Music for the Dances in Arbeau's Orchesography

by Joseph Casazza

© copyright Joseph Casazza, 1995. You may transfer electronically the file containing the text of this article for your own study. Further use or reproduction requires permission from the author. E-mail:

For most of the dances described in Thoinot Arbeau1's Orchesographie, published in Langres in 1589, only a melody is given, but in the sixteenth century it was common for dance music to be provided by a band of loud or soft (haut or bas) instruments2 as the occasion demanded. Arbeau himself gives us information with which to begin our search for appropriate multi-part dance music when he suggests3 to his pupil, Capriol, that he look in the books of music printed by Pierre Attaignant and by Nicolas du Chemin in Paris for more music for basses dances and pavans. Attaignant's dance books are extant and have been published both in facsimile and in modern editions. Nicolas du Chemin published the dance music arranged by Jean d'Estrée, but only the superius and bassus parts of the first three books, and only the bassus part of the fourth book survive. Fortunately, there are a number of books of dance music which were published in the second half of the sixteenth century, all intended for the same middle class amateur4 audience. Many are not ensemble books, but books of music for solo lute, cittern, or guitar; however, ensemble setting of the music for Arbeau's dances can easily be made from these.

Many sixteenth century dances were not associated with specific melodies, but could be danced to any appropriate music. Pavans, gaillardes, branles simples, and branles doubles, branles gais, and the sixteenth century basse danse commun, for example, could be danced to a number of tunes, and so Arbeau could direct Capriol to the readily available collections of dance music for a variety of tunes to dance to. For mimetic dances or for dances with special length or cadential requirements it is necessary to look for settings of the particular tunes Arbeau gives, for in these cases dance and tune are closely associated and general interchangeability of music is not the case.

Brief Concordance to Dances contained in Orchesographie

As an aid to finding multi-part settings of Arbeau's dance tunes I have presented here a list of the dances described in Orchesographie, in the order in which Arbeau describes them, with each dance keyed by number to the accompanying bibliography of original sources and modern editions of 16th century dance music. This list of concordances is not exhaustive; for tunes for which multiple sources of settings exist, ensemble settings are listed in preference to lute, cittern, or guitar settings, and easily acquired sources are listed in preference to those which are difficult to obtain. Anyone interested in pursuing dance music concordances further should consult Howard Mayer Brown, Instrumental music published before 1600: a bibliography, and Daniel Heartz, Sources and forms of the instrumental dance in the sixteenth century. For three of the dances, I have provided brief explanations of the concordances I have identified. If your browser does not support tables, you can also view the list of concordances in text format only.

Pavane "Belle qui tiens ma vie"Arbeau provides a four part setting
Basse Danse "Jouyssance vous donneray"No known setting as a basse danceSetting by Joseph Casazza
Basse Danse "Confortez moi"No known setting/melody
Basse Danse "Toute frelore"No known setting/melody
Basse Danse "Patience"128
Tordion3, 1526, 30, 31
Gaillarde "La traditora my fa morire"1932
Gaillarde "Antoinette"No known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Gaillarde "Baisons nous belle"11, 17, 18, 20No modern editions; setting by Joseph Casazza
Gaillarde "Si j'ayme ou non"2, "Fortune a bien couru sur moy"28
Gaillarde "La fatigue"625
Gaillarde "La milanaise"13, Gaillarde "The seconde milanoise"29
Gaillarde "J'aymerois mieulx dormir seulette"11, 12, 13, 14, 17 ("Caracossa Bassus" in l7)24, 29
Gaillarde "L'ennuy qui me tormente"9, "Gaillarde I" in second set of Gaillardes30
La VolteNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
La couranteNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
L'allemande19, "Allemande Savoye"32
Branle doubleNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. simpleNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. gayNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de Bourgognge19, 2nd half of a Branle d'Ecosse35, Anhang A, p. 9, Beispiel 6
Br. du Haut BarroisNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de Cassandre834
Br. de PinagayNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de CharlotteNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de la guerrre5, 7, 19, "Premiere branle de la guerre"30, 32
Br. coupe "Aridan"No known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de Poitou5, "Branle de Poitou 17"25
Br. d'EcosseNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Trihory de BretagneNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de Malte6, "Branle de Malthe 3" 13, "Seconde branle of Malte"25, 29
Br. des lavandieres4, 1925, 32
Br. des pois12, "Branle Sont des pois"24
Br. des hermites14, "Branle des Cordeliers"No modern edition; setting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de chandelier6, "Branle de la torche" 2125, 33
Br. des sabots10, 3rd dance, set 2, Branles de Champagne 5, 1925, 30, 32
Br. des chevauxNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de la montarde19, "Allemande courrante"32 la hayeNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Br. de l'officielNo known settingSetting by Joseph Casazza
Gavottes21, Gavottes in the 1st suite33
Pavane d'Espagne12, 1724
Bouffons6, 1924, 32

