The Baroque Period: Part 2
By Nina Pinzarrone
Many baroque composers wrote multi-movement instrumental pieces known as suites, inspired by national folk dances of the period. The movements were generally in the same key (tonality) and were relatively short, yet they differed in tempo, meter, and style. The phrases were symmetrical and balanced harmonically to accommodate dance patterns.
Each movement was usually constructed in a two-part form with each section repeated, i.e., AABB. Most suites followed a slow-fast pattern (a continuation of the Renaissance custom of pairing a slow dance with a fast dance). Most suites began with an overture (not dance inspired) that followed the slow-fast custom.
During this period, music for dancing tended to be simpler in style than music for listening, which had more intricate orchestration, phrasing, and thematic material. Thus it’s more difficult to incorporate the latter into today’s ballet classroom.
Basic movements of the suite:
- Allemande or almain: Of German origin, this dance is in 4/4 meter and played at a moderate tempo.
- Courante or corrente: Of French or Italian origin, this dance is in triple meter and is light and fast. Courante means “running” in French, and the dance contains many eighth-note patterns.
- Sarabande: This slow, triple-meter dance originated in the Yucatán Peninsula during the 16th century. The original was quick in tempo and wild in nature; as a French court dance, it slowed to an adagio. It’s useful in ballet class for pliés or ronds de jambe.
- Gigue: The closing movement, this dance in 6/8 time evolved from the jig, which originated in Scotland and England in the 16th and 17th centuries and became popular in Ireland in the 18th century. It’s useful for degagé, frappé, petit allegro, and pointe work.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.