Photo: Courtesy of IHDP
This week, we concentrate on music for dancing, played at dance parties in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.
One of the most active dances of these periods was the galliard, in which men and women had the chance to jump as high as they could, while wiggling their feet in the air. The Sex Chordae of Viols perform galliards by Johann Hermann Schein on the Centaur release, J. H. Schein: Banchetto Musicale. Concentus Musicus Wien performs a galliard by Johann Sommer on their Amadeus release entitled Instrumental Music of 1600.
One of the most famous composers of galliards was lutenist John Dowland, whose works have been recorded by numerous performers, including Paul O’Dette, Matthew Wadsworth, and August Denhard.
The “volta” is a dance named for its lifts, or vaults, included in the steps. The close physical contact required for these gravity-defying feats paired with the possibility for the displacement of ladies’ skirts led to the volta being banned at the French court. Ensemble Bourrasque performs a volta by Michael Praetorius on the Naxos release Praetorius: Dances from Terpsichore.
Elizabeth I, played by Cate Blanchett, dances a Volta in the 1998 film, Elizabeth:
If flying skirts weren’t enough excitement, one could always dance the Candlestick or Torch Bransle, which raised the bar by incorporating candlesticks into the mix. The Harp Consort performs a “Branle gai” on their Harmonia Mundi release, Les Travailleurs de la Mer. Ensemble Strada included “Bransle de Poitou et Bransle d’Écosse” on their release from Analekta records, À la Via! Street music from the 13th to the 16th century.
An enormous range of style can be achieved, even with the same tune, depending on how it is performed. Two similar dances in very different arrangements are found on the Idlewild recording entitled Dans de Les Marionettes, featuring the ensemble Idlewild, and Ensemble Braccio‘s recording Lascivious Sounds.
The upper crust has always borrowed from the other half to find new and exciting dances. By the 18th century, such borrowing extended even to the nobility dressing up as shepherds and shepherdesses for entertainment.
Byron Schenkman performs selections from The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book on a Centaur release. Ensemble Hesperus performs from an anthology collected by John Playford on a CD release entitled Early American Roots.
To fully indulge herself in her role as musically-inclined shepherdess, a lady around the turn of the 18th century might take up a rustic instrument as well. The hurdy-gurdy enjoyed a fad as a parlor instrument where men and women alike played airs and dances. Nigel Eaton plays the instrument on the album The Music of the Hurdy-Gurdy. The Broadside Band included it on the release from Saydisc records, English Country Dances from Playford’s Dancing Master.
By the mid-18th century, the suite of dances arranged for keyboard had already been a standard form for decades, and the idea of sitting down to listen to someone perform dance music was a familiar one. Johann Sebastian Bach‘s elaborate keyboard dance suites may be more popular, today, but those of his contemporary Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet are gaining recognition, too. Her music can be heard on the Naxos release performed by Elisabeth Farr (Jacquet de la Guerre: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 1-6).