Dani is a PhD student, and has taught college English & tutored in multiple subjects for over three years. They have an MA in English Composition & Pedagogy and a BA in Women's Studies, Religious Studies, & Sociology, both from the University of Massachusetts Boston. They also have received awards for their academic research and teaching. Habla español & Gaeilge acu.
Gavotte Definition: What Is a Gavotte?
The gavotte is a dance and musical form popularized in the time of the French Renaissance and the Baroque era (approx. 1600-1750) of Western art music. The dance was more lively than many were used to for court dances: dancers crossed their feet twice per step pattern and raised their feet in a small hop with each step, rather than sliding them or simply stepping. Often, dancers also improvised a kiss at the end, which likely made the dance a bit more popular. The exchange of roses later replaced the exchange of kisses.
The gavotte was traditionally (in the courts) performed at a moderate tempo and most often in 2/2 or 4/4 time. It also, in this time period of its court popularity, often began on a half-measure. This is similar in metric structure (i.e., a structure of the beats and bars on each measure) to the bourée, which is another form of music and dance popular in France during the Baroque era and especially in the court of King Louis XIV. However, unlike the bourée, the gavotte could be performed with a range of moods: joyful, sad, happy and graceful, or slow and tender; its adaptability made it a favorite for many dancers and composers alike.
Origins of Gavotte Dance
The gavotte was originally a spirited dance of the peasant class, supposed to have its beginnings in the Dauphiné region of France, specifically from the Gavot people. In addition, there is another theory that the term gavot was applied to a range of folk dances in France, too. Alternatively, there are theories it is related to the French word gavache (meaning ''coward'' or ''wicked person'') or from Old Occitan (related to the Catalan language, also in the Romance family of languages) and means ''glutton'' or ''boorish''.
Regardless, the dance somehow moved into the courts of King Louis XIV and became popular as part of a suite of dances performed at court. As entertainment, an orchestra would provide the music for a set of specific dances called a suite. The gavotte is specifically made to be part of a suite of branles, or dances for couples and groups. It tended to follow the sarabande (a triple meter dance) in a branle suite. It was considered fairly simple to learn, making it a good choice regardless of the audience, as beginner dancers may have picked it up with ease.
It should be noted that the adoption of the gavotte into the court is notable in terms of a historical trend of this time period. The French elite was increasingly adopting many elements of the life of the peasantry as part of a romanticized idealization of this way of life, which highlighted their lack of understanding of the true hardships faced by the peasantry. It was only about one hundred years after this dance's popularity in the courts that the French Revolution began as the peasantry became increasingly dissatisfied with their lives and the way they were treated by the French royalty and elites.
Gavotte Composition History: When Was Gavotte Composed?
Despite its peasant origins as a dance, the gavotte gained popularity in the court of King Louis XIV of France. As a result, many composers produced works suitable for the dance. French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, who worked in the court of King Louis XIV from 1653 until his death, composed many works for dances in general, including for the gavotte. Jean-Philippe Rameau, who succeeded Lully's role as the most influential composer of French operatic works, also produced many works in the gavotte form. The famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach also included gavottes in his works.
The gavotte, musically, can be of any tempo, though a moderate tempo was favored. It was notated most often in 2/2 or 4/4 time, though it was also sometimes in 5/8 or 9/8 time. Initially, it was also composed so that the music began on a half-measure upbeat. A measure is simply one unit of time with a certain number of beats in each measure. The top number in a time signature — such as the 3 in a 3/4 — signals the number of beats in each measure. The lower number indicates what kind of note will be given one beat. So, a 4/4 gavotte would begin with a measure containing only two notes.
It also has a homophonic texture, meaning that a primary part of the music is paired with another element accompanying it. In contrast, there are monophonic textures that are performed in unison and polyphonic textures which contain multiple independent melodies. Homophonic textures were popular in this era of art music.
The instruments typically used to perform the gavotte works included drums, violins, shawms (precursor to the oboe), and sometimes vocals and other woodwind and stringed instruments.
It is important to note that there is a 19th-century column dance, also called the gavotte, which is unrelated to this style of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.
The gavotte is a form of dance, as well as a form of music designed for the dance. It was popularized as part of suites of branles (dances for couples and groups) in the court of King Louis XIV of France in the Baroque era (c. 1600-1750) of Western art music. It is alleged to have been a form of folk dance from the Dauphiné region of France. This would support the historical trend seen in the French elite and royalty of the time: it was fashionable to adopt characteristics of the peasant classes but with an exaggerated artificiality that only reflected the vast differences between the elites and the peasants.
The gavotte, musically, was often notated in 2/2 or 4/4 time but could also be seen in 5/8 or 9/8 time; the tempo could vary, but a moderate tempo was most common. Gavottes were written by a number of composers, most notably Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Lully's compositions would have been played in the court of Louis XIV, where the dance gained popularity.
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Is "gavotte" a French word?
Yes, gavotte is a French word. Specifically, it likely is from a French dialect where this word can mean a native of the Alps or, literally, a glutton.
What is a gavotte dance?
The gavotte dance was originally from French peasantry but was adopted and modified within the courts of King Louis XIV. It was often part of a suite of dances for couples and groups.
What are the characteristics of a gavotte?
The gavotte dance is characterized by the fact that it is a courtly dance for couples and groups of people and includes small hops. Musically, it is often a moderate-tempo work in 2/2 or 4/4 time with a homophonic texture.
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