysed by Jennifer Shennan in her introduction to the facsimile. Here are the first two pages of Tomlinson’s notation.

The other dance I have mentioned is the Minuet by Mr Isaac, published in notation within Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing in 1711. It follows Isaac’s Chacone and, in his Preface, Pemberton says that Isaac had ‘oblig’d’ him with ‘a single Dance’ suggesting that the two were meant to be performed together as one choreography. The same collection has Pecour’s solo forlana for a woman (titled a ‘Jigg’) and a solo version of Anthony L’Abbé’s ‘Passacaille’ originally choreographed as a duet for two professional female dancers to music from Lully’s opera Armide. Pemberton’s 1711 collection was published by John Walsh. Here are the first two plates of Isaac’s Minuet.

It is worth adding that Thomas Caverley and Mr Isaac were near contemporaries. Isaac (whose real name was Francis Thorpe, as I discovered some years ago when I was researching Jerome Francis Gahory) was perhaps born around 1650 and was buried early in 1721. Thomas Caverley’s birth date has been given variously as 1641, 1648 or 1651, although he may have been born as late as 1658 or 1659. He lived much longer than Isaac for he died in 1745. Isaac, of course, was a royal dancing master – described by John Essex in the ‘English’ Preface to his translation of Rameau, The Dancing-Master (1728), as ‘the prime Master in England for forty Years together’. Essex wrote of Caverley as ‘the first Master in teaching young Ladies to dance’, a reputation which explains the publication of his Slow Minuet.

The Dances

The two versions of Caverley’s Slow Minuet each use different music. In Pemberton’s version the tune is attributed to the dancing master Charles Fairbank, whereas Tomlinson’s music is anonymous. The solos are different lengths too. Pemberton’s music has the time signature 3 and four AABB repeats (A=B=8). The dance notation has 6 beats to the bar, so each pas composé takes two musical bars in accordance with the usual convention for minuets. Tomlinson also writes his music with a time signature of 3 but his has five AABB repeats (A=B=8). His notation has three beats to each dance bar, although he writes some steps over two bars with liaison lines to make clear that they are single pas composés. Pemberton’s Slow Minuet has 128 bars of music, while Tomlinson’s has 160.

An analysis of both notations reveals that, although these closely related choreographies are minuets, much of their vocabulary consists in demi-coupés, coupés and pas de bourée. The pas de menuet and contretemps du menuet are used mainly in the third repeat of the AA and again in the fourth AA. Tomlinson uses these steps additionally in his fifth and final AA and final B section.

Both choreographies begin with a sequence of two demi-coupés forwards and two backwards, followed by a coupépas de bourée sequence repeated six times. This fills the first AA and, it seems, sets out Caverley’s intention of teaching the minuet not through the conventional step vocabulary of that dance but through its building blocks. He uses these to introduce the girl to the rhythmic variety possible within the steps of this formal dance, among other ideas, as well as to provide a technical foundation. This approach is evidenced elsewhere in both versions of the Slow Minuet. In the third plate of Pemberton’s notation the pas de menuet à trois mouvements with a demi-jeté on the final step is introduced, and in the fourth plate there are pas de menuet à deux mouvements which begin on both the right and the left foot. In his third AA, Tomlinson uses the pas de menuet à deux mouvements, but in his fourth and fifth AA sections he turns to the pas de menuet used by Isaac in his Minuet (in The Art of Dancing, Tomlinson calls this the ‘English Minuet Step’). This is, essentially, a fleuret followed by a jeté and can be seen in the plates from Isaac’s Minuet shown above. This hints at a link between the choreographies and, perhaps, the teaching of both Isaac and Caverley.

Another such hint is provided by a pas composé used in Pemberton’s version of the Slow Minuet. This takes two bars of music and all the steps are linked together by liaison lines. I find such compound steps difficult to break down into their component parts, but this one may be analysed as a variant on the pas de bourée, incorporating an emboîté and ending with a pas plié, followed by two coupés avec ouverture de jambe. A slightly different version of the step is found in Isaac’s Minuet, with jetés-chassés instead of the coupés. Here are the two steps in notation for comparison. First Pemberton’s, from his fourth plate – without being able to examine an original notation it is not possible to be certain, but the initial emboîté shows the foot position on the balls of the feet.

Next Isaac’s, from his third plate – the dots showing the emboîté on the balls of the feet are clear.

