The Basse Dance flourished in Burgundy during the time of Charles the Bold and is, like so much other music and dance from that time and place, one of the most delightful of the achievements made by our forefathers. The basse dance is a graceful dance in which the dancers move slowly forward and back according to the rule of the dance and the measure of the music making slow and graceful progress across the floor. Note that the basse dance is not called ``basse'' or ``base'' because it was danced by base persons, but rather because it danced low to the ground, unlike a leaping dance such as the salterello or galliard. Basse Dances were danced by noble both high and low of the Burgundian Court.
There is also a bassadanza which is a similar dance danced by the Italians of the same time. The chief difference between the two dances is in the variety of steps and ornamentation of figures added by the Italians. Thus, where the Burgundians would glide in a stately progress across the floor, the Italians would move in more elaborate steps and figures.
In both the Burgundian and Italian style, the music is very similar. The tenor plays the cantus firmus which is written as a series of breves in perfect tempus and imperfect prolation (thus there are 3 semibreve's to each breve and 2 minims to each breve.) While the tenor was playing the cantus firmus two other instruments would improvise countertenor and descant parts above the tenor. Many pictures of the basse dance (Crane lists several) show an ensemble of musicians consisting of a sackbut and two shawms, presumably the sackbut playing the cantus firmus and the shawms playing the countertenor and discant parts.
Our forefathers did not write down the complete music for these dances; they only wrote the tenors along with the steps of the dance. The musicians of the age were well able to improvise the other parts upon demand. The following chapters will plainly and simply explain this art.
Onward to Chapter 2: On the Authors who have written about the Basse Dance.
[Previous Chapter][Next Chapter]
[Paper Table of Contents] [References]
[Basse Dance Project Homepage]
[Russell Almond's Dance Music Page]
This file developed and maintained byRussell G. Almond