3.2. COURANTE, CONTEXT AND CHOREOGRAPHY
- Historical and Social Context:
“The Courant was formerly very much in Fashion, and as it is a very solemn Dance,
and gives a more grand and noble Air than other Dances, which have one more
brisk and lively, and are much more diversified in their Figures. Lewis the
Fourteenth was pleased to prefer it; for after the Brawls, which then were and
are still danced in the Court Balls, he always danced a Courant: Indeed he danced
it better than any of his Court, and with an extraordinary Grace. But what gives a
greater Proof of his Attachment and Delight in this Dance, is, that notwithstanding
the weighty Affairs he had upon his Hands, he set apart some Hours for this
Diversion for upwards of two and twenty Years that Monsieur Beauchamp
had the Honour to instruct him in this noble Exercise”.
“Dance occupied an important role in seventeenth century society. The performer, therefore, must understand the steps and character of all the major dances in order to arrive at the proper tempo and performance style for each”.
There is little information about Courantes in france before the sixteenth century, for that reason, it is difficult to support if the French dance was an evolution of the Italian one or if the origin is totally different. It could be imported by Catherine de Medici (1519 - 1589), queen consort of France, from the Medici court to the French court.
The origin of the Courante Françoise as a dance is in the early ballet, during the first half of the seventeenth century. As a dance, the Courante was created earlier than most other French Baroque dances.
From the time of the king Henri II (1519 - 1559), the Courante was held in high esteem as a court dance, but it never became popular among the masses. Its movement then was exceedingly solemn, majestic and dignified.
The manuscripts from the “Philidor collection” contain several examples of Courantes that had been danced in the French court in presence of the kings Henri II, Charles IX (1550 - 1574), Henri III (1551 - 1589), Henry IV (1553 - 1610) and Louis XIII (1601 - 1643) and played by the Vingt-quatre violins du roy and the other musical ensembles of the court. This dance became so fashionable and popular that no French education was considered complete unless the steps of the Courante had been mastered, and to dance and sing a Courante well were signs of good breeding and gentility.
Under Louis XIV (1638 - 1715) kingdom, the Courante became the most prominent and fashionable dance of court balls, with the king performing, after the suite of Branles, the first Courante of the evening. At this period the almost affected solemnity of the steps was at its height, profound bows and curtsies made the opening and close of each section, and the feet never left the ground.
One of the first references that we can find about the use of the Courante as an opening dance in the balls is provided by Gabriele Bertazzolo in the publication “Breve relazione dello sposalizio fatto della Serenissima Principessa Eleonora Gonzaga con la Sacra Cesarea Maestà di Ferdinando II Imperatore. Et appresso alle feste, e superbi apparati fatti nelle sue imperiali nozze così in Mantova come anco per il viaggio fino alla città di Inspruch”:
“The emperor began the first dance, in the German style, with the empress.
It was in the manner of a Corrente but with three rests and,
as one proceeds in Pavans, slower steps”.
Also, Gottfried Taubert (1679 - 1746) provides a description of a Courante as an opening dance in a ball in his book “Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, oder gründliche Erklärung der Frantzösischen Tantz-Kunst”, published in Leipzig in 1717.
The fact that the Courante is not frequent in the French Opera is explained by the circumstance that by the time of creation of these works appeared, the Courante had ceased to be fashionable as a dance. For this reason, we only can find five examples of Courantes in music by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 - 1687). But in the other hand, we can find hundreds of examples in instrumental music during the late seventeenth and firsts decades of the eighteenth century, what shows us the popularity and the continued use of this dance in small formats.
The Courante was still being danced at balls in 1725, according to Pierre Rameau (1674 - 1748), but by then it was no longer of prime importance as a dance.
There is always a big issue with the musical and dance sources from this period. The problem is even bigger when we are speaking about the Courante, a dance whose splendour was during the seventeenth century. Almost all the treatises and sources speaking about the Courantes are from the eighteenth century when the dances changed totally the function, the separation between music and dance is much more evident and when this form was a not fashionable dance.
The principal sources about the Courante are from the Renaissance period or from the eighteenth century when the dance notation was developed. The only treatise contemporary in time with the splendour of this dance is the book by de Lauze.
