Friday, March 17, 8519

Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595) - Orchesographie

Thoinot Arbeau (Jehan Tabouret) (1519-1595) - Orchesographie

Bransle double - Bransle simple - Bransle gay

Bransle de Bourgogne (Fiddles)

Basse Dance ("Jouysasance vous donneray")

Jeremy Barlow

David Munrow

Thoinot Arbeau is the anagrammatic pen name of Jehan Tabourot (March 17, 1519, Dijon - July 23, 1595, Langres). He was a Catholic priest, a canon of Langres, and a theoretician and historian of the dance.

A dance manuscript written by Tabourot was published in 1588, and reprinted in 1589 and 1596. This manual contains detailed instructions for numerous styles of dance (branle, galliard, pavane, tourdion), as well as short sections about military music, drumming, and marching, and a few details about dance forms such as the Morisco (whence the English Morris dance), the Canary (reputed to be from the Canary Islands), the Allemande, Courante, and Basse danse.

This manual, Orchésographie (Orchesography), is a major source of information about Renaissance Dance. It is available online in facsimile and in plain text, and there is an English translation by Mary Stewart Evans, edited by Julia Sutton, in print with Dover Publications. It contains numerous woodcuts of dancing and musicians, and also includes many dance tabulations in which extensive instructions for the steps are lined up next to the musical notes (though this is misrepresented in some modern editions), a significant innovation in dance notation at that time.


A branle (also bransle, pronounced brawl) is a 16th-century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed by couples in either a line or a circle.

[Marlon Brando, Jr. (April 3, 1924 – July 1, 2004)]

Its etymology derives from branler (to shake) and brander (to brandish). In Italy the branle became the Brando, and in Spain the Bran.

Brando Alta Regina by Cesare Negri demonstrates how widely the French and Italian dances had diverged by the beginning of the 17th Century. The Branle seems to have travelled to Scotland and survived for some time as the brail, but in England it was rarely danced, and of over 2,000 lute pieces from England only ten were called Branle.

The only extant source for the dance steps to the French branles is Orchesography by Thoinot Arbeau, although Antonius de Arena also makes brief mention of them. Arbeau strongly implies that the branle was a dance mainly performed by commoners.

According to Arbeau, every ball began with the same four branles. The Double Branle, the Single Branle, the Gay Branle and the Burgundian Branle. The Double Branle has a simple form involving two phrases of two bars each. This form was not sufficiently different from the pavan to be of interest to composers and so pieces with these names rarely occur in the instrumental books of the time unless they are specifically designed for dancers.

The Single Branle, however, consists of a phrase of two bars, followed by a phrase of one bar and appears in numerous places. Likewise the Gay Branle consists of two phrases of two bars each, but in 3/4 time, and so was also widely used.

The Burgundian Branle as described by Arbeau is of the same structure as the Double Branle, but played with a lighter feel. Musical sources however often give an irregular structure for this dance.

Arbeau gives choreographies for five Branles which are associated with specific regions, the Breton Branle, the Burgundian Branle, the Poitou Branle and the Scottish Branles. Aside from the Burgundian Branle each of these dances seem to have a genuine connection to the region, particularly the Breton Branle. Some 16th century books also contain music entitled Champagne Branle, which Arbeau tells us is another name for Burgundian.

Although the Breton Branle is rarely mentioned outside Arbeau the other two dance styles seems to have provided a little more inspiration to composers.

According to Mabel Dolmetsch the Branle was referred to as the Brail in Scotland. As described by Arbeau it is in duple time. The first Scottish branle has musical phrases of 2 bars, the second phrases of 2 and 3 bars. Two examples of music called the Scottish Branle by Estienne du Tertre, however, appear in 3/4 time. Furthermore, despite a similarity in structure for one of these branles, the precise choreography given by Arbeau could not be danced to this music even if the music were in 4/4.