List of Sources

  1. Attaignant, Pierre. Dixhuit basses dances garnies de recoups et tourdions, avec dixneuf branles, quatre que sauterelles que haulberroys, quinze gaillardes & neuf pavennes. Paris, 1530.
  2. - Tres breve et familiere introduction pour entendre & apprendre par soy mesmes a jouer toutes chansons reduictes en la tabulature du lutz. Paris, 1529.
  3. - Second livre contenant trois gaillardes, trois pavanes, vingt trois branles, tant gays, simples, que doubles, douze basses dances, & neuf tourdions, en somme cinquante. Paris, 1547.
  4. D'Estrée, Jean. Premier livre de danseries. Paris, 1559.
  5. - Second livre de danseries. Paris, 1559.
  6. - Tiers livre de danseries. Paris, 1559.
  7. Du Tertre, Etienne. Septieme livre de danceries. Paris, 1557.
  8. Francisque, Antoine. Le tresor d'Orphee. Paris, 1600.
  9. Gervaise, Claude. Quart livre de danceries. Paris, 1550.
  10. - Cinquiesme livre de danceries. Paris, 1550.
  11. Kargel, Sixt. Renovata cythara. Strassburg, 1578.
  12. Le Roy, Adrian. Breve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tabulature, a bien accorder, conduire, et disposer la main sur le cistre. Paris, 1565.
  13. - A briefe and easye instruction to learne the tableture to conducte and dispose thy hande unto the lute. London, 1568.
  14. - Second livre de cistre. Paris, 1564.
  15. Moderne, Jacques. Musique de joye. Lyon, 154?.
  16. Phalese, Pierre. Chorearum molliorum collectanea. Antwerp, 1583.
  17. - Hortulus cytharae. Antwerp, 1570.
  18. - Hortulus cytharae. Antwerp, 1582.
  19. - Liber primus leviorum carminum. Louvain, 1571.
  20. - Luculentum theatrum musicum. Louvain, 1568.
  21. Praetorius, Michael. Terpsichore. s.l., 1612.
  22. Susato, Tielman. Het derde musyck boexken. Antwerp, 1551.
  23. Blume, Friedrich. Studien zur Vorgeschichte der Orchestersuite im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Leipzig, 1925.
  24. Casazza, Joseph. Adrian Le Roy and Robert Ballard, Breve et facile instruction. Cambridge, Mass., 1983.
  25. Casazza, Joseph. Jean d'Estrée's books of dance music. Cambridge, Mass., 1985.
  26. Giesbert, Franz J. Fröhliche musik (Musique de joye). Kassel, 1960.
  27. - Tielman Susato, danserye: altniederlandisches Tanzmusikbuchlein vom Jahre 1551. Mainz, 1936.
  28. Heartz, Daniel. Preludes, chansons and dances for lute published by Pierre Attaignant, Paris (1529-1530). Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1964.
  29. Jensen, Pierre. Adrian Le Roy, fantasies et danses extraites de A briefe and easye instruction. Paris, 1962.
  30. London Pro Musica Editions. The Attaignant dance prints.
  31. Meylan, Raymond. Pierre Attaignant, danseries a 4 parties (Second livre, 1547). Le Pupitre , no. 9, Paris, 1969.
  32. Mönkemeyer, Helmut. Pierre Phalese, Löwener Tanzbuch, s.l., 1962.
  33. Oberst, Günther. Gesamtausgabe der musikalischen Werke von Michael Praetorius. vol. 15, Terpsichore, Wolfenbüttel, 196?.
  34. Quittard, Henri. Antoine Francisque, Le tresor d'Orphee. Paris, 1906.
  35. Ward, John. The Dublin virginal manuscript. Wellesley, Mass., 1954.

Branle des Hermites

The music Arbeau provides for the mimetic dance "Branle des Hermites" is, appropriately, based upon Gregorian chant, the fourth psalm tone with an "a" termination, as the example below illustrates.


The upper staff contains the melody given by Arbeau, the lower a setting of "Dixit Dominus Domino meo: sede a dextris meis." using the fourth psalm tone with "a" termination. The last four measures of the Arbeau tune give the most obvious points of correspondence to the chant - the repeated d's, which appear to have no equivalents in the chant, are, in fact, just the reciting tone (see "Dominus" in the first chant measure, for example), and the final four notes of the chant (d-e-c-a) are simply slowed down for the purposes of the dance (the "d" as two quarter notes, the "e", "c", and "a" as half notes). The first half of Arbeau's tune shows a bit greater differentiation from the chant. Arbeau's "reciting tone" is here "f", still in the same triad as the reciting tone of the chant (up a minor third), and Arbeau's tune is missing the characteristic lower neighboring tone ("c" in the chant) at the beginning of the repetition of the reciting tone. Arbeau's second measure and the first half of the third measures (here combined with the fourth measure into one to help the comparison) correspond to the mid-point of the chant, but, again, a third higher (f-(f)-e-f-g-f against d-c-d-e-d) and Arbeau's final half of the third measure and his fourth measure (e-d-d-c-d) function to move the melody into closer correspondence to the chant (reciting tone drops to "d") and provide a typical sixteenth century dance cadence, which could easily be set in four parts with a standard 4-3 suspension.