Then, we are going to explain some of the most main dance sources in which the Courante is treated important:
Thoinot Arbeau’s “Orchesographie” is the most important source for the Renaissance Dance. He says about the Courante that is danced in a light duple time and it consists of two simple steps and then a double step, first to the left and then to the right, moving to the front, to the side or to the back. Arbeau describes an earlier version of this dance, which contained an element of mime and flirt between the partners. Arbeau provides an intabulation of the Courante, with the melody and the dance movements. Cesare Negri (c. 1536 - c. 1604) gives a choreography for “La Corrente”, similar to the example provided by Arbeau but in triple meter. In both examples, the choreography of the Courante is defined only in outline, the individual dance figures are improvised, applying the fixed step combination.
“Apologie de la danse et la parfaicte methode de l'enseigner tant aux Cavaliers qu'aux Dames” by François de Lauze (c. 1590 - 1641) is the only surviving material about dance from this period and it was published soon after the Courante became fashionable. He divides the treatise into two methods, one for men and one for women.
He wrote about the new style of the dance, but from de Lauze’s descriptions is almost impossible to reconstruct the steps and figures, with a total absence of music and rhythmic instructions. He describes the Courante as the basis for all the lessons of the new noble style. The social aspect of the dance and the Courante is very important for de Lauze. He informs about “how important dancing was considered to be in society, writing that even the king of France knew the dance”. The grace, the modesty and the decorum were essential components in the ballroom dances, and in this new style, the upper body becomes important, with specific gestures of the arms and the hands. He says that “the grace of a Courante depends in great part upon the actions of the arms”.
De Lauze explains that the Courante is a couple dance that starts always with a bow, “the dancers are that the toes are always turned outward and to keep the eyes at their own level at all times, with an expression of self-possession and dignity”.
Little information can be found about the Courante in the works written by Raoul August Feuillet, only one choreography (“La Bourgogne”) and some small details as for example the division of the dances depending the beats per bar (in two, in three and in four) that we can find in the “Traité de la Cadance”, a part of the Preface of his “Recüeil de Dances” published in 1704. The Courante belongs to the dances in three.
The remarks of Rameau (1674 - 1748) in “Le maitre a danser”, the most definitive work on ballroom dance of the early eighteenth century, are clear but brief as the Courante was no longer in vogue. Rameau provides information about dance technique, steps, figures and arm movements. Rameau recommends that pupils study the Courante as a basis for learning other dances just as François de Lauze had done a century before. According to Pierre Rameau, Louis XIV danced Courantes “better than any member of his Court and with a quite unusual grace”.
“Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, oder gründliche Erklärung der Frantzösischen Tantz-Kunst” by Gottfried Taubert (1679 - 1746) was written in 1717, long after the Courante lost its place of favour to the Minuet, but it is a very important treatise for this topic. Following Taubert, the Courante contained all the principles of a basic French dance technique. “The dance has several unique features: it moves in 3 / 2 meter in a very slow tempo, which makes it the slowest of all baroque dances; its characteristic step-units all cross bar lines; and the characteristic step-units are used only in this dance. Taubert discusses these step-units and calls them the “short” and the “long” Pas de Courante”.
Taubert also recommended in his treatise that pupils must study the Courante for learning other dances because it is actually a simple dance where the basic steps are coupé and demi-coupé, it is slow and not as theatrical as for example the Sarabande.
We have to start this part of the research marking that the systems of dance notation were developed at the beginning to the eighteenth century, after the time in which the Courante was fashionable, for this reason, the documentation is limited and sometimes confused.
There are two different types of French Courantes:
- Courantes simples: in which the dancers circle the dancing area performing the basic step sequences of this dance.
- Courantes figurées: with developed spatial figures and step-sequences.
There are only ten known examples of Courantes in the corpus of notated dances from this period, and five of them are the openings sections of more extended ballroom dances. Then, we will comment on the existing examples, dividing these between the dances found in French, in English and in German sources:
- “La Courante” (dance and music anon.):
This dance appears in the Manuscript 14884 from the National Library of France.
Could be the oldest example, because this dance has no figures. It is simply a sequence of steps Pas de courante (coupé and demi-coupé) around the room.
“La Courante” is a five measures part played twice and a six measures part played once.
