Basse danse

Basse danse

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The basse danse, or "low dance", was the most popular court dance in the 15th and early 16th centuries, especially at the Burgundian court
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...

, often in a combination of 6/4 and 3/2 time allowing for use of hemiola
Hemiola
In modern musical parlance, a hemiola is a metrical pattern in which two bars in simple triple time are articulated as if they were three bars in simple duple time...

. The word basse describes the nature of the dance, in which partners move quietly and gracefully in a slow gliding or walking motion without leaving the floor, and contrasts with livelier dances in which both feet left the floor in jumps or leaps. The basse danse later led to the development of the pavane
Pavane
The pavane, pavan, paven, pavin, pavian, pavine, or pavyn is a slow processional dance common in Europe during the 16th century .A pavane is a slow piece of music which is danced to in pairs....

. The latter half of a basse danse consisted occasionally of a tourdion
Tourdion
Tourdion is a lively dance, similar in nature to the Galliard, and popular from the mid 15th to the late 16th centuries, first in the Burgundian court and then all over the French Kingdom...

, due to their contrasting tempi, and both were danced alongside the Pavane and galliard
Galliard
The galliard was a form of Renaissance dance and music popular all over Europe in the 16th century. It is mentioned in dance manuals from England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy, among others....

, and the allemande
Allemande
An allemande is one of the most popular instrumental dance forms in Baroque music, and a standard element of a suite...

 and courante
Courante
The courante, corrente, coranto and corant are some of the names given to a family of triple metre dances from the late Renaissance and the Baroque era....

, also in pairs.
The earliest record of a basse danse dates to the 1320s and is found in an Occitan poem of Raimon de Cornet
Raimon de Cornet
Raimon de Cornet was a fourteenth-century Toulousain priest, friar, grammarian, poet, and troubadour. He was a prolific author of verse; more than forty of his poems survive, most in Occitan but two in Latin. He also wrote letters, a didactic poem , a grammar, and some treatises on computation...

, who notes that the joglars performed them.

Monophonic songs were based on a tenor
Tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

 cantus firmus
Cantus firmus
In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.The plural of this Latin term is , though the corrupt form canti firmi is also attested...

; the length of the choreography
Choreography
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...

 was often derived from popular chanson
Chanson
A chanson is in general any lyric-driven French song, usually polyphonic and secular. A singer specialising in chansons is known as a "chanteur" or "chanteuse" ; a collection of chansons, especially from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, is also known as a chansonnier.-Chanson de geste:The...

s. In performance, 3 or 4 instrumentalists would improvise the polyphony
Polyphony
In music, polyphony is a texture consisting of two or more independent melodic voices, as opposed to music with just one voice or music with one dominant melodic voice accompanied by chords ....

 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. Most famous, perhaps, 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
Pierre Attaingnant
Pierre Attaingnant was a French music printer, active in Paris.-Life:Attaingnant is considered to be first large-scale publisher of single-impression movable type for music-printing, thus making it possible to print faster and cheaper than predecessors such as Ottaviano Petrucci...

, published in 1547.

Dance Elements


Due to a treatise in the Royal Library of Belgium in Brussels
Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, 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 pair of pas simples, 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.