History of Gavotte Dance
History of Gavotte Dance History of Gavotte Dance

The gavotte (also gavot or gavote) originated as a French folk dance, taking its name from the Gavot people of the Pays de Gap region of Dauphiné, where the dance originated. It is notated in 4/4 or 2/2 time and is of moderate tempo.

The distinctive rhythmic feature of the 18th-century French court gavotte is that phrases begin in the middle of the bar; that is, in either 4/4 or 2/2 time, the phrases begin on the third quarter note (crotchet) of the bar, creating a half-measure (half-bar) upbeat.

On the contrary, the music for the earlier court gavotte, first described by Thoinot Arbeau in 1589, invariably began on the downbeat of a duple measure, and the various folk gavottes found in mid-20th-century Brittany were danced to music in 4/4, 2/4, 9/8, and 5/8 time.

The 19th-century column-dance also called "gavotte" has nothing at all in common with the dances of the 16th to the 18th centuries.

The gavotte is first described in the late 16th century, as a suite or miscellany of double branles, danced in a line or circle to music in duple time, "with little springs in the manner of the Haut Barrois" branle, with some of the dance steps "divided" with figures borrowed from the galliard. The basic step pattern is the same as for the common or double branle, with the line of dancers moving alternately to the left and right with a double à gauche and double à droite.

In the double branle, each of these composite steps consists of four components:
-- a pied largi (firm outward step),
-- pied approche (the other foot drawn near but not quite up to the first),
-- another pied largi,
-- a pied joint (following foot drawn against the leading one).

The basic gavotte steps differ as follows: in the initial double à gauche a skip (petit saut) is inserted after each of the four components; the second pied largi is replaced by a marque pied croisé (the following, right foot crossed over the left and with the toe contacting the floor); the final pied approche is replaced by a grève croisée (the right foot crosses over the left and is raised in the air).

The double à droite begins now with a pieds joints and petit saut, followed by two quick steps, a marque pied gauche croisé and marque pied droit croisé, during beat two, a grève droit croisée and petit saut on beat three, and concluding on the last beat with pieds joints and a capriole (leap into the air with entrechat).

Baroque Music
The gavotte became popular in the court of Louis XIV where Jean-Baptiste Lully was the leading court composer. Consequently several other composers of the Baroque period incorporated the dance as one of many optional additions to the standard instrumental suite of the era. The examples in suites and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach are best known. When present in the Baroque suite, the gavotte is often played after the sarabande and before the gigue, along with other optional dances such as the minuet, bourrée, rigaudon, and passepied.

The gavotte could be played at a variety of tempi; in his Musicalisches Lexicon (Leipzig, 1732), Johann Gottfried Walther wrote that the gavotte is "often quick, but occasionally slow"; and Johann Joachim Quantz wrote in Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (Berlin, 1752) that "A gavotte is almost like a rigaudon, but is a little more moderate in tempo."

The gavotte in the Baroque period is typically in binary form. A notable exception is the Gavotte en Rondeau ("Gavotte in rondo form") from J.S. Bach's Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.

Later Manifestations
Later composers, particularly in the 19th century, wrote gavottes that began like the 16th-century gavotte on the downbeat rather than on the half-measure upbeat. The famous Gavotte in D by Gossec is such an example, as is the Gavotte in Massenet's Manon. A gavotte also occurs in the second act of The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan and the Finale of the First Act of Ruddigore also by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Sergei Prokofiev employs a gavotte instead of a minuet in his "Classical" Symphony.

References in Popular Culture
Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" includes the lyric "You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte". In this context it can be taken to mean a pretentious or egotistical style of dancing.

The Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park With George uses the word gavotte as a satirical device in the otherwise irregular, non-steadily rhythmical, song "It's Hot Up Here" to start the second Act, "We're stuck up here in this gavotte."

The Johnny Mercer song "Strip Polka" includes the lyric "Oh, she hates corny waltzes and she hates the gavotte".

Geneticist W. D. Hamilton in his paper entitled "Gamblers since life began: barnacles, aphids, elms." in the Quarterly Review of Biology (1975) made an attempt at wit by referring to the drilled formality of the mechanisms of individual reproduction as "the gavotte of chromosomes".

Agustin Barrios wrote a solo guitar piece called Madrigal Gavotte, which is a combination of the two styles.

In the anime Kiniro no Corda (La Corda D'Oro), the "Gavotte in D by Gossec" is heard many times, though referred to only as "Gavotte".

In the novel Good Omens, it is noted that one cannot determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, because angels do not dance--the exception being the Principality Aziraphale, who once learned to do the gavotte.

The "Cutting Gavotte" is an attack in the Japanese version of the RPG Infinite Undiscovery.

In the Broadway musical 1776 during the song "Cool, Considerate Men", reference is made to "Mr. Adams' new gavotte"--a reference regarding John Adams' ideas for a declaration of independence from Great Britain.

In the 1967 movie, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, the song "A Secretary Is Not A Toy" refers to a gavotte. The song discourages personal indiscretions with secretaries at the firm. The reference to a gavotte is meant to be ironic, as the original dance accompanying the song from the Broadway show was a modified gavotte.

In the manga and anime One Piece, the skeleton musician character Brooke (and his "zombie," Ryuuma, which was given life by Brooke's shadow) has a signature technique: Gavotte Bond en Avant.

In the Robert Pinsky poem Impossible To Tell the gavotte is mentioned in the first line.

"The Ascot Gavotte" is a song in the 1956 musical My Fair Lady by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

Alfred Blatter, Revisiting Music Theory: A Guide to the Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 2007): 28. ISBN 0-415-97439-9 (cloth); ISBN 0-415-97440-2 (NY, pbk).
Meredith Ellis Little, "Gavotte", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers).
Curt Sachs, World History of the Dance, translated by Bessie Schönberg (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1963): 389.
Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography, translated by Mary Stewart Evans, with a new introduction and notes by Julia Sutton and a new Labanotation section by Mireille Backer and Julia Sutton. American Musicological Society Reprint Series (New York: Dover Publications, 1967): 128-30, 175-76. ISBN 0-486-21745-0.
Quoted in the preface to Johann Sebastian Bach The French Suites: Embellished Version Bärenreiter Urtext Edition. (Kassel: Bärenreiter,).
Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, a complete translation with an introduction and notes by Edward R. Reilly (London: Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1966; paperback reprint, New York: Schirmer Books. 1975): 291.

The expert at anything was once a beginner. -Hayes

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