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Class 1: Red book, Pavana Matthei


Red Book of Montserrat - dances in 14th-century style

I've had a few questions recently about what we can reasonably speculate about dance from the 14thC and earlier (the earliest surviving written choreographies are from the mid-15th century). 

Tonight, we experimented with dance I made up to go with the four dance-songs from the Red Book of Montserrat. They're all called "bal redon" (round dance), or similar. 

My aim was to keep things as simple as possible, and consistent with what we do know (or think likely) about communal dances of this sort in the 14th century. 

For each dance, I started with the double branle, and varied that only when the rhythm required it. When variation was needed, I either varied the rhythm of the double branle steps, or introduced portions of the single branle. 

All four songs have a similar structure: two musical phrases, one (which we'll call "B") which is used for the first half of each verse, and another (which we'll call "A") which is used for the second half of each verse, and for the chorus. This produces this pattern:


All the B sections are rhythmically straightforward: you can dance double branle to all of them.

All the A sections are in some way more complicated: more exotic rhythms, different phrase-length, etc. These sections get the variations in the dance.

Of course, the dances below are purest speculation. There are other things that could equally plausibly be fitted to these songs. 

Stella Splendens

  • A: double left, three singles right, left, right (repeat)
  • B: double left, double right (repeat)

Los set goytxs

  • A: double left, single right (repeat)
  • B: double left, double right (repeat)

Fitting the A section to the words: "Ave Maria gratia plena" - double left stepping on "A", "Ma", "a" (of "Ave Maria"), single right stepping back on "ple" (of "plena"). This feels pleasantly lilting, and fits comfortably to the music. 

Cuncti simus concanentes

  • A: double left (pause), double right (abbreviated) (repeat)
  • B: double left, double right (repeat)

Fitting the A section to the words: "Cuncti simus concanentes, Ave Maria" - double left stepping on "Cunct", "si" and "con" (of "cuncti simus concanentes"), then pause and close, slowly, on "nentes"; double right backwards over "Ave Maria", stepping with the right on "ve", closing with the left on "ri", and stepping with the right on "a" - no final close.

Thus you linger over the end of the double left, with some extra time to pause and close the step; and abbreviate the double right, with no extra time to close, launching straight into the next double left. That aligns the steps with the phrasing of the words, and gives a pleasant sense of acceleration.

Polorum regina

  • A: double left, double right (abbreviated) (repeat)
  • B: double left, double right (repeat)

The doubles right/backwards are abbreviated, as in Cuncti Simus: there's no final beat to close the step - go directly into the next step.

This song has been recorded with various rhythms (as the notation in the MS is ambiguous). Vary as needed.

We found these pleasant to dance. Depending on the song, and the pace of the music, they ranged from calm and meditative to quite a lot of fun. We'll be using them again. The dances are so simple (once you have the feel of the music) that they're easy to do, and to keep track of, while singing.

Pavana Matthei / galliard practice

A fully-worked pavan and galliard, by Caroso.

We practiced our basic cinquepasso, then added the three mutanze for the woman from Pavana Matthei. 

After the break, we learned the full choreography for Pavana Matthei (but using the woman's mutanze throughout). The man's mutanze will be a project for another week.

Avondale Lions Hall
Class date: 
February 4, 2016