The Poitou Branle usually has a 9/4 metre, although some settings use 6/4 or even alternate between 6/4 and 9/4. There is a variation called the Poitou double Branle (Branle double de Poitou), which appears exclusively in 6/4.

The Branle de Montirandé appears to be related to the Haut Barrois Branle, which Arbeau says was arranged on the tune of a Branle of Montierandal (probably Montier-en-Der). This is danced in duple time, and as described by Arbeau has a similar structure to the Double Branle. Settings for this appear in both Le Trésor d'Orphée by Antoine Francisque and Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius.

There were a number of pieces of music from as early as 1550 called Branle de Village, and they seem to have gained popularity in the early 17th Century. Musically they usually incorporated "rustic" features in their melody, such as repeated notes. It is clear from the Robert Ballard lute music however that the Branle de Village was not associated with one specific dance as the structure differs significantly between pieces.

Emmanuel Adriaenssen includes a piece called Branle Englese in his book of lute music, Pratum Musicum. It included a referral to Jacques Branleur's "Branle dans Maison," a little known performance artist's variation.

Igor Stravinsky includes a Bransle Simple, Bransle Gay, and Bransle de Pointou (Double) in his Agon (1957).

Arbeau tells us in his Orchesography that there were several well established Branle suites of up to ten dances. These were the Branles de Champagne, the Branles de Camp, the Branles de Henault and the Branles d'Avignon. He named the suites Branles couppez, which translates literally as cut branles, but is probably more accurately translated as mixed branles.


The basse danse, or "low dance", was the most popular court dance in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, especially at the Burgundian court, often in a combination of 6/4 and 3/2 time allowing for use of hemiola. When danced, couples moved quietly and gracefully in a slow gliding or walking motion, raising and lowering their bodies -- movements from which the name originated. The basse danse later led to the development of the pavane.

The latter half of a basse danse consisted occasionally of a tourdion, due to their contrasting tempi, and both were danced alongside the Pavane and galliard, and the allemande and courante, also in pairs.

The earliest record of a basse danse dates to the 1320's and is found in an Occitan poem of Raimon de Cornet, who notes that the joglars performed them.

Monophonic songs were based on a tenor cantus firmus; the length of the choreography was often derived from popular chansons. In performance, 3 or 4 instrumentalists would improvise the polyphony based on this tenor. In others, multiple parts were written, though in the style of the day choices regarding instrumentation were left to the performers. Relatively well known are the basse danses assembled in 1530 by Pierre Attaingnant that remain today in "The Attaingnant Dance Prints," which included parts for four voices which were typically improvised upon by adding melodic embellishment (as Attaingnant rarely included such ornamentation, with occasional exceptions such as "Pavin of Albart," an embellishment upon "Pavane 'Si je m'en vois'").

Basse danses from this collection have been revisited and recorded by various ensembles including the Josef Ulsamer & Ulsamer Collegium. Most basse danses consisted of a binary form with each section repeated, such as the "No. 1: Basse Danse" from the publication "Danseries a 4 parties" by Pierre Attaingnant, published in 1547.

Due to a treatise in the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I in Brussels, information about the elements of a basse danse (along with choreography of specific examples) remains today.
Basse danses are developed around four types of steps: the pas simple, pas double, démarche (also known as the reprise), and the branle. There also exists the révérence, a bow typically executed before or after the basse danse.

In a pas simple, dancers take two steps (typically first left and then right) in the span of one measure, in the feel of 6/4.

In pas double, dancers take instead three steps, in the feel of 3/2. These steps take advantage of the hemiola feel of the basse danse.

In the démarche, dancers take a step backwards and shift their weight forward and then back in three motions in the feel of 3/2.

In the branle, dancers step to the left, shifting their weight left, and then close again, in two motions in the feel of 6/4.

The révérence, occurring typically before or after the choreography, takes place over the course of one measure.

[8525 Palestrina / 8519 Arbeau / 1517 Zarlino]