Section I.B -- Fifteenth Century French/Burgundian Sources


Brussles MS.

Brussles, Bibliotheque Royale, Ms 9085. Facsimile with introduction and transcription by Ernest Closson. Le manuscrit dit des basses danses de la bibliotheque de bourgogne (Brussles: 1912). The above facsimile (with introduction) has been reprinted by Minkoff.


All the manuals discussed in this section except the last are in french, and describe the style of basse dance which was popular in France and Burgundy in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. These dances are similar to the Italian bassadanza which is described in numerous manuscripts from 1450 until about 1510 (see section I.A). Unlike the Italian sources, the Burgundian manuals contain few complicated dances, and use a much smaller vocabulary of steps.

This manuscript includes a short discussion on steps for the Burgundian style of basse dance, which are processional in nature, beginning with a reverence (i.e. bow) and branle, followed by some combination of single steps, double steps, reprises and branles. The most well-known of these dances in the SCA are Dance de Cleves and Fransois Nouvele, both reconstructed from this manuscript. This work includes a list of 59 bassedances, along with music. The music given is only the tenor line, as the musicians were expected to improvise one or two more parts around the base given to the tenor. The introduction by Closson is dated, and has been supplanted by newer scholarship.


Michel Toulouze, pub

Michel Toulouze, pub. L'art et instruction de bien dancer (Paris: c. 1488-1496). Published in facsimile with music transcribed and edited by Richard Rastall and translated by A. E. Lequet (New York, Dance Horizons: 1971). Published in facsimile by Minkoff (Geneve: 1985).


This work is considered to be the first printed work on dancing, with all earlier works being manuscripts, and so would have been available to a larger audience than any previous work. Like the Brussles Manuscript above, this work includes a short discussion on steps and a list of 45 basse dances, with the music for their tenor lines. Some dances appear in Brussles or Moderne, as well as here. For the interested scholar who does not read french, this volume is valuable for the translation of the introductory discussion of steps, although the translation is not perfect. It should be noted that the discussion of dancing and in particular the descriptions of steps which appear here and in Brussles and Moderne are far from clear and concise, but must be considered carefully when attempting to interpret the steps. Given an interpretation of the steps, the actual dance choreographies are relatively unambiguous.


Le ballet de la royne de Cessile

Le ballet de la royne de Cessile. Flyleaf choreographies to a copy of Geste des nobles Francoys in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (fonds fr. 5699 (formerly fonds fr. 10279)). Dances transcribed in Curt Sachs, World History of the Dance (New York: 1937), pp. 313-314.


This document lists the dances which were performed at a court function in 1445, and includes the choreogrophies for each dance. Seven dances are listed, but no music is given. The style of the dances is signifigantly different from the style of Brussles, Toulouze and Moderne, using steps which are not mentioned in any of them, as well as combinations of steps (such as three singles together) which are never used in the other manuals. This work is dated later than any of those three, and may be describing a dance which is more similar to the dance which Arbeau describes.


Jacques Moderne

S'ensuyvent plusiers basses dances, tant communes que incommunes, comme on pourra veoyr cy dedans (Lyon: press of Jacques Moderne, c. 1532-1533). Only known copy in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale (Coll. Rothschild, VI-3 bis-66, No. 19). Brief study and edition of the dances published by Francois Lesure. "Dances et chansons a danser au debut du XVIe siecle." Recuil de travaux offerts aM. Clovis Brunel vol. II, pp. 176-184. Facsimile reprint by Minkoff (Geneve: 1985).


Includes a short discussion on steps and a list of 115 basse dances, although without the music. Many of the dances also appear in Brussles and Toulouze. The introduction given by Moderne is very similar to that given by Toulouze, and may have been a rewritting of it.


Torino Ms

Torino Ms. Untitled single sheet (dated 27 december 1517) in Torino, Archivi Biscaretti (Mazzo 4, No. 14). Published by P. Meyer. "Role de chansons a danser du XVI siecle." Romania. Paris. Vol. 23 (1894), pp. 156-60.


This sheet includes notation for 20 dances in the style of Brusseles, Moderne and Toulouze, including some dances which are listed in those works. As with Moderne, no music is given; however, the article in Romania suggests some possible tunes for some of the choreographies.


Antonius de Arena

Antonius de Arena. Ad Suos compagniones studiantes. (Avignon: c. 1520), and many subsequent editions. Translation by John Guthrie and Marino Zorzi. "Rules of Dancing" in Dance Research, the Journal of the Society for Dance Research. London. Vol. IV, #2, Autumn 1986, pp. 3-53.


This is a treatise on the basse dance and dance etiquette, written in latin. It was apparently intended for law students at the University of Avignon, who were familiar with some dances but not basse dances. Included are 19 basse dances, but no music. A large part of the text is devoted to telling "middle class" law students what was and was not proper on the dance floor. The instructions which are given for steps are minimal and, as usual, far from clear. They are also difficult to resolve with instructions from other manuals and therfore pose an interesting problem to dance historians.

It has been noted that the choreographies which Arbeau gives for basse dances are included in Arena, which has lead to speculation that Arbeau may have used Arena as a source for a dance which he himself was not completely familiar with. He would certainly have had access to Arena, since it was reprinted in many editions over a span of more than two centuries, with the last reprint being about 1758.