Letter: Ancora e molto del Saltarello: yet another option!

[ This article appeared in volume 3 of the Letter of Dance. ]

Unto Master Sion the greetings of the same (Don't you just love Laurels who argue with themselves?!)

Recently you had a letter in the Letter of Dance dealing with various reconstructions for the Saltarello. The three versions you presented were all given in four-beat common time; two (Sparti and Wood) had the hop on what amounts to the fourth beat, and the other (Brainard) had the hop on the second beat.

I think I have another option for you.

Thomas Morley remarks in 1597:

"The Italians make their Galliards (which they term Saltarelli) plain, and frame ditties to them which in their masquerades they sing an dance, and many times without any instruments at all, but instead they have courtesans disguised in men's apparel who sing and dance to their own songs."

I would ask your to consider first that the common processional gagliarda sequence in Morley's day was the Entretaille, which may in simplified terms be seen below:

1 Kick
2 Step (with same foot)
3 Kick (with same foot, as other foot undercuts it)
4 Kick (with other foot)
5-6 Cadenza

Secondly I would ask you to consider something of what documented derivations for the Saltarello exist. Barbara Sparti at the 1990 IEDI taught that the bassadanza misura (of which the doppio was the common step unit) was six beats in length, rather than the three beats we tend towards in North American reconstruction circles. Her major steps occured on the first, third and fourth beats, with the upbeat on the sixth. The Saltarello misura is credited with being in time one half the length of the Bassadanza misura, but this does not necessarily mean that the misura would not be similarly divided into six beats.

I may be mistaken, but perhaps you were oversimplifying the problem when you expressed the execution of the Saltarello doppio in four-beat common time. The potential six-beat Saltarello and the Entretaille look remarkably similar, and the quotation from Morley might make one very suspicious.

Beat Saltarello Gagliarda
1 Step Kick
2 (Hop?) Step
3 Step Kick
4 Step Kick
5 Pause Cadenza
6 (Upbeat/Hop?)

The possibility might therefore be advanced that, as Morley notes, the Gagliarda not only descends from the Saltarello, but that in its popular Italian form it carries on the execution of a supposedly "lost" step.

I pray I may have the honour ever to remain a thorn in the side of your academic complacency and your devoted servant.

Messer Sion Andreas o Wynedd


Morrow, Michael, ed. 44 Italian Dances of the Sixteenth Century for four instruments. s.l.: London Pro Musica, (1978).

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (lindahl@pbm.com)