What in the world is a “bassduppel behennt”?

One of my major research interests over the past several years has been a letter written by Johann Cochlaus from Germany while visiting Bologna in 1517. In this letter he describes several dances he witnessed. The source is useful in that we otherwise have something of a gap in Italian dance manuals- we have several undated ones from somewhere in the late 15th century that are mostly copies of earlier works by Domenico and Guglielmo, and then nothing really until Caroso and Negri publish in the late 16th century, with a very different set of terminology and dance patterns. So what happened in the middle? This gives us one view.

Interpreting this manuscript has been interesting for me, as my Italian is way better than my German and we don’t have a lot of other descriptions of dance steps in German to compare it to. It also has some peculiarities-  for example, he consistently describes the man as “the one on the right” and the woman as “the one on the left” despite all other traditions reversing that. Rather than concluding that they suddenly decided to do every dance improper in 1517, I think he was describing it from the point of view of an observer, looking at the faces of the dancers.

Most of the step terms he uses are pretty easy to convert to familiar Italian and English steps and terms, as you can see in the table below. 

English Italian German
Double Doppio Bassduppel or duppel
Closed 4/4 double Quaternaria Doppio Duppel mit un repress (representing the fact that these are closed)
Syncopated 6/4 double Bassadanza Doppio Bassduppel
Single Sempio Basssimpel
Rise Movimento Altzada
Set or Close Ripresa / Continenza Repress
Hopped double Saltarello doppio Bassduppel behennt
Fast double Piva doppio Bassduppel behennt

So why am I confused about the term bassduppel behennt? The Smith book translates this as “fast double”. This seems to imply a piva doppio. I further went along with the idea of it being a piva doppio because of the dance Angelosa. Angelosa is a dance that does not appear in the main 15th century manuscripts we usually reference, but in two of the later fragmentary ones as well as in this letter. We do not have known music for it. The version in the German letter is a bit confusing and possibly missing steps, but the version in “Giorgio’s” manuscript in the NY Public Library is quite a cute little dance. The relevant point is, the final section of the dance is clearly stated to be “take right hands and turn with 4 pive, then take left hands and turn with 4 pive.” Cochlaus uses the term bassdupel behennt there, so I originally went along with this translation for the other dances the term appears in.

The term is found in two other dances in the letter, Bellregwerd (his version of Belriguardo) and Rostibin (his version of Rostiboli Gioioso). These dances are found in many of our 15th century sources, making comparisons easy and interesting. In both of those dances, the term “bassdupell behennt” is used in a section of music that is clearly in saltarello tempo (that is 3/4 or 6/8) and is stated to be saltarelli in ALL earlier versions. Doing pive in saltarello tempo isn’t impossible, and how to do it is described by Domenico in De arte saltandi but why assume that it is pive and not saltarelli?  I cannot find a modern German word that is equivalent to “behennt” (German speakers, help?) Perhaps instead of meaning fast it means “hopped” or “skipped”?

At this point I do not have a conclusion. It makes sense for the term to mean pive in Angelosa and saltarelli in Rostiboli and Belriguardo. Perhaps it was a more generic term that could be used for either step. They are similar in that they are done on the balls of the feet and more bouncy than other doubles.

Evolution of my Analysis of Leoncello

Leoncello is the first dance that I ever decided to sit down and analyze the evolution of from the primary sources. I was fairly new to this at the time I did it, and in preparing to teach the Leoncello class again for the first time in a while, I went back to the sources to double check a few things, only to find that my growing understanding of Italian grammar and the evolution of dance terminology caused me to change my interpretation. I wanted to share this since various people told me they were interested when talked about it on social media. Here is my original Leoncello handout.

My original interpretations of the three versions are there.  The major change in my understanding since then is of the step sequence contrapassi and the entrance of the dance.

