Tag Archives: Thomas Caverley

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)