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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

Thoinot Arbeau, Orchsographie (1589)


In Chapter 22 we discussed in some detail Thoinot Arbeau and his unique treatise on dance, Orchsographie. Arbeau was just a nom de plume, the author being really Jehan Tabourot (15201595), a priest from Burgundy, France. The title of the treatise, as is appropriate for the Renaissance, has Greek overtones because in the ancient Greek theater, the orchestra was the area in which the chorus sang and danced. Obviously, it is the reference to dance that is relevant here. Arbeaus Orchsographie is the most important, and certainly the longest, discussion of dance and the music for it written in the West before 1600, providing us with, in effect, an encyclopedic overview of the subject, at least as it was then understood in France. Virtually every one of the then-known danceswhat we would today call ballroom dancesis discussed. In addition to telling us the steps for the dances, Arbeau provides us with fascinating insights into the performance practices of the day (on what instruments the dance music should be played and even sung, for example) and on the social customs and graces of the period. Although written by a man in his sixties, Arbeau is surprisingly up to date. He recognizes, for example, that the pavane, the dance discussed in the excerpt below, is somewhat out of date by 1589, and he also knows that there are more fashionable varieties of it then coming out of Italy (the passamezzo) and Spain (the Spanish pavane). Arbeaus treatise is written in the form of a dialogue, and the extract that follows introduces the two interlocutors: Capriol and Arbeau himself, who must have been something of a joker. Capriol is a ctitious name (just as Thoinot Arbeau is an anagram of Jehan Tabourot). The word capriole was the term then used to identify the leap that occurred at the climax of each unit of six steps in the galliard. The word was still known in this way in Mozarts day, for it appears in this composers famous cavatina for Figaro, Se vuol ballare in Le nozze di FigaroFigaro will teach the Count to jump, la capriola, le insegner. In Orchsographie Capriole is a law student at the University of Orlans, progressing in his legal studies, procient in fencing and tennis but unskilled in the ways of the dance oor. Indeed, in the Renaissance, dancing was more than just social interaction and exercise; it was a means by which the upwardly mobile young man might distinguish himself in high society and, perhaps more important, in the eyes of the ladies.
Dialogue on Dance and the Manner of Dancing By Thoinot Arbeau, Living at Langres Capriol Sire Arbeau, greetings, you dont recognize me any more, but six or seven years ago, before I left Langres to go to Paris and then to Orlans, I was your student in mathematics. Arbeau Certainly I didnt recognize you at rst because youve grown a lot since that time, and Im sure that you have also grown accordingly in mind and virtue, and in your knowledge of the sciences. What do you think of the study of law? Years ago I used to study it.

Capriol I nd it a good discipline, and necessary to public discourse, but Im sorry that when in Orlans, I failed to learn social graces, which many students are taught so as to polish their learning. Now on my return [to Langres] I nd myself in polite society where, to put it succinctly, I appear to be with neither tongue nor feet, judged to be no better than a block of wood. Arbeau Your saving grace has been that the old professors excused you, taking into account the learning that you have acquired. Capriol That is true, but I should have taken dancing lessons in the hours between my serious study, and thus ingratiated myself with everyone. Arbeau It will be for you to acquire social skills by reading books in French in order to sharpen your wit, and by learning fencing, dancing, and tennis, in order to socialize with men and women. Capriol I enjoy fencing and tennis, things that give me the opportunity to socialize with young men. But my shortcoming is dancing, which I will need to be attractive to young ladies, and on which entirely depends, it seems to me, the reputation of an eligible bachelor. . . .

After discussing military dances and marchesthere were indeed martial dances such as the sword dance and the pyrrhic danceArbeau turns to recreational dances, starting with the basse danse and branle (bransle) before arriving at the dance pair, the pavane and galliard. The pavane was a simple couples dance that takes Arbeau only a few pages to describe. The soloistic galliard, although it had only six basic steps (step, step, step, step, leap, and pose) was susceptible to endless individual interpretations, and Arbeau devotes many pages to it. Because we can all learn to dance the straightforward (and straightbackward) pavane, Arbeaus description of this dance is given here.
Arbeau We will discuss that [the galliard] after we have spoken of the pavane, which is normally danced before the basse danse. Said pavane has by no means been abolished or gone out of fashion, nor do I believe it ever will. True, it is not as popular as it once was, but our instrumentalists still play it when a young lady of standing is led to the church on her wedding day, and when they need processional music for priests, dignitaries, and members of some notable confraternity. Capriol While waiting for you to tell me about the galliard, explain the movements that are used in the pavane. Arbeau The pavane is easy to dance because it only involves two simples and a double [and presumably a reverence at the beginning, as most of Arbeaus dances do] going forward and two simples and a double going backward. It is accompanied by music in a binary meter.

