The Loure

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

“[Loures are] slow and dotted, exhibit a proud and arrogant nature, on account of which they are beloved by the Spanish.”

Mattheson (1739) [1]


Often associated with gigues and forlanas, the loure originally referred to a type of bagpipe commonly recognised in Normandy during the 16th and 17th centuries, which may have been played to accompany folk songs and dances. The dance was then adopted as a French theatrical dance in the 1670’s and made many appearances in instrumental suites of the early 18th century.[2]

The loure embodies a more majestic and grander characterisation when compared to the gigue, which contains a livelier energy, and is linked to pastoral traditions, perhaps due to its folk origins. Written in a time signature of 6/4, 3/4 or 3, the dance is known for its unbalanced phrase lengths, which unlike forlanas, are usually 5 or 7 bars long. Loures are performed at a slow or moderate tempo, may be marked grave, and are therefore referred to as slow gigues. Pendulum markings differ significantly, with Uffenbach suggesting a tempo of minim=46, whereas D’Omzembray gives dotted minim=113. A suitable tempo should therefore be selected within the context of the performance, as many choreographies include fast elaborate sequences which would be difficult to dance if the tempo chosen was too fast.

The sautillant rhythm definitive of the gigue is used almost continuously throughout the loure, providing a gentle rock to the pulse. Emphasis should be placed on the downbeat, which may be over-dotted and sustained to provide a longer overall phrase for the dancers who are performing quick steps within this.[3] Hemiolas and other syncopated rhythms are characteristic towards the end of phrases and should therefore be stressed by using a stronger articulation.

Loures were performed to entertain audiences and show the capabilities of the dancer during ballets and operas. Whilst the music accompanying a loure may be tamer in terms of energy and pace when compared to a gigue, the choreography certainly is not. Dancers must be very skilled to perform the virtuosic steps including entrechâts (jumps where legs are beaten together mid-air), battements (rapid leg gestures moving from in front to behind the supporting led) and fast turns.[4] Whilst the gigue incorporates one step unit per bar of music, the loure uses two, which can include up to six separate steps that should be connected smoothly and performed clearly to ‘avoid clutter and business.’[5]

[1] Little, M; Jenne, N. (1991) Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach

[2] Little, M. (2001) Grove Music Online: Loure

[3] Hilton, W. (1986) Early Music, Vol. 14, No. 1: Dances to Music by Jean-Baptise Lully

[4] Little, M. (2001) Grove Music Online: Loure

[5] Little, M; Jenne, N. (1991) Dance and the Music of J. S. Bach