Peter Warlock selected six dances from Arbeau’s Orchésographie as the basis of the material for his popular Capriol Suite for string orchestra, composed in 1928. This delightful arrangement for double wind quintet is by John Geddes.
The Basse-Danse, together with the Tordion, were, according to Arbeau, ‘out of date some fifty years’ by the time he wrote Orchésographie. A stately dance in which the feet were not raised (pieds-en-l’air), but were kept low (en basse) and glided over the floor in a dignified striding motion.
The Pavane was an Italian court dance of the 16th and early 17th century, originally called Padovana, from its roots in the city of Padua. It was traditionally slow and solemn in character.
The Tordion was mostly commonly (as in this case) a brisk triple metre dance with, like the Galliard, a pattern of five steps (cinque pas) fitted to six beats, a jump on the last beat.
The Bransle (or Branle or even Brawl) was originally a rustic ‘chain’ or ‘round’ dance involving several couples in a circle or a line. In its more sophisticated forms the gentry could enjoy the simple pleasures of the country at wedding celebrations. The music was often provided by the singing of the dancers, and its popularity continued well into the 17th century.
For the most lyrical movement of the whole suite, Peter Warlock has chosen the title Pieds-en-l’air, which is a dance step found in all manner of energetic dances, such as the Galliard and Bransles, usually with more specific instructions like pieds-en-l’air gauche or droit.
Mattachins, a brisk duple-time sword dance, also known as the buffens or boufons, was traditionally performed by the young men clashing their swords and shields in time with the music.
Peter Warlock (1894-1930), though largely self-taught as a composer, was a friend of Frederick Delius and Bernard Van Dieren, who helped him early in his career. As an editor and writer, using his real name Philip Heseltine, he was a respected authority on neglected Elizabethan and Jacobean music, and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of English poetry from medieval times onwards, which helps to explain the charm and sensitive word-settings of his many songs.
Capriol Suite, Warlock’s most celebrated work, first appeared in 1926 scored for string orchestra, and takes its melodic material from a fascinating and highly original book Orchésographie by Thoinot Arbeau, published in 1588, which, in the form of a dialogue between master and pupil, explains the complexities of sixteenth century dance steps and music. The pupil’s name was Capriol….
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Double Wind Quintet