The Allemande

Couple Dancing.jpg

Fig. 33 from Le Maître à Danser by Pierre Rameau (1725)

"The allemande is a broken, serious, and well-constructed harmony, which is the image of content or satisfied spirit, which enjoys good order and calm."

Mattheson (1739) [1]

Translated to mean ‘German,’ the allemande essentially originated as a German variant of the basse danse, with its earliest known documentation found in a 1521 dance manual published in London based on basse danses.[2] With rhythmic similarities to the bourree and the gavotte, the dance was popular in both the theatre and ballroom, although it was short lived as by 1636, Mersenne wrote that ‘the allemande was no longer danced to but only played.’[3] In 17th century France, the allemande was rarely danced to, but instead recognised as a standard component in the instrumental suite, and was popular within harpsichord suites.

The instrumental allemande should contain a serious yet proud character and is described by Brossard as a ‘sort of grave, solemn music, whose measure is full and moving.’[4] It is not too dissimilar from the prelude with its free and improvisatory manner and elaborate ornaments. A tempo should therefore be chosen to accommodate these features, but also allow for the forward motion of shorter note values which drive the movement onwards.

Allemandes are most often written in binary form and are in common or cut time, although some feature a time signature of 2. A quaver or semiquaver upbeat is characteristic and should lead to the placement of the first downbeat, which is frequently the same note. Notes inégales should be applied to semiquavers in stepwise movement.

One choreography by Louis Pecour of an allemande from 1702 has survived today. The dance, L'Allemande, is for a couple and includes many springing steps and uses interlocking hand and arm gestures. It has very few similarities to the slower, processional instrumental allemande popular during this same period as it adopts a much faster tempo and more joyful character.

Listen

Allemande la Rare from Les Pieces de Clavecin de Livre Premier ​(1670)

Jacques Champion de Chambonnières​

00:00 / 03:00

Harpsichord - Paul Kowal

[1] Mattheson, J. (1981) Der vollkommene Capellmeister. [Translated E. C. Harriss]

[2] Little, M. E; Cusick, S. G. (2001) Grove Music Online: Allemande

[3] Mather, B. B. (1987) Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque

[4] Brossard, S. (1740) Dictionnaire de Musique. [Translated by J. Grassineau]