Tag Archives: Siris

La Bretagne in London

A dance titled The Bretagne turns up very occasionally in the bills for London’s theatres during the first half of the 18th century. Its earliest appearance was at Lincoln’s Inn Fields on 5 April 1731, when Francis and Marie Sallé danced the ‘Louvre and Bretagne’ at his benefit performance. The Louvre is, of course, Pecour’s Aimable Vainqueur which was a favourite dance of the period. From this performance, it seems clear that the second dance must have been Pecour’s La Bretagne, created in honour of the duchesse de Bourgogne following the birth of her son the duc de Bretagne in 1704. This ballroom choreography was published in notation the same year, in Feuillet’s IIIme. Recüeil de danses de bal. Here is the title page for the dance (which was evidently also sold separately) and the first plate.

In 1706, P. Siris included La Bretagne in his translation of Feuillet’s Choregraphie, published in London as The Art of Dancing by Characters and Figures. Here is the first plate.

Bretagne Siris plate 1

His version differs from Feuillet’s in some of the steps and the figures. It must have served to make the dance known in London, for John Weaver included it in the second edition of his translation of Choregraphie, Orchesography, published around 1722. Siris’s version also attracted the attention of Sir Richard Steele, who referred to the dance in his periodical The Lover on 4 March 1714. Steele mentions a separate edition of Siris’s notation of The Bretagne which had been published in London the same week (no copy is known to survive). The short essay that Steele weaves around it (with references to the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht that ended the War of Spanish Succession and made peace between Britain and France) needs detailed analysis that I cannot undertake here.

By the time that the Sallés performed it on stage in 1731, La Bretagne must have been known in London – at least to the capital’s dancing masters and perhaps to some of their pupils as well. Its next known performance on the London stage was not until 25 May 1738, when it was given (again at a benefit performance) alongside a Minuet by Miss Wright and Miss Morrison. The advertisement makes no mention of cross-dressing by one of the young women, although the practice was not unusual on the London stage. The next performance was on 5 May 1740 at Covent Garden, when James Dupré and Mrs Ozanne danced ‘The Britain (Ball Dance) and Minuet’ for his benefit. The last recorded performance was on 1 April 1742, again at Covent Garden, when Desnoyer and Sga Barberina gave ‘A Ball Dance call’d the Britannia, and a Louvre concluding with a Minuet’ for his benefit. I have wondered whether this might have been Isaac’s The Britannia, published in notation in 1706 and reissued a number of times subsequently, or perhaps a dance to music from Thomas Arne’s 1740 masque Alfred. The latter included the song ‘Rule Britannia’ and Sga Barberina had danced at the masque’s first performance before Prince Frederick at Cliveden. On reflection, I am inclined to believe that the dance at Covent Garden in 1742 was Pecour’s La Bretagne, but I cannot be sure.

La Bretagne appeared in notation many times over the years. The duet was notated afresh by Pierre Rameau and published in his Abbrégé de la nouvelle méthode, which was reissued several times after its first appearance in 1725. It also turns up in a number of manuscript sources – see the entry for the dance in Francine Lancelot’s invaluable catalogue of surviving notations La Belle Dance (1996). It is mentioned by Taubert in his Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister (1717) as well as Rameau in Le Maître a danser (1725) and Kellom Tomlinson in The Art of Dancing (1735) – in each case in relation to the performance of individual steps, indicating its use in teaching.

I haven’t diligently pursued the teaching of La Bretagne in London or elsewhere, but the dance does turn up occasionally in dancing masters’ advertisements. One, for Messrs Welch and Hart in the Public Advertiser for 14 April 1768, offers cotillons, minuets, the Louvre, Passepied, Matlotte, the ‘Almand François’ and English country dances, as well as a ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ listed among the duets. I haven’t been able to locate any notation for a ball dance called ‘Nouvelle Bretaigne’ but it does hint that La Bretagne was routinely offered by London’s dancing masters, so Welch and Hart were attempting to go one better.

The explicit references to the teaching of the duet in London come much later, long after it had disappeared from the theatres. An advertisement in the Morning Post for 13 September 1776 announces that ‘Mr. Ferrere’ had established himself in London.

Ferrere Morning Post 13 Sep 1776 (2)

He must surely have been the Ferrère who created some of the works preserved in the manuscript compiled in 1782 by August Ferrère, who was his son. So far as I am aware, no reference to Ferrère Senior teaching in London has previously been found. He was still successfully plying his trade some sixteen years later, as this advertisement in the Oracle from 12 April 1792 shows.

Ferrere Oracle 12 Apr 1792 (2)

The list of dances that he was teaching includes several of Pecour’s ballroom choreographies from the beginning of the 18th century. Ferrère was surely not the only dancing master to include these in his curriculum, although I have been unable to locate other examples from the earlier 1700s.

More research is needed – into the inclusion of these early ballroom dances in performances on the London stage, as well as into London’s dancing masters and what they taught. There is more to be said, too, about Pecour’s choreography for La Bretagne, but that will have to wait for another occasion.

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.