||The music for the La Feste will consist of several distinct
portions. Before dinner the musical centerpiece of the entire affair, a
ballet de cour will be performed. It has been designed by Mistress
Gwendoline of Middlemarch, using the Balet
Comique de la Reine as a model. The ballet promises to be
a stunning spectacle, involving mythological gods and goddesses, serpents,
sea-nymphs, and the like. There will be music, dancing, singing, poetry,
great costumes, and wonderful effects, including a sea serpent. During
the festin upstairs, there will be dinner music. At the same
time, the peasants will have some music to entertain them while they are
treated to a collation. Following that there will be dancing, based largely
on Arbeau, which will be open to all. Because M. du Lac is an old Huguenot,
and because he loves it, there may be a little polyphonic psalm-singing,
certainly there will be some instrumental music in that line. He knows
most of his guests have a different religious persuasion than he does,
so it won't be laid on too heavily, and besides, you'll like it.
Read the Script
for the ballet and listen to the Music!
Ballets de Cour: Recreating Greek Theater in the Renaissance, or What
Will We See on February 9th?
by Jennifer Kobayashi, known in the SCA as Mistress Gwendolyn
The ballet de cour or court ballet is a dramatic performance incorporating
verse, song, dance, music, scenery
and spectacle with a unifying plot that is either allegorical, mythological,
or both. It is also one of the many
attempts during the Renaissance to recreate Greek and Roman theater.
Throughout the Renaissance, particularly the later part, several formal
and informal humanistic intellectual study
groups developed that focused on the difficult goal of recreating the
effects of Greek music. Renaissance
humanists, poets and musicians were fascinated, practically fixated,
by the legends of the effects of ancient
music said to be able to evoke emotion and even alter the personality.
Since no examples of Greek music
survived, Renaissance composers were attempting to recreate the described
effects of ancient Greek music,
instead of the actual sound. The intellectuals were in general agreement
that these effects could only be
produced by a remarkable blending of music and word, so that the text
and the sound complemented and
intensified each other. They just weren’t in agreement on exactly how
that was to be accomplished.
In France, Jean-Antonie de Baîf founded the Académie de
Poésie et de Musique, which received it’s royal
charter in 1570. Baîf developed a system that he called measured
verse or vers mesurès à l’antique, a
method for matching the French vernacular accents to the long and short
syllables of Latin classical verse.
Then the verse was set to measured music or musique mesurée.
This is music where a long syllable of a word
was set to a long note and a short syllable was set to a short note,
usually half the duration of the long note.
The intention was to create a form capable of expressing emotion with
a greater intensity than either poetry or
music alone. Pierre de Ronsard was a major contributor of verses, especially
for musical setting.
Meanwhile, dance came to be regarded as a visual manifestation of the
order and harmony of the universe that
was demonstrated in music and verse. What was described at the time
by the word “ballet” is a dance that
involves the dancers moving in and creating geometric forms. The steps
were the steps of Renaissance court
dances; what was remarkable was the scale: groups of dancers (generally
all female) making geometric figures
in groups larger than a couple.
Court spectacles played a huge role in the court life of the Renaissance.
Under Henri II (1547-1559) and
Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), court spectacles became an integral
part of French court life. Tourneys,
masquerades, fêtes de cour, banquets, ballets, horse ballets,
mascerades nautiques (mechanical water
shows), balls, and fireworks abounded. Any visiting dignitary, entrance
into a city, or wedding appeared to be
an excuse for a round of court spectacles. Despite political and religious
upheavals, these spectacles continued
throughout the end of the 16th century. All of the spectacles involved
the courtiers, frequently as participants
and always as spectators. French courtiers were in the habit of assuming
the roles of mythological deities and
A very special court spectacle took place on October 15, 1581, at 10
pm. The Balet Comique de la Royne
was presented upon the occasion of the marriage of the Queen’s sister,
Marguerite de Lorraine, to Anne
d’Arques, Duc de Joyeuse, and one of Henri III’s favorites. The Balet
Comique was 5 and a half hours of
dance, song, verse, drama, spectacular scenery, and stage effects,
woven together by a plot loosely based on
the Circe story from the Odyssey. This particular spectacle, organized
by Baltasar Beaujoyeulx, is remarkable
in that it is not just a play in verse broken up into acts by interludes
of dance and song, or a loosely connected
series of interludes; the dance and music are integral parts of the
plot and are combined with the verse and
drama into a coherent theatrical presentation. The collaborators that
created the Balet Comique were keenly
aware of the humanist studies and consciously tried to recreate aspects
of Greek and Roman theater. They
composed measured verse for measured music, included several homophonic
choruses, used geometric
dances, and took their characters from Greek and Roman mythology. On
the other hand, their recreative
efforts were selective since they continued to use harmony in the music,
everything was in the vernacular
(French in this case) and the plot was freely modified in order to
suit the purpose of the collaborators. The
Balet Comique set the mark for all ballets de cour to follow well into
the 17th century.
Fortunately for us, Beaujoyeulx was organized or vain enough to arrange
for the printing of the libretto and
score for the Balet Comique de la Royne a year after the production,
in 1582. The libretto is remarkably
complete, containing the script, the music, descriptions of the action
and the scenery, engravings depicting the
performance, and four allegorical interpretations of the plot, just
in case the reader or viewer did not get the
The ballet de cour Perseus, which will be presented at the Perigord
event on February 9th, like it’s model,
the Balet Comique de la Royne, is a blend of music, dance, verse, drama,
and spectacle with a unifying plot.
In this case, the plot is loosely based on the myth of Perseus and
Andromeda. Fortunately for the spectators,
Perseus is on a much smaller scale than the Balet Comique and should
run an hour or less. As with the Balet
Comique, Perseus is a collaborative effort and creation. The script
in verse is composed by Lord Christian
Lansinger von Jaueregk, the music is composed by Mistress Gwendolyn
of Middlemarch, the choreography is
by Countess Mara Tudora Kolarova, and Mistress Catrin o’r Rhyd For
directs and organizes the whole. This
sort of elaborate production involves the effort and support of innumerable
people, and I thank them all for
their participation, dedication and hard work.
Arbeau, Thoinot. Orchesography. Trans. Mary Stewart Evans. New York:
Dover Publications, Inc., 1967.
Beaujoyeulx, Balthazar de. Le Balet Comique: A Facsimile with an Introduction.
Ed. McGowan, Margaret M.
Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1982.
Berthold, Margot. A History of World Theatre. Trans. Edith Simmons.
New York: Frederick Ungar
Publishing Co, 1972.
Brockett, Oscar G. History of the Theatre. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,
Clark, Kenneth. Civilization; A Personal View. New York: Harpers &
Row, Pub, 1969.
Cooper, Betsy. “La Balet Comique de la Reine: An Analysis”.
Demuth, Norman. French Opera: Its Development to the Revolution. Sussex:
The Artemis Press, 1963.
Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton
& Company, Inc., 1973.
Grout, Donald Jay. A Short History of Opera, New York: Columbia University
Press, 1965. Vol I.
MacCintock, Carol and Lander, trans. Le Balet Comique de la Royne, 1581.
by Balthazar Beaujoyeulx.
American Institute of Musicology, 1971.
@copyright 2002, Jennifer Kobayashi, all rights reserved.