pennsicdance: bassadanza tempo, was Re: sheet music interp

susan at susan at
Fri Sep 16 09:53:06 PDT 2005

On Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 08:37:10PM -0700, Greg Lindahl wrote:
> On Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 10:06:52PM -0400, susan at wrote:
> > For efficiency for those who want to skip the annoying-the-pig argument
> > below, I'm looking for a typical range of BPM to which bassadanze are 
> > danced.
> About 25. That's counting one bassadanza step = one note in the tenor
> as one beat. That's the tempo that Forse chi se plays the bassadanza
> part of Rostiboli.

At last, someone with a clue and a willingness to give some hard numbers!
But can you spell it out a little more clearly?  If I am reading you
correctly, a bassadanza "step" in this context is the entire six count
sequence.  (It's entirely possible I'm reading you incorrectly, and since
I am pretty rusty on 15thc and have nothing useful to look at it front
of me, please feel free to explain in words of one syllable if I have it
totally cockeyed.)  My instinct, which might not be helpful, would be
to count bassadanza in compound duple (ONE-two-three FOUR-five-six), with
two beats to the six-count sequence.  If I've correctly understood you,
that would then be about 50bpm, since I'm counting two to your one.

Let me pause my response here and wait for clarification from you.

Everything from here on is GOOP for SCA.

> BTW, Stan Isaacs said that the Viennese waltz was a position and not
> necessarily a fast tempo, but I would barely know a Viennese waltz
> from a hole in the head.

I think Stan's wrong, and I can't think what his logic could be.  The
Viennese waltz, like the plain-old-waltz, is a mild variant of the new
waltz of the 1880's as described by folks like Gilbert.  It's
choreographically distinct from the *old* waltz in being essentially
linear in motion rather than rotary.  In plain English, one's allowed
to step backward.  That lets it travel much more, which makes it
pretty cool to dance.  In modern ballroom (the official competition
stuff), Viennese is danced at roughly twice the speed of the "regular"
waltz and has a much more limited set of figures and a lot more plain
old spinning, which is sensible, since there isn't a lot one can do
(or feel nice doing) at that speed other than spin.  (But the spinning
feels really good!)

The amusing historical issue with all this is that some evidence
suggests that the real Viennese waltz is the older (rotary) one, and
that the new (linear) one actually originated on the east coast of the
US and made its way to Europe later.  That's certainly visible around
the turn of the century, when the British dance masters (like Lamb)
and their plagiarists in the American midwest (Wirth etc.) were still
teaching the old waltz as "the" waltz while the east-coast folks were
all on about the new one.  That doesn't clarify what was going on in
Vienna or the rest of continental Europe, of course, but it's food for

Hmm, I just thought of what Stan might be referring to.  It's typical
in social vintage to start the new (linear, Viennese) waltz with the
man's back to LOD, whereas the old waltz is started with the man
facing outward.  There are choreographic issues with the linear start
for the 1890 version of the new waltz; the descriptions are ambiguous,
and I think its variations work rather better with the facing-out
start.  Modern ballroom practice is somewhere in between along-LOD and
across-LOD, I believe.  But if Stan is thinking Viennese as linear
waltz in contrast to rotary that sort of makes sense (though I still
disagree).  Typical modern usage is that Viennese is the fast-tempo
version of waltz, though.  I'll have to ask Stan what he means.

(trying to write up a nice handout on yet another waltz variety -
cross-step - for this weekend's dance camp...)

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