A minuet, also spelled menuet, is a social dance of French origin for two people, usually in 3/4 time. The word was adapted from Italian minuetto and French menuet, and may have been from French menu meaning slender, small, referring to the very small steps, or from the early 17th-century popular group dances called branle à mener or amener.
The term also describes the musical form which accompanied the dance, and subsequently developed more fully, often with a longer structure called the minuet and trio.
The name may refer to the short steps, pas menus, taken in the dance, or else be derived from the branle à mener or amener, popular group dances in early 17th-century France (Little 2001). The minuet was traditionally said to have descended from the bransle de Poitou, though there is no evidence making a clear connection between these two dances. The earliest treatise to mention the possible connection of the name to the expression pas menus is Gottfried Taubert's Rechtschaffener Tantzmeister, published in Leipzig in 1717, but this source does not describe the steps as being particularly small or dainty (Russell 2006, 140–41). At the period when it was most fashionable it was controlled, ceremonious and graceful.
Rhythm and form
The name is also given to a musical composition written in the same time and rhythm, but when not accompanying an actual dance the pace was quicker. Stylistically refined minuets, apart from the social dance context, were introduced—to opera at first—by Jean-Baptiste Lully, who included no less than 92 of them in his theatrical works (Little 2001) and in the late 17th century the minuet was adopted into the suite, such as some of the suites of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Händel. Among Italian composers, the minuet was often considerably quicker and livelier, and was sometimes written in 3/8 or 6/8 time. Initially, before its adoption in contexts other than social dance, the minuet was usually in binary form, with two sections of usually eight bars each, but the second section eventually expanded, resulting in a kind of ternary form. On a larger scale, two such minuets were often combined, so that the first minuet was followed by a second one, and finally by a repetition of the first. The second (or middle) minuet usually provided some form of contrast, by means of different key and orchestration.
Minuet and trio
Around Lully's time, it became a common practice to score this middle section for a trio (such as two oboes and a bassoon, as is common in Lully). As a result, this middle section came to be called trio, even when no trace of such an orchestration remains. The overall structure is called rounded binary or minuet form (Rosen 1988, 29):
A :||: B A or A' I(->V) :||: V(or other closely related) I
The minuet and trio eventually became the standard third movement in the four-movement classical symphony, Johann Stamitz being the first to employ it thus with regularity. A livelier form of the minuet later developed into the scherzo (which was generally also coupled with a trio). This term came into existence approximately from Beethoven onwards, but the form itself can be traced back to Haydn. An example of the true form of the minuet is to be found in Don Giovanni.
- Scherzo, a musical form derived from the minuet
- Blatter, Alfred. 2007. Revisiting Music Theory: A Guide to the Practice. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
- Little, Meredith Ellis. 2001. "Minuet". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Rosen, Charles. 1988. Sonata Forms, revised edition. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-30219-9.
- Russell, Tilden. 2006. "The Minuet According to Taubert". Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 24, no. 2 (Winter): 138–62.
- Sutton, Julia. 1985. "The Minuet: An Elegant Phoenix". Dance Chronicle, no. 8:119–52.
- Caplin, William Earl. 1998. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510480-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-19-514399-X (pbk). (pp. 220ff).
- Elson, Louis Charles. 1908. The Theory of Music as Applied to the Teaching and Practice of Voice and Instruments, 21st edition. Boston: New England Conservatory of Music. (pp. 157ff).
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- Example of a Minuet Choreography: "Menuet à deux pour un homme et une femme", Raoul Auger Feuillet: Recueil de Dances (1704)