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A branle (pronounced bran(ə)l)—also bransle, brangle, brawl, brawle, brall(e), braul(e), or (Scot.) brantle (OED)—or brainle[citation needed]—is a 16th-century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed by couples in either a line or a circle.

The word is derived from the French verb branler (to shake), possibly related to brander (to brandish). In Italy the branle became the brando, and in Spain the bran (Dolmetsch 1959,[page needed]). The Branle seems to have travelled to Scotland and survived for some time as the brail, but in England it was rarely danced, and of thousands of lute pieces from England only 18 were called branle, though one called "courant" is known from continental sources as a branle (Craig-McFeely 1994, chapter 2, note 22).

The only detailed sources for the dance steps to the French branles are Orchesography (1589) by Thoinot Arbeau and a few late examples in Beauchamp-Feuillet notation (invented in 1691), such as Danses nouvelles presentees au Roy (c. 1715) by Louis-Guillaume Pécour. However, Antonius de Arena briefly described the steps for the double and single branles and mentions mixed branles (branlos decopatos) in his macaronic treatise Ad suos compagnones (Arena 1986 [1529], 20–21), and the dialogue of act 4, scene 2 of John Marston's The Malcontent (1604) sketches a choreography for one branle. Before 1500 the word is encountered, but only as the name of one of the steps of the basse danse (Heartz 2001).

The branles as musical forms[edit]

According to Arbeau (1967,[page needed]), every ball began with the same four branles: the double branle, the single branle, the gay branle, and the Burgundian branle. The double branle has a simple form involving two phrases of two bars each.

Regional branles[edit]

Arbeau gives choreographies for eight branles which are associated with specific regions, the Trihory of Brittany, the Burgundian branle (see above), the Haut Barrois branle, the Montardon branle, the Poitou branle, the Maltese branle, and the Scottish branle; he also mentions four others without describing their steps: the branles of Camp, Hainaut, Avignon, and Lyon (Arbeau 1967, 135–36, 146–53, 163, 167–69). Most of these dances seem to have a genuine connection to the region. This is made explicit in the case of the Trihory of Brittany, which Arbeau says is seldom if ever performed in the region around Langres (where his book was published), but "I learned it long ago from a young Breton who was a fellow student of mine at Poitiers" (Arbeau 1967, 151). On the other hand, when his student Capriol asks whether the Maltese branle is native to Malta, rather than just "a fanciful invention for a ballet", Arbeau replies that he "cannot believe it to be other than a ballet" (Arbeau 1967, 153). Some 16th-century books also contain music entitled Champagne branle, which Arbeau tells us is just another name for the Burgundian branle (Arbeau 1967, 129).

Branles not mentioned by Arbeau[edit]

Branle de Montirandé[edit]

The Branle de Montirandé appears to be related to the Haut Barrois branle, which Arbeau says was "arranged to the tune of a branle of Montierandal" (probably Montier-en-Der, near Chaumont in the Haute Marne) (Arbeau 1967, 136 and 203 n92). This is danced in duple time, and as described by Arbeau has a similar structure to the double branle. Settings for this appear in the lute anthology Le trésor d'Orphée by Anthoine Francisque (1600) and the ensemble collection Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius (1612).

Beanchaes brawl[edit]

In John Marston's The Malcontent (1604), act 4, scene 2, the character Guerrino describes the steps of a dance called Beanchaes brawl (Bianca's branle):

t'is but two singles on the left, two on the right, three doubles forward, a trauerse of six round: do this twice, three singles side, galliard tricke of twentie, curranto pace; a figure of eight, three singles broken downe, come vp, meete two doubles, fall backe, and then honour.

The opening is the same as the Maltese branle described by Arbeau, but starting with "three singles side", there is an interpolation of "something presumably more athletic". The male dancer moves away from his partner before performing a "galliard trick of twenty"—apparently a number of capers or leaps in the manner of the galliard—before returning to the conventional ending (Marston 1999, 107, editor's note).


Branle suites[edit]

There were several well-established branle suites of up to ten dances. These were the Branles de Champagne, the Branles de Camp, the Branles de Hainaut and the Branles d'Avignon. He named the suites branles coupés, which literally means "(inter)cut" or "intersected branles", but is usually translated as "mixed branles" (Arbeau 1967, 137 and 203 n93). By 1623 the such suites had been standardized into a set of six dances: premier bransle, bransle gay, bransle de Poictou (also called branle à mener), bransle double de Poictou, cinquiesme bransle (by 1636 named branle de Montirandé), and a concluding gavotte (Semmens 1997, 36). A variant of this sequence is found in the Tablature de mandore (Paris, 1629) by François, Sieur de Chancy. A suite of seven dances collectively titled Branles de Boccan begins with a branle du Baucane known to have been composed by the prominent dancing master and brilliant violinist Jacques Cordier, known as "Bocan". It is followed by a second, untitled branle, then the branle gay, branle de Poictu, branle double de Poictu, branle de Montirandé, and la gavotte (Tyler 1981, 26).


