TRANSCRIPT OF THE OCT. 23, 2014 TALK, MIDTOWN CONCERTS, Chapel at St. Bartholomew's, NYC
My name is Nancy Kito and we are Ensemble Leonarda. We welcome you to this afternoon's concert, which is entitled: "Shall We Dance?: The Evolution of the Baroque Dance Suite". It is our exploration of how it evolved from the concrete dance to the more abstract instrumental dance suite.
Before Netflix, Hulu, and cable TV, what did one do for entertainment? You would go to the opera and hear the singers, and see the dances in the ballet sequences between the arias. Or, you would go to someone's country house for the weekend, dontcha know. During the daytime, you would go out hunting, or promenade in the gardens, and at night there would be dancing. You would either be on the floor dancing, or, you would be on the side TALKING about the people who were dancing (think Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice). Knowing how to dance and more importantly, how to dance well, was a good skill to have, and people paid a lot of money to have dance instructors come to the house to teach them the latest dances.
If you look at the illustrations in the program, that first drawing is not a pencil sketch of the gardens at the palace of Versailles. That is actually taken from a dance instruction manual published in 1725, and those feathery things that you see are the actual dance steps, the patterns of your feet. Kind of like those dancing footprints that you see embedded in concrete sidewalks in some cities in America. I'm told that there was also notation for the position of the hands, which was just as important as the position of the feet. There were a lot of these manuals published back then, and it's wonderful that they have survived, because we can know today how they actually danced these dances.
We look at ourselves as musical archaeologists, WHAT they did back then, HOW they did things back then, WHY they did things back then, all of that informs our interpretation when we play the music of "back then" TODAY.
Getting back to the subject of dancing, in order to dance, you needed music. Musicians would play these gigs, and they started collecting music for these various dances. They would eventually try grouping these collections by key. Eventually, these collections of dance music became known as suites, hence the name dance suites.
By the time you get to J.S. Bach, the instrumental dance suite has become codified, it's a set form. There are 4 dances in the dance suite. Usually (typically) the dance suite consists of the following: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue. Now, the composer Francois Couperin was not the only one trying to synthesize national styles. Each of these dances comes to us from a different country.
ALLEMANDE is the French word for German (gee, I wonder where this dance comes from?!). The Allemande is from Germany, it is a moderate tempo dance, in 4/4 time (that is to say, 4 beats to a measure). COURANTE is French, and it comes from the verb "to run". The Courante has a quick tempo, and has 3 beats per measure. The SARABANDE, ah, now that's an interesting one. The Sarabande starts off in Spain, but there, it's a quick tempo dance and is rather provocative and suggestive. The moves are so suggestive that at one point, this dance is banned. The Sarabande wends its way from Spain to France and by the time it reaches France, the tempo has slowed down and it has lost its suggestiveness, it becomes the slow, stately, and majestic dance that we know today. GIGUE is the French pronunciation of the word JIG, which comes from England.
These are the 4 pillars of the dance suite. As time goes on, new dances are invented and come into fashion, so that the composers are interchanging, exchanging, and adding to the dance suites, dances such as the Minuet, the Gavotte, etc.