And note that when dancing it the two simples and said double moving forward commence with the left foot, and that the two simples and the double going backward commence with the right foot. Capriol Then the drum and the other instruments make eight beats moving forward and eight beats going backward? Arbeau Right. And if one doesnt want to go backward, one can always continue forward. Capriol Are there no retreating steps in basse danse? Arbeau Sometimes, if the hall is full with a great number of people and the space available for dancing is limited, when you get toward the end it is necessary to do one of two things, go backward, both you and your lady, or make a conversion. Capriol What is a conversion? Arbeau Specically, when you approach the end, you make the lady go straight ahead, and you go backward at the same time, until you both are heading in the opposite direction. Capriol Which of the two do you think is a better move? Arbeau In my opinion it is better to execute a conversion, in order that the lady can see where she is stepping because if she steps on something while moving backward, she could fall, and it would appear to be your fault, and you would lose face. And thus it seems to me that this is how you should do it when dancing the pavane, making two or three turns around the room. Capriol Is the meter of the pavane the same as it is for the basse danse? Arbeau [No], it is binary, consisting of a white minim and two black notes in the following way:

Capriol I think these pavanes and basse danses are beautiful and dignied, and appropriate for honorable people, especially ladies and demoiselles. Arbeau A gentleman can dance it wearing a cloak and a sword, and you others [academics] wearing your long robes, progressing honorably and with a serious demeanor, and ladies so too, yet with a humble countenance with eyes cast down, except to throw an

occasional glance at the onlookers with virginal modesty. And specically with regard to the pavane: it is used by kings, princes, and dignied lords, as they present themselves on a day of solemn public display, with their dress coats and parade robes. And so, too, do queens, princesses, and ladies in waiting, with the long trains of their dresses loosened and trailing behind them, sometimes carried by girls. And said pavanes, played by shawms and sackbuts, announce the grand ball and they continue to play until the dancers have circled the hall two or three times, unless they prefer dancing forward and backward. Pavanes are also used at those moments of ceremonial entry, as when appear triumphant oats carrying masquerade gods and goddess, or emperors or kings with great majesty. Capriol Write down for me the tunes of a pavane and basse danse. Arbeau This Ill gladly do so that such honest dances may be reinstated, in place of licentious and dishonest ones that were introduced to the regret of wise lords and ladies and matrons of good judgment. First, I will provide for you a pavane in duple meter supported by tenor, alto, and bass, which will be sufcient for you to know how to dance all other pavanes. And if you wish to dance it, get a group to sing or play it in all four parts. . . . . The pavane [below], in four voices, contains two forward units and two backward units, indicated by the characters in this fashion ss d ss d ss d ss d and thirty-two beats on the drum. To extend it, it can be played as many times as agreeable to the performers. And because you may want someday to sing the entire song, heres how it goes. Pavane in four parts, with meter and beat provide by the drum

Superius

Bel

le qui

tiens ma vi Contra tenor

e cap

tive

dans tes

Bel

le qui

tiens ma vi Tenor

e cap

tive

dans tes

Bel

le qui

tiens ma vi

e cap

tive

dans tes

Bassus

Bel

le qui

tiens ma vi

e cap

tive

dans tes

Battement du tambour

Superius

yeulx,

Qui

mas la me ra

vi

e dun

soubz-riz

Contra teno

yeulx,

Qui

mas la me ra Tenor

vi

e dun

soubz-riz

yeulx,

Qui

mas la me ra Bassus

vi

e dun

soubz-riz

yeulx,

Qui

mas la me ra

vi

e dun

soubz-riz

Battement du tambour

Superius

graci

eux,

Viens

tost me secou

rir

ou

Contra tenor

graci

eux,

Viens

tost me secou

rir

ou

Tenor

graci

eux,

Viens

tost me secou Bassus

rir

ou

[4]

graci

eux,

Viens

tost me secou

rir

ou

Battement du tambour

Superius

me faul dra mou rir.

Viens Contra tenor

tost me secou

rir

me faul dra mou rir.

Viens Tenor

tost me secou

rir

me faul dra mou rir.

Viens Bassus

tost me secou

rir

[5]

me faul dra mou rir. Battement du tambour

Viens

tost me secou

rir

Superius

ou

me faul dra mou rir. Contra tenor

ou

me faul dra mou rir. Tenor

ou

me faul dra mou rir. Bassus

ou

me faul dra mou rir.

Source: Translated from the original French, available online at http://www.graner.net/nicolas/arbeau/ orcheso01.php.