The Volte from Terpsichore (1612) by Michael Praetorius. Live, 4K UHD video from the San Francisco Early Music ensemble Voices of Music concert, December 17, 2016.
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Michael Praetorius was one of the most important composers and theorists of the late renaissance and early-17th century. His astonishing encyclopedia of music gives us an intriguing glimpse into the instruments and performance practices of the time, and his writing covers all aspects of music. Praetorius wrote popular hymn settings, as well as large-scale compositions that borrowed elements of the polychoral Italian tradition. Praetorius was a tune collector, just like the musicologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who collected songs and dances from different countries; he planned eight volumes of these secular works, but he only finished one: his book of French instrumental dances Terpsichore, named after the muse of dance (1612).
Orchestration: in the 1960s and 1970s, these works were heavily orchestrated—and conducted—in a neo-renaissance style. Although not grounded in historical performance, these orchestrations did, however, introduce a wider audience to the different kinds of instruments in the late renaissance and early baroque and helped popularize the music before Bach.
The string band at this time was the core group for dance dance music, so our performance is primarily strings using early 17th century bows, although a more complex orchestration is not incompatible with Praetorius’s large scale works.
The volte, or “La volta,” originated in Italy or possibly the Provençal region, and arrived with much fanfare in England and Germany along with French dances in the late 16th century. According to Marguerite de Valois, “les Provençales” danced “la volte avec les timballes” (cymbals).” The dance is similar to a galliard, but the jump at the end is more pronounced, and the gentlemen would lift the ladies well into the air. The setting performed here is the most famous version of the tune, and it appears in manuscripts and prints throughout Europe, including a lute version in a Scottish manuscript (see the Voices of Music CD Music of Scotland). The lively rhythms and short symmetrical phrases of the volte were also used for songs, especially in France, and this version also was sung in Italy as “La Primavera” (Spring). A famous painting of the volte showing the dancers several feet in the air may be found in Penshurst Place, Kent; the painting was previously thought to depict Queen Elizabeth and her courtier Robert Dudley, you can see the image here: https://goo.gl/25SCJL
Voices of Music
Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler
Musicians (left to right)
Hanneke van Proosdij, recorder
Carla Moore, Gabrielle Wunsch, Lisa Grodin and
Maxine Nemerovski, baroque violins
Maria Caswell, baroque viola
