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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 6 (2000) No. 2

La Belle Dance: Catalogue raisonné. By Francine Lancelot. Paris: Van Dieren, 1996. [cxiii, 405 pp. ISBN 2-911087-02-X. FF 500 ($86).]

Reviewed by Irene Alm*

1. Overview

2. Presentation and Analysis of the Data

3. Conclusion


1. Overview

1.1 Producing a catalogue is a labor of love. How easy it is for the researcher to take a catalogue for granted—to think little of it, except when it fails. A catalogue can be 99% accurate, but when a new scrap of information invalidates something or a typographical error causes confusion, what an easy target for complaint. The monumental efforts that go into the best catalogues are rarely remembered—they are simply ready reference tools to serve the scholar.

1.2 Francine Lancelot has more than met the challenges of the cataloguer. Lancelot opens her note “To the Reader” (p. vii) by confessing, “Research has always been my passion, a never ending ascent, a hunt where the targeted prey always sends you looking elsewhere, a quest for knowledge rooted in a sort of existential dissatisfaction.” The result of this marvelous amalgamation of motivations is an extraordinary work.

1.3 Clearly Lancelot has lived with the problems scholars encounter—especially in the field of dance—and the endless array of questions that can be asked. Indeed, La Belle Dance at times can overwhelm the reader with the sheer quantity of information and the variety of ways in which it is presented. Lancelot wields formidable statistical and comparative analytical tools, producing graphs, appendices, charts, and indexes to complement the main body of the catalogue.

1.4 The first hundred pages (pp. ix–cv) present a substantial reading of Lancelot’s own research and analysis, divided among the “Corpus” (a succinct discussion of the sources in Feuillet notation, their repertoire, and problems of dating and chronology, illustrated with various graphs), the “Choreographers” (a brief examination of the most important choreographers—Pécour, Feuillet, Balon, L’Abbé, Le Rousseau, and Dezais—in relationship to the sources, again illustrated with a number of graphs), the “Fields of Exploration” (divided into the music and the dance types, the latter being the main focus), and nine appendices (“annexes”). Side-by-side translations from the French to English are provided for all of the front matter. Translator Ann Jacoby is only credited at the very end of the catalogue; with rare exceptions (e.g., the conclusion p. lviii), her renderings of even the most intricate and complex passages are clear and fluent.

2. Presentation and Analysis of the Data

2.1 In the central discussion of dance types Lancelot convincingly lays out the problems of analysis and her methodology. Her choreographic analysis reveals that her statistical approach bore clear results only for three types of dances possessing a very specific vocabulary (courantes, menuets, and passepieds), but failed to supply definitive identifying criteria for the other dances. Analysis of the music, Lancelot admits, was hindered by the fact that for many dance types the sample was too small to be of statistical value. Nevertheless, her analyses enabled her to systematically present the choreographic and music features of thirteen dance types in detail: Bourrées, Rigaudons, Gavottes, Gaillardes, Menuets, Passepieds, Courantes, Sarabandes, Folies d’Espagne, Loures, Forlanes, Gigues and Canaries, and Chaconnes and Passacailles. From these studies, Lancelot was able to assign dance types to a small number of the untitled pieces. Far from rushing to easy generalizations and conclusions, Lancelot remains constantly aware of the individuality and and diversity of this repertoire.

2.2 The nine appendices provide various means of classifying information—from chronological listings of dances by type and of collections and treatises, alphabetical listings of composers and of musical works, tables of dances by choreographer and by interpreter, and concordances between dances and musical collections, and between the Little/Marsh1 and Lancelot codes. Each appendix is rich in additional information—far too much to mention in the space of this review. To cite but one example, the concordance between choreographies and three musical collections (Philidor 1699, Pointel 1700, and Philidor ms. 1701–1712) is organized according to the incipit in Gustafson code,2 additionally providing the Lancelot catalogue code, the title of the dance or musical work, and codes for the musical sources. All information from musical sources is set in italic type. Thus, in a single entry one can compare the six incipits for the Folies d’Espagne—four choreographic and two musical sources—and find that one of the manuscript choreographies contains an elaborated melody.

