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Minuet: Definition & Form

Instructor: Leann Martin

Leann has taught college music classes and has a master's degree in music history.

In this lesson, you will learn the form and musical characteristics of the minuet. Find out who made the minuet popular and explore the style of the minuet and the evolution of the dance over a 200-year period.

Definition

The minuet is an elegant dance that has two parts and is conducted in triple meter. It was originally a dance that was performed by members of the aristocracy and was the favorite of the French King Louis XIV. Because of this association with the royal court, the dance was considered to be dignified and refined. Minuets were often played on a solo keyboard instrument, but they could also be written for a group of instruments. Composers eventually began writing minuets which were not intended to be danced, but were only meant for listening. Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven all wrote many minuets.

Form

The minuet is divided into two parts. The first section is played and then repeated. The second section is also played and repeated. Sometimes this form is referred to as binary form, meaning that the piece has two separate sections. Even though the dance has two parts, those parts are often very short, making the entire piece only a minute or two long. Some were even shorter than that! Because they were so short, and because they had such a specific structure, beginning composition students often wrote many minuets as they learned to compose music.

The minuet is also always in triple meter. (Meter refers to the grouping of beats.) Triple meter means that every third beat is emphasized, producing the rhythm: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. This emphasis helped the dancers to know where to place their feet and helped them keep time with the music. This dance had specific steps the dancers were expected to know, and having a clearly accented beat could guide them in the specific patterns of the dance.

Example of Minuet Dance Steps
Minuet Dance Steps

History

King Louis XIV (the king of France from 1638-1715) loved to dance and expected that he and the aristocrats around him would dance frequently. Anyone who wanted to get his attention or please him knew that one way to do that was to dance well and elegantly, and so ambitious aristocrats made sure they knew how to dance the minuet. It was a way to show that they belonged at court. Louis XIV was particularly fond of the minuet, and so this dance was thought to reflect aristocratic refinement and dignity.

King Louis XIV
Louis XIV

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