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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *