The Canarie

Couple Dancing.jpg

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

“The gigue and the canarie have the same tempo. If they are in 6/8 time, there is a pulse beat on each bar. The gigue is played with a short and light bow-stroke, and the canarie, which is always in dotted notes, with a short and sharp one.”

Quantz (1752) [1]


As its name suggests, the canarie originated in the Canary Islands before being adopted by the Spanish and spreading across the rest of Europe, where its popularity spanned from the mid-16th to the mid-18th centuries. The French canarie was most popular from the 1660s onwards, when it was first used by Lully in his court ballets. Besides being a theatrical dance, the canarie became an optional dance movement in instrumental suites, where it frequently appeared in solo lute works,

The canarie is considered a variety of gigue in fast compound time. Writers from the time give differing views on tempo, with some suggesting that it should be beaten quicker than gigues, whereas others state the gigue and canarie have the same tempo.[2] It is generally agreed, however, that the tempo is pushed towards the higher end of the limit, with pendulum markings suggesting a tempo of 106 to 138 per beat, where there are 2 beats per bar. This brisk tempo reflects the gay and lively mood that characterises the canarie, which must demonstrate ‘eagerness and swiftness.’[3]

Most French canaries have time signatures of 3/8 or 6/8, although works written before the 1660s may be marked 6/4 or 3. They are usually written in binary or rondeau form, however the number of bars in each section vary, and make use of the dactylic long-short-short rhythms, known as a sautillant, providing a lilting rocking motion also used in the gigue. Musicians should keep their parts light and bouncy to ensure any heaviness is not replicated by the dancers. The long notes, or dotted notes, should follow alternating bow strokes, making use of a downbow on beat 1 of the bar, and an upbow on beat 2, whereas wind players should make use of stronger articulations on the main beats, and lighter articulations on shorter notes on the beats in between.[4]

The 11 theatrical choreographies of the canarie featured in Beauchamp-Feuillet’s Chorégraphie demonstrate the use of difficult virtuosic steps, which would have been performed ‘only by those who are very well trained in this exercise, and whose foot is very fast.’[5] Dance sequences included springs, hops, and fast steps which looked even more impressive by the rapid changes of formation on stage.

[1] Quantz, J. J. (2001) On Playing the Flute. [Translated E. R. Reilly]

[2] Quantz, J. J. (2001) On Playing the Flute. [Translated E. R. Reilly]

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

[4] Tarling, J. (2000) Baroque String Playing for Ingenious Learners

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