This dance is very important because, maybe, following this example, we have the way to make a choreography to the other many French Courantes.
- “La Bocanne or La Bocanes” (dance anon. and music by Bocane):
This dance is contained in the Manuscript Res. 934 from the Library of the Opera in Paris and in the Manuscript 14884 from the National Library of France. Both Manuscripts are anonymous.
The music with the bass line is found in the Manuscript written by Antoine Pointel “Airs de Danses Angloises, Hollandoises et Francoises”.
“La Bocanne” is a Courante figurée. The step sequences are much more diverse in this dance than in the other examples.
This dance was probably composed at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Marin Mersenne mentioned a Courante called “La Bocane” in “Harmonie Universelle”. The tune of “La Bocane” was so popular during the seventeenth century around Europe. As Mersenne says, this dance consists of two sections of nine measures played twice, with different steps and figures in the second time.
- “La Duchesse” (dance and music anon.):
This dance appears in the Manuscript Res. 934 from the Library of the Opera in Paris and in the Manuscript 14884 from the National Library of France.
“La Duchesse” is form by a Courante, a Sarabande and a Bourrée.
The Courante of this dance is a six measures part played twice, with different steps and figure in the second time.
The music with the bass line is also found in the Cassel’s Manuscript. And this is important because in this source is called Courante figurée, which gives to this choreography the special elements associated with the Courantes figurées (representative character and unique choreography).
- “La Bourgogne” (dance by Louis Pecour and music anon., 1700):
“La Bourgogne” is formed by a Courante, a Bourrée, a Sarabande and a Passepied. This dance was published in “Recueil de dances composées par M. Pécour” by Raoul Feuillet in 1700, but the date of composition is not known. The title suggests that this dance could be connected with the wedding of the Duc and the Duchesse de Bourgogne, whose wedding was celebrated in 1697.
The Courante is a six measures part played twice making a choreographic figure.
The music with the bass line is found in the Manuscript written by Antoine Pointel “Airs de Danses Angloises, Hollandoises et Francoises”, published in Amsterdam in 1700.
- “La Dombe” (dance by Claude Balon and music anon., 1712):
“La Dombe” was published in “Recueil de danses pour l’année 1712” by Mr. Jacques Dezais. This dance starts with a Courante, followed by a Bourrée and a Passepied.
The Courante is a nine measures part played twice. The figure and the step sequence is repeated, but with the dancers facing different directions.
- “Brawl of Audenarde” (dance by Mr. Siris and music by G[aillarde], c. 1709):
This dance starts with a Courante, followed by a Minuet and a Gigue, and it was published in 1709 by I. Walsh in London.
The Courante is a nine measures part played twice making a long choreographic figure.
- “The Northumberland” (dance by Mr. Isaac and music by James Paisible, c. 1711):
“The Northumberland” is a published dance. It seems to have been choreographed around 1699, but not published until c. 1711 by I. Walsh & I. Hare in London. This dance is formed by four untitled contrasting movements.
We can consider the first seven measures of “The Northumberland” as a Courante, repeated twice with a different step sequence.
The music with the bass and treble parts is found in the book “Country Dances” written by Thomas Bray and published in London in 1699.
In Gottfried Taubert’s treatise “Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister” (Leipzig, 1717) there are also three choreographies, two Courantes simple (almost identical to “La Courante”) and one Courante figurée. But the music of these three dances is lost. Taubert says that the Courante simple was repeated several times or followed by a Courante figurée. He provided a German view of French dancing, showing how influential “la belle danse” was around Europe. Basic Step Patterns in the Courante:
There are two different types of common steps patterns in Courantes:
- “Tems de Courante”: is a gesture consisting of a plié, or bending of the knees, followed by an élevé or rise and a slide of a foot.
- “Pas de Courante”: is a combination of a pas coupé (a plié and an élevé) and a demi-coupé (a demi-coupé on to one foot and a pas glissé or slide on the other).
Marin Mersenne describes in his treatise when he is speaking about the Courante the “Tems de Courante”:
“It is composed of two steps in a measure, that is to say a step of each foot; in which each step has three motions, namely bend, rise, and placement”.
The most typical opening sequence for the Courantes is: Tems de Courante + demi (in the first bar) and Pas de courante (pas coupé + demi-coupé in the second bar).
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