Arbeau's tune can be found, arranged in triple meter, in Adrian Le Roy's Second livre de cistre, Paris, 1564. Le Roy calls the dance "Branle des Cordeliers" (Franciscans' Branle). Each strong beat of Le Roy's tune corresponds to a strong beat of Arbeau's tune, thus the dance can be performed to either version of the music. For example, in the first section of Arbeau's music there are four measures of two strong beats each, for a total of eight strong beats. The corresponding music in Le Roy's version consists of eight measures of one strong beat each. In each of the last two sections of the Le Roy version, the music is one measure shorter than the corresponding music in Arbeau (i.e. his second section and its repeat). This might just be a printer's error. One can modify Le Roy's music by inserting a repeat of the first measure of each of Le Roy's final two sections as the fifth measure of that section, using Arbeau's version of the tune and the fourth psalm tone as a guide.

Branle des Chevaux

Extant sixteenth century dance music sources do not contain any settings of the version of the tune Arbeau gives in Orchesographie for his "Branle des Chevaux." An interesting variant of the tune does appear on ff. 19v-20v as the eighteenth piece in the so-called Dublin Virginal Manuscript, a set of keyboard pieces bound at the end of the so-called Dallis Lute Book in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Essentially the same variant is found in three French tablature books of the sixteenth century. An examination of this variant will prove enlightening. The three French sources for the Allemande "Le Pied de Cheval" are Pierre Phalese's Carminum quae chely vel testudine canuntur, liber primus, Louvain, 1549, fol. H3; Adrian Le Roy's Tiers livre de tabulature de guiterre, Paris, 1552, fol. 15v; and Pierre Phalese's Selectissima elegantissimaque ... in guiterna ludenda carmina, Louvain and Antwerp, 1570, fol. 60v. Below is a comparison of the tune given by Arbeau for his "Branle des Chevaux" with the tune of the "Alman Le Pied de Cheval" found in the Dublin Virginal Manuscript. The tune as given in the manuscript has been transposed into the same "key" as Arbeau's version for ease of comparison.



While there are several differences of melodic detail, length, and mode, the general outline of the "Alman Le Pied de Cheval" is quite close to Arbeau's "Branle des Chevaux", and the relationship is even more obvious when both pieces are heard.

Branle des Pois

Arbeau's version of the tune for the "Branle des pois" is not to be found in the extant dance music of the sixteenth century; however, a setting of a variant of Arbeau's tune appears as the Branle "Sont des pois" in Adrian Le Roy's Breve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tabulature, a bien accorder, conduire, et disposer la main sur le cistre, Paris, 1565. The differences between Arbeau's version and Le Roy's version of the tune are small, as the example below illustrates.


In the first section of the music, Le Roy begins on the tonic instead of the mediant, and leaps to the cadence on the tonic from the mediant instead of from the dominant, but these are merely substitutions of one pitch for another in the same triad. A major difference between the two versions of the tune is the arrival of the melody at its high point, "e", one beat earlier in Le Roy than in Arbeau. At first sight the second section of music in Le Roy looks quite different from that found in Arbeau. However, the tune presented in Arbeau is in fact only slightly different in Le Roy, displaced by half a measure. By playing the last two notes of measure eight as the first half of a new measure which contains them and the first note of measure nine one hears the opening measure of the second half of Arbeau's tune. Continue playing this way and the resemblance between Arbeau's version and Le Roy's becomes apparent. The greatest difference between Arbeau's version and Le Roy's is the minor mode of the former, with a final on "g" and melodic "b" flat, and the major mode of the latter with a final on "g" and melodic "f" sharp.


1 An anagram of the author's real name, Jehan Tabourot.

2 Besides pipe and tabor Arbeau mentions groups of viols (soft instruments) and bands of shawms and sackbuts (loud instruments) as possibilities for the performance of dance music (pp. 49-50 of the Dance Horizons edition, or p. 50 of the Dover edition).

3 Page 63 of the Dance Horizons edition, or page 75 of the Dover edition.

4 Professional musicians seem usually to have played from memory. Publishers of dance music profited from the desire of the middle class to entertain itself at home by playing the most popular tunes in simple arrangements. Soft instruments (flutes, recorders, viols) were more likely to be found playing from ensemble dance books in a domestic setting than providing music for social dancing at a public celebration. Still, the music presented in these books is probably not much different from what the amateur who purchased them would have heard the musicians playing at a public gathering.

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Last Update: August 29, 2000

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