Both Pemberton and Tomlinson use a variety of figures, which are quite often not the same or at least are notated differently. The opening figures are actually the same in both versions, although Pemberton notates all the sideways steps around the right line of the dancer’s direction of travel towards the presence, while Tomlinson shows the sideways travel explicitly. In the figures for the third AA, Pemberton notates the dancer travelling a semi-circular path anti-clockwise followed by another clockwise, whereas Tomlinson takes his dancer clockwise in a quarter-circle followed by a tighter three-quarter circle in the same direction and then traces the same figure anti-clockwise. Both dances have figures that reflect some of those in Isaac’s Minuet, notably zig-zags on the diagonal and repeated tight circles. Although some of the figures contain echoes of those in the ballroom couple minuet, parallels are not obvious in either notation.

Both versions of the Slow Minuet are constructed around a series of variations. Some of these are 8 bars long and are danced twice, starting with the right foot and then the left, to match the repeated musical sections. There are also 4 bar sequences, which might or might not be repeated within a musical section. Two of Tomlinson’s plates are missing a couple of bars of dance notation, but the structure of the section and its predecessor (as well as Pemberton’s version) suggest what the missing steps might be. The second BB section (plate 4) appears to be without its final two dance bars.

One suggestion is that the coupédemi-coupé steps that follow the two demi-coupés should take two bars of music each (rather than one bar as notated). I suggest instead that they do take one bar each and that they should be repeated after the last two demi-coupés on the plate, which gives two identical sequences to match the musical repeat.

The other omission comes in the last B of the third BB section (plate 6).

This is more difficult to guess, but I suggest that two contretemps should be added, one sideways to the left after the fourth step (another contretemps) and the other sideways to the right at the end of the sequence. This would then run as a repeated 4-bar sequence of contretempscoupépas de bouréecontretemps.

The different notational styles of Pemberton and Tomlinson are almost worth a post of their own and are evident from the very beginning of the two dances with the opening demi-coupés. Pemberton’s version is on the left and Tomlinson’s on the right.

Or, do these represent different steps? Tomlinson’s demi-coupé finishes on the first beat, followed by a two-beat rest, while Pemberton apparently gives the dancer two beats to bring the free foot into first position – making this a version of a coupé sans poser rather than a demi-coupé. Later on the same plate, Pemberton notates demi-coupés more conventionally, suggesting that the opening steps are not demi-coupés.


I have discussed these two notations in some detail because I believe that such close reading can help us get a better idea of how these notated dances were actually performed. Caverley’s Slow Minuet is one of very few choreographies that survive in more than one version and there is far more to say than I have set down here. I think that the dance was integral to his teaching of young ladies and that it was intended as a display piece for performance at formal balls held by the dancing master at his premises and elsewhere. It makes formidable demands on the young dancer’s mastery of aplomb – not merely her placement but also her address. She has to be secure in balancing on one foot and moving rhythmically (and sometimes quite slowly) from one foot to another. She also has to maintain her erect and easy carriage as she moves through her steps and figures. There are continuous rhythmic challenges as well as demands on her memory as she dances a series of variations no two of which are the same.

If I were called upon to devise a syllabus for teaching the minuet, I would begin with Thomas Caverley’s Slow Minuet. If aspirant historical dancers can perform this exacting solo (in either version) successfully, the ballroom minuet would surely hold no terrors for them.

This image from Kellom Tomlinson’s The Art of Dancing is well known. Does it suggest that he continued to adapt and teach a Slow Minuet to his young female pupils?


Thomas Caverley. Mr. Caverley’s Slow Minuet. A New Dance for a Girl. The Tune Composed by Mr. Firbank. Writt by Mr. Pemberton. [London, c1720?]

For the 1729 dating see Little and Marsh, La Danse Noble, [c1729]-Mnt

An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing; Being a Collection of Figure Dances, of Several Numbers, Compos’d by the Most Eminent Masters; Describ’d in Characters … by E. Pemberton (London, 1711)

Kellom Tomlinson. A WorkBook by Kellom Tomlinson. Commonplace Book of an Eighteenth-Century English Dancing-Master, a Facsimile Edition, edited by Jennifer Shennan. (Stuyvesant, NY, 1992)

Moira Goff, ‘Edmund Pemberton, Dancing-Master and Publisher’, Dance Research, 11.1 (Spring 1993), 52-81.

Moira Goff, ‘The Testament and Last Will of Jerome Francis Gahory’, Early Music, 38.4 (November 2010), 537-542.

Meredith Ellis Little, Carol G. Marsh. La Danse Noble. An Inventory of Dances and Sources. (New York, 1992)

England’s Royal Dancing Masters, 1660-1714

When Charles II was restored to his throne in 1660, it seems that he lost little time in appointing a royal dancing master. The patent for Jerome Francis Gahory as ‘dancing master to his Majesty’ is dated 19 April 1665, but other evidence suggests that he had taken up his post by Christmas 1660. He was the first of a series of dancing masters employed to teach members of the royal family during the late 17th and 18th centuries. This post looks at the period 1660 to 1714. A second post will look at 1714 to 1788.

