The passepied (French pronunciation: [pasˈpje], "passing feet") is a French court dance and instrumental form of the 16th to 18th centuries, found frequently in French Baroque opera and ballet, particularly in pastoral scenes. In the mid- and late Baroque, it was used also in orchestral and keyboard suites, where passepieds usually occurred in pairs, with the first reappearing after the second, as a da capo (Little 2001). The music is an example of a dance movement in Baroque music with a fast tempo and a time signature of 3
8 or 6
8, occasionally 3
4 (e.g., Johann Sebastian Bach, Orchestral Suite No. 1 BWV 1066, Passepied I and II), each section beginning with an upbeat. Passepieds occasionally appear in suites such as Handel's Water Music (Suite No. 1 in F) or J.S. Bach's Overture in the French Style for harpsichord where there are two Passepieds in minor and major keys respectively, to be played alternativement in the order I, II, I.
The earliest historical mention of the passepied was by Noël du Fail in 1548, who said it was common at Breton courts. François Rabelais and Thoinot Arbeau, writing later in the 16th century, confirm the dance as a type of branle characteristic of Brittany. At this time, however, it was a fast duple-time dance with three-bar phrases, therefore of the branle simple type (Little 2001).
In the Baroque period, the passepied was a faster relative of the minuet (Sutton 1985, 146). Writing in 1739, Johann Mattheson described the passepied as a fast dance, with a character approaching frivolity, for which reason it lacks "the eagerness, anger, or heat expressed by the gigue". For the French, it was exclusively used for dancing, whereas the Italians often used it as a finale for instrumental sinfonie (Mattheson 1958, 64).
Léo Delibes also wrote a passepied as part of his incidental music for the play Le roi s'amuse by Victor Hugo. A more modern example is the fourth and final movement of Claude Debussy's Suite bergamasque for piano, entitled Passepied. An even more modern example is found in the third movement of Igor Stravinsky's Symphony in C, which consists of a minuet, passepied, and fugue.
In English, passepied has also been referred to as "paspy" (a phonetic approximation of the French pronunciation). However, this spelling is rarely used in modern times.
- Little, Meredith Ellis. 2001. "Passepied [passe-pied, paspy, passe-pié]". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Mattheson, Johann. 1958. "Johann Mattheson on Affect and Rhetoric in Music" (I), translated by Hans Lenneberg. Journal of Music Theory 2, no. 1 (April): 47-84.
- Sutton, Julia. 1985. "The Minuet: An Elegant Phoenix". Dance Chronicle 8, nos. 3 & 4:119–52.