When I first compared the different descriptions and music for the dance, one of the major areas of interest was the entrance. The music in Domenico specifies 5 repeats of the entrance music (which is 2 4/4 bars, so 10 bars or 40 beats), whereas Guglielmo specifies 4 and then in the later “Ambrosio” manuscript adds an A1 section. There is no music in the German letter. So I approached my interpretation assuming that there were reasons for the differences in the music.

Domenico’s entrance has six saltarelli (which takes 6 bars of 4/4) and then a sequence in which the man and woman rise, then the man goes around his partner with one saltarello right and turns into place. The woman then goes around her partner with a saltarello right and turns into place. Rather than insert a second set of movimenti as later versions do, I thought about how this might fit the music as Domenico wrote it, and why it might not be symmetrical. I have concluded that while the man turns into place with a mezavolta as part of the end of the saltarello double, the woman gets a whole bar to turn into place. (The mezavolta is used both at times where it is not a full turn but gets time in the music and at times where the turn is part of a previous step, such as the end of this double. Figuring out which use is meant in any specific dance gets interesting.) This makes sense if you think about the fashionable clothing of the 1440s- women wore houppelandes with long trains that require a little more maneuvering than a man’s shorter version.

I originally thought that Guglielmo’s entrance was three doubles (left, right, left), movimenti, man in front of partner with a double right and turn into place, movimenti, the woman turns in place. This fit the music:
1-2: Double left, double right
3-4: Double left, movimenti
5-6: Man double right in front, turn into place
7-8: Movimenti, Woman turns in place

However, rereading it several years later, I realized that the description of the three doubles is something Guglielmo has used elsewhere to mean a contrapassi sequence, as well as the fact that all of the later fragmentary manuscripts use contrapassi there as well. Furthermore, where he states that “the woman does the turn” is really him implying that she does the same turn as her partner, that is, goes in front of him and turns into place. So how does this fit the music?

1-2: Contrapassi sequence
3-4: Movimenti, man double right in front
5-6: Man turns into place, movimenti
7-8: Woman double right in front, turn into place

It is a little odd to have the movimenti  in two different places in the melody, but it does work. I’m going with it for now, unless I figure out something better.

So what about those contrapassi?  A lot of people in the SCA have been doing a version of the contrapasso based on the description found in Cornazzano. I originally started with the assumption that that version is what was meant in the 15th century, and the description in the German letter represented an evolution in the 16th century, much as Arbeau talks about his dance master inventing the close on the single around 1520. This seems to be upheld by Guglielmo’s description (neither he nor Domenico use the term, it seems to have come in around 1470). Also the term literally means “counter-step”. The question is: counter to what?

The German letter always describes it as “2 contrapass and one with a repress.” Taking “repress” to be equivalent to riprese, I saw this as 3 doubles not in normal tempo with the music and a sideways step to close. Descriptions earlier of the same dances that specified “3 doubles in 2 measures” in the place where that term was used in the German letter, I thought the evolution was the addition of the close.

In later readings through the theoretical section of Domenico to try and fully understand his descriptions of the tempos and steps, I later came to realize that the whole idea that “there were no closes on doubles in the 15th century” so widely accepted in the SCA was flat out wrong. Domenico, in describing the differences between doubles in quaternaria (4/4), bassadanza (6/4) and piva (2/4 or 6/8 cut time), discusses the different ways they relate to the measure and beats and the difference in movement. Part of that is stating that the quaternaria double has a frappamento on the final beat, which makes the most sense if you interpret it as a close. I also have compared the descriptions of steps in several more dances where later manuscripts use the term contrapassi to Domenico or Guglielmo’s step descriptions. Domenico mentions doing 3 pive in 2 quaternaria measures several times, and uses that final close/step to have you turn or do a quick bow as well. Finally, in NYPL/Giorgio, it gives a description of a contrapassi that matches this interpretation. Based on all of this, I now believe that the contrapassi step sequence was 3 pive and a close in 2 4/4 measures throughout the 15th century.