History of Basse Dance
History of Basse Dance History of Basse Dance

The basse danse, or "low dance", was the most popular court dance in the 15th and early 16th centuries, especially at the Burgundian court, often in a combination of 6/4 and 3/2 time allowing for use of hemiola.

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. 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 1320s 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.

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, published in 1547.

Dance Elements
Due to a treatise in the Royal Library of Belgium 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 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.

Baker's Student Encyclopedia of Music, Gale Group, 1999 ISBN 978-0-02-865315-0
Basse dance
Western music - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Grove,George: "A Dictionary of Music and Musicians: (A.D. 1450-1880)", p154. Macmillan, 1889.
Thomas, Bernard: "The Attaingnant Dance Prints", volume I, pages iii-iv. London Pro Musica Edition, 1972.
Hanning, Barbara: "Concise History of Western Music", edition 3, page 209. W&W Norton and Company, Incorporated, 2006.
Cole, Richard. "Basse Dance". Retrieved 2007-02-07.
Baert, Lieven. "Basse danse, Brussels ms 9085". Retrieved 2007-04-13.[dead link]
Almond, Russell. "Basse Dance Project". Archived from the original on 13 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-13

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