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"Le parfaict danser - Dance music 1300-1500"

Into the Winds

rec: May 2022, Centeilles, Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 452 (© 2022) (63[43")
Liner-notes: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Giovanni AMBROSIO (Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro) (1420-1484): Ballo Francese chiamato Amoroso; Ballo Francese chiamato Petit Rinense; Voltate in Ça Rosina; anon: Ballo Tentalora; Basse-danse Triste plaisirs; Gallicum Sine Nomine; La Manfredina & La Rotta; La Tierche Estampie Roial & Danse; Retrove; Pavane La Monina; Saltarello La Comarina; Saltarello El Marchese di Saluzzo; [Suite de ducties]; Thoinot ARBEAU (1520-1595): Basse-danse Jouissance vous donneray Pierre ATTAINGNANT (1494-1552): Basse-danse La Brosse; Tourdion C'est grand plaisir; Gilles BINCHOIS (1400-1460): Triste plaisirs; Antonio CORNAZZANO (1430-1484): La Figlia di Guglielmino; Re di Spagna; Jean D'Estrées (?-1576): [Suite de Branles gay]; [Suite de Bransles de Champaigne]; Claude GERVAISE (fl 1540-1560): Pavane Passemaize - Passemèzes d'Italie - Gaillarde; [Suite d'Allemandes]; Heinrich ISAAC (1450-1517): Missa La Spagna (Gloria (exc); Agnus Dei (exc)); Diego ORTIZ (1510-1570): Recercada IV; Hilaire PENET (?1501-?): Au joly boys; DOMENICO DA PIACENZA (1390-1470): Bassadanze Zoglioxa; Vincenzo RUFFO (1508-1587): La Gamba in Basso e Soprano; Francisco de LA TORRE (1460-1504): Danza Alta

Anabelle Guibeaud, recorder, shawm; Rémi Lécorché, recorder, buisine, slide trumpet, sackbut; Marion Le Moal, recorder, bombard; Adrien Reboisson, recorder, shawm, bombard, dulcian; Laurent Sauron, percussion

Dancing has always been a part of everyday life, from ancient times until the present day. It usually goes along with music, and this explains why dance music is such an important part of the music that has come down to us from the past. The art of dancing was an essential part of the education of the higher echelons of society, but it was also part of popular culture. Dance music that has been written down or even published is usually what was performed among the upper classes; popular dances were probably never written down, but rather handed over from one generation to the next by way of imitation. Whereas dance music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was alsmost always meant for dancing, dances from the baroque era were mostly stylized, and inspired by dancing, but not meant for it. Examples are the many orchestral suites by composers such as Bach and Telemann.

The disc under review offers a survey of the dance music performed during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is useful to quote the opening paragraph of the liner-notes, as it tells us much about the importance of dancing. "'Perfect dancing is memory, tempo, style, how the body is held, the diversity of things, and the sharing of space'. These are the opening words of one of the first dance treatises in history, written in the 15th century by the Italian dancing master Antonio Cornazzano (1430-1484). Beyond the steps and figures that he describes, we also come to understand the symbolic role of this art, its aim to unite the mortal world with the kingdom of God. This recording echoes this universalist vision and not only follows the thread of the first notated dances but also explores the songs or pieces that were sometimes their source as well as the more refined compositions that the dances themselves inspired."

The programme shows what kind of dances were in vogue between 1300 and 1600 (the title mentions 1500, which is a bit odd, as a part of the programme is from the 16th century). This guarantees that there is quite some variety in the programme, and one does not need to fear that a whole recording of dance music is too much of the same. One of the most popular dance forms of the Middle Ages was the estampie; the name may be derived from the German verb stampen (to stamp one's foot). Most of medieval dances are monophonic or in two parts. In the 15th century the basse-danse was the most-revered form; such dances appear in both Italian and Franco-Burgundian sources with the names of bassadanza and basse-danse respectively. They often appear with different titles, such as La Spagna. Triste plaisirs is an example of a dance that is derived from a chanson by Gilles Binchois. In the 16th century the pavane enters the scene. Such pieces were written across Europe, and the programme includes examples from the Italian and French Renaissance. In Italy it was usually followed by a saltarello, in France by a gaillarde. Whereas many dances were written down monophonically, composers often added parts to them and turned them into polyphonic pieces, such as Au joly boys by Claude de Sermisy and La Gamba in Basso e Soprano by Vincenzo Ruffo.

Part of the variety of this recording is also due to the different combinations of instruments, with which they are performed. Although dance music could be played on string instruments, the performers have opted for winds, with additional percussion. Wind instruments were divided into two categories, known in French as haut and bas. The former refers to loud instruments, such as the cornett, the sackbut, slide trumpet, shawm and bombard. The latter comprise mainly recorders, which are here played in consort. The performers have opted for two different kinds of consort: "the first, with a wide bore, has a direct sound and very defined articulation and is ideal for dances that require a clear and dynamic line; the second is based on Venetian instruments of the 16th century and is perfectly suited to more delicate aesthetics as well as to the more refined counterpoint that was typical of this period."

The performers have arranged many of these dances in several ways. It is hard to determine whether they have done it right, but given that they are experts in this repertoire I assume they have. They are undoubtedly right in this matter, as one may assume that only the framework of dances was written down, and that performers added quite a lot by improvising on the spot. That is how these things work; we have not to do here with 'art music' to be performed in front of an audience, but with music which was used to accompany dancing. Dances may have lasted much longer than a piece of dance music suggests. From that it seems safe to conclude that such music not just allows a lot of improvisation, but asks for it. Anyway, the performers have done an admirable job here. Thanks to their efforts, their mastery of their instruments, and the lively way they play these dances, this is a highly entertaining disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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Into the Winds

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