Composer: Tielman Susato (1515-1567)

Piece:  Three Dances

Date: Published in 1551

Form: Instrumental Dance

Setting: Four parts, played on “soft” instruments

One of the most popular dance collections of the 16th century was published in Antwerp in 1551 by Tielman Susato, a music printer who was also a prolific composer and instrumentalist. His collection, called Danserye, was described on its title page as "very cheerful and fit to play on all musical instruments." It contained pavanes, galliards, basses danses (an older version of the pavane), as well as allemandes, rondes, and branles (a quick dance of the follow-the-leader type). Many of the dances in Susato's collection were drawn from vocal models, these being identified above the music.

One of the loveliest of the pavanes is Mille regretz (A Thousand Regrets ), based on a widely known chanson of the same name by ]osquin Desprez. The dance unfolds in three sections, each of which is repeated. The performance you will hear features four recorders of varying size-soprano, alto, tenor, and bass-with finger cymbals used to emphasize the beat. When a section is repeated, the principal recorder freely ornaments the top part. Like its chanson model, this piece has an unusual harmonic character. It is neither in major nor minor but in one of the Medieval modes the Phrygian-that was then going out of fashion. The use of this mode imparts to the music a charmingly archaic atmosphere.

The pavane is followed by two rondes, each in two-part form with repeated sections. In our performance these feature "soft" instruments. The first ronde is introduced by a drum, followed by a high recorder in the upper part and a regal or reed organ in the bass. The middle parts are filled in by various other recorders at each repetition. The second ronde, based on a chanson entitled Mon amy (My Friend), is performed at a slower tempo on bowed string instruments of the viola da gamba type. This Renaissance instrument had six or more strings and was fretted, like a guitar. Gambas were held between the legs like a cello. (Indeed, gamba is the Italian word for leg.) The strings are accompanied by a harpsichord and lute that support the harmonies. This set of dances closes with a restatement of the first ronde, a procedure we will observe again in the minuet-and trio movements of the Classical era. It was through dance pieces such as these that Renaissance composers explored the possibilities of purely instrumental forms. From these humble beginnings sprang the imposing structures of Western instrumental music.