Gahory was sworn as a ‘Groom of her Majesty’s Privy Chamber’ on 21 July 1663 but, as my post on Catherine of Braganza suggests, he must have begun teaching her some months earlier. A later document specifies his duties as ‘attending and teaching the art of dancing to the King and Queen at all times when he shall be required’.Gahory may well have been required to decide on and teach the dances given at court balls and even been involved in the more elaborate court entertainments that included dancing. Various records suggest that he held his post until at least 1688, and that he was called upon to teach royal scholars even later.

In Edmund Pemberton’s An Essay for the Further Improvement of Dancing, published in 1711, Gahory is mentioned in the dedication of part two as ‘the admirable Mr. Goree’. The dedicatee is the Duchess of Buckingham and Normanby who is described as his ‘last Masterpiece’ and Pemberton tells us that Gahory ‘had the Honour to teach eight or nine Crown’d Heads, and likewise most of our Quality’ during his long career. Apart from Charles II and his Queen, who were these ‘Crown’d Heads’? He certainly taught three more Queens, for in 1669 he is listed among the officers and servants to James, Duke of York’s eldest daughter Princess Mary (later Queen Mary II) and in 1677 he is recorded as dancing master to the Duchess of York (Mary of Modena, later James II’s Queen) and the Duke’s younger daughter Princess Anne (later Queen Anne). By implication, he may have taught the Duke of York (later James II) himself and perhaps even William of Orange (later William III and known as a good dancer) when he married Princess Mary in 1677. Gahory had begun his career in Paris, where he appeared in the Ballet du Dérèglement des Passions in 1648. Might he also have given lessons to the young Louis XIV? His last royal pupil seems to have been Anne’s son William, Duke of Gloucester, to whom he gave lessons in 1694. Jerome Gahory died, a very rich man, in 1703.

In 1681, the reversion of Gahory’s post was granted to Francis Thorpe who thereby became his designated successor. Quite by accident, I discovered that Francis Thorpe was the famous Mr Isaac. The clue lay in Gahory’s will, for he left the residue of his English estate (he also had a considerable estate in France) to ‘Francis Thorpe his nephew (known by the name of Isaac)’. Francis Thorpe was the son of Gahory’s sister and Isaac Thorpe. His father, named as ‘Monsr. Isac’ was described in 1653 as one of the best dancing masters in Paris. Francis Thorpe may have used the name ‘Mr Isaac’ as a compliment to his father as well as to show his lineage with its associated status. Isaac Thorpe may have danced alongside Gahory in the 1648 ballet de cour mentioned above. Francis Thorpe seems to have danced (under the name Isaac) in the French comédies-ballets Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Psyché (1671).  By 1673 the younger ‘Mr Isaac’ was in England and in 1675 he danced in the English court masque Calisto.

Isaac Thorpe died in London in 1681, so references to the dancing master ‘Mr Isaac’ after that date must refer to his son. There is evidence for him teaching several young women, some of who appeared at court, including Katherine Booth, who may have danced a solo at a birth night ball in 1689, and Anne South, one of the Maids of Honour, in 1694. Oddly, there seems to be no direct evidence of him teaching Princess Anne, apart from the testimony of John Essex in his Preface to The Dancing-Master in 1728.

‘The late Mr. Isaac, who had the Honour to teach and instruct our late most excellent and gracious Queen when a young Princess, first gained the Character and afterwards supported that Reputation of being the prime Master in England for forty Years together: He taught the first Quality with Success and Applause, and was justly stiled the Court Dancing-Master, therefore might truly deserve to be called the Gentleman Dancing-Master.’ (p. xi)

Princess Anne married Prince George of Denmark in 1683 and thereafter was very often pregnant, so perhaps Mr. Isaac taught her (on behalf of his uncle) before then. Mr Isaac is now best known for his series of annual dances, published in notation between 1706 and 1716, several of which were created to celebrate Queen Anne’s birthday and probably performed at the birth night balls given at court. He died in 1721 and was buried at St James’s Church in Piccadilly.

After the death of William, Duke of Gloucester in 1700 there were no young princes or princesses for England’s royal dancing master to teach. This changed with the death of Queen Anne and accession of George I in 1714. I will turn to the later royal dancing masters in my next post.

So far as I know, there is no portrait of Jerome Francis Gahory, but Francis Thorpe – Mr Isaac – was painted by Louis Goupy. The original portrait apparently does not survive, but it was engraved by George White and published early in the 18th century.

Mr Isaac