  • Arbeau, Thoinot (1967). Orchesography, translated by Mary Stewart Evans, with a new introduction and notes by Julia Sutton and a new Labanotation section by Mireille Backer and Julia Sutton. American Musicological Society Reprint Series. New York: Dover Publications, 1967. ISBN 0-486-21745-0; ISBN 978-0-486-21745-1.
  • Arena, Antonius (1986 [1529]) "Rules of Dancing", translated by John Guthrie and Marino Zorzi. Dance Research 4, no. 2 (Autumn): 3–53.
  • Craig-McFeely, Julia (1994). "English Lute Manuscripts and Scribes 1530–1630". Thesis. Oxford University.
  • Dolmetsch, Mabel (1959). Dances of England and France, from 1450 to 1600, with Their Music and Authentic Manner of Performance (2nd ed.). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.  Reprinted New York: Da Capo Press, 1975. ISBN 978-0-306-70725-4.
  • Expert, Henry (1894–1908). Les maîtres musiciens de la renaissance française, éditions publiées par m. Henry Expert. Sur les manuscrits les plus authentiques et les meilleurs imprimés du XVIe siècle, avec variantes, notes historiques et critiques, transcriptions en notation moderne, etc. 23 volumes. Paris: Alphonse Leduc. Volume 23: Danceries. Facsimile reprint, New York: Broude Brothers, 1952–64. ISBN 0-8450-1200-2 (set).
  • Heartz, Daniel (2001). "Branle [brande, brawl, brall, brangill]". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, 29 volumes, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 4:242–45. London: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5.
  • Library of Congress (n.d.). "Renaissance Dance". American Memory site (Accessed 30 January 2011).
  • Marston, John (1999). The Malcontent, edited by George K. Hunter, with a new introduction, together with a revised reading text and commentary notes. Revels Plays. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-3094-3.
  • Marston, John, and John Webster (1604). The Malcontent. Augmented by Marston. With the Additions Played by the Kings Maiesties Servants. Written by Ihon Webster. London: Printed by V. S. for William Aspley.
  • Semmens, Richard T. (1997). "Branles, Gavottes and Contredanses in the Later Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries". Dance Research 15, no. 2 (Winter): 35–62.
  • Tyler, James (1981). "The Mandore in the 16th and 17th Centuries". Early Music 9, no. 1 (January: Plucked-String Issue 1): 22–31.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bröcker, Marianne (1988). "Ein Branle—was ist das?" In Colloquium: Festschrift Martin Vogel zum 65. Geburtstag, überreicht von seinen Schülern, edited by Heribert Schröder, 35-50. Bad Honnef: Schröder.
  • Challet-Hass, Jacqueline (1977). Dances from the Marais Nord Vendéen. I: Les Maraichines (Branles and Courantes); II: Les Grand Danses and Other Dances. Documentary Dance Materials No. 2. Jersey, Channel Islands: Centre for Dance Studies.
  • Cunningham, Caroline M. (1971). "Estienne du Tertre and the Mid-sixteenth Century Parisian Chanson". Musica Disciplina 25:127–70.
  • Guilcher, Jean-Michel (1968). "Les derniers branles de Béarn et de Bigorre". Arts et Traditions Populaires (July–December): 259–92.
  • Heartz, Daniel (1972). "Un ballet turc a la cour d'Henri II: Les Branles de Malte". Baroque: Revue International 5:17–23.
  • Jordan, Stephanie (1993). "Music Puts a Time Corset on the Dance". Dance Chronicle 16, no. 3:295–321.
  • McGowan, Margaret M. (2003). "Recollections of Dancing Forms from Sixteenth-Century France". Dance Research 21, no. 1 (Summer): 10–26.
  • Martin, György (1973). "Die Branles von Arbeau und die osteuropäischen Kettentänze". Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 15:101–28.
  • Merveille, Marie-Laure, and W. Thomas Marrocco (1989). "Anthonius Arena: Master of Law and Dance of the Renaissance". Studi Musicali 18, no. 1:19–48.
  • Mizzi, Gordon (2004). "The Branles de Malte". Classical Guitar 23, no. 1 (September): 35–37.
  • Mullally, Robert (1984). "French Social Dances in Italy, 1528–9". Music & Letters 65, no. 1 (January): 41–44.
  • Pugliese, Patri J. (1981). "Why Not Dolmetsch?" Dance Research Journal 13, no. 2 (Spring): 21–24.
  • Richardson, Mark D. (1993). "A Manual, a Model, and a Sketch: The Bransle Gay Dance Rhythm in Stravinsky's Ballet Agon". Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung, no. 16:29–35.
  • Richardson, Mark Douglas (1996). "Igor Stravinsky's Agon (1953–1957): Pitch-Related Processes in the Serial Movements and Rhythm in the Named Dance Movements Described in De Lauze's Apologie de la danse (1623)". PhD diss. Tallahassee: Florida State University.
  • Rimmer, Joan (1987). "Patrons, Styles and Structure in the Music Attributed to Turlough Carolan". Early Music 15, no. 2 (May): 164–74.
  • Rimmer, Joan (1989). "Carole, Rondeau and Branle in Ireland 1300–1800, Part 1: The Walling of New Ross and Dance Texts in the Red Book of Ossory". Dance Research 7, no. 1 (Spring): 20-46.
  • Rimmer, Joan (1990). "Carole, Rondeau and Branle in Ireland 1300–1800, Part 2: Social and Theatrical Residues 1550–1800". Dance Research 8, no. 2 (Fall): 27–43.
  • Roy, Gilbert (1988). "Rondes et branles de Champagne". Folklore de Champagne, no. 110 (May): 10–29.