2.3 The “Readers’ Guide” for the main body of the catalogue clearly lays out the principles of format, demonstrating the use of various typefaces to distinguish fields, headings, and information drawn directly from the source versus that drawn from Lancelot’s analysis (e.g., the observation that “La composition ne comporte aucun pas de rigaudon.”). Among the wealth of information included are diplomatic transcriptions of title pages, RISM references, dedicatee, dates of reprints, questions of chronology, and remarks from the prefatory material in the sources. Lancelot decided to omit historical background of the publications, as it is treated in detail in the Little/Marsh catalogue, which she systematically cross-references. Meter, phrase structure (e.g. A8 A8 B16) and key of the tune are presented from both choreographic and musical sources, one directly above the other, enabling the reader to observe differences at a glance. Lancelot remarks (p. cviii) “They are proof of the margin of liberty allowed to the choreographer, who arranged distinct pieces to create a multipartite form, or transformed the overall structure, not hesitating to double or triple a tune, a frequent occurrence for light quick music.” Substantial information on the musical work is given, as well as musical incipits from the choreographic score, without modernization (many are in French violin clef).

2.4 The main body of the catalogue is chronologically arranged first by printed sources (pp. 1–274), then manuscript sources (pp. 275–376). Four indices (pp. 377–97) treat: Musical Incipits, Dances according to the number of performers, Titles, and Quoted Names. The musical incipits in Gustafson code are indexed to the Lancelot source code, enabling the researcher both to identify a piece at hand, and to discover if the tune appears in other sources. The index of Titles uses a variety of typefaces to indicate choreographic sources, collections, individual dance titles, musical sources, the works, and the tunes extracted. The “Quoted Names” include choreographers, compilers, interpreters, composers, librettists, and dedicatees.

2.5 The bibliography (pp. 399–402) is limited to sources from PHILIDOR, the databank at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, aside from the mention of two CD recordings of music for this repertoire. Finally the “Table des Graphiques” (p. 404) lists the 13 graphs included in the prefatory matter, and the “Table des Illustrations” (p. 405) identifies the 20 plates with their sources. The illustrations are well chosen for their variety and interest. Aside from those on the front and back covers, they appear throughout the main body of the catalogue. A minor criticism is the lack of reference to the plates in the relevant catalogue entries; moreover the plates are neither adjacent to the relevant entries, nor chronologically arranged. Thus, one could consult the entry FL/1717.3 for the “The Royal George” on page 192 and not realize the illustration is included on page 94, except by checking this final table or by chancing upon it while browsing.

3. Conclusion

3.1 The book itself is handsomely produced and seems durable enough, although one might long for a clothbound edition of this volume that undoubtedly will see heavy use. The layout is spacious and the work beautifully printed, with multiple typefaces and clear musical notation. Aside from a few oddities of syllabification in the English line breaks (e.g., p. vii “elsewhe- re” and p. xxv “ope-ned” and “hel-ped”), the material appears to be carefully edited.

3.2 Lancelot’s opening note “To the Reader” concludes: “My principal merit probably consists in having taken risks in going beyond the limits of what is called a catalogue, by opening new paths of research, only some of which have been well delved into, while others offer but promises, their fruit not yet being ripe.” All of us who have attempted catalogues know well those risks and their rewards; Lancelot has succeeded admirably and we are rewarded with a volume that surely will bear fruit for many generations.


*The late Irene Alm was Associate Professor of Music at Rutgers University. She was the author of the Catalog of Venetian Librettos at the University of California, Los Angeles (University of California Press, 1993), and numerous articles on dance in seventeenth-century Venetian opera, the subject of her nearly completed book for the University of Chicago Press. Return to beginning


1. Meredith Ellis Little and Carol G. Marsh, La Danse Noble: An Inventory of Dances and Sources (Williamstown: Broude Brothers, 1992). Return to text

2. The system used by Bruce Gustafson in his Thematic Locator for the Works of Jean-Baptiste Lully (New York: Performers’ Editions [Broude Brothers], 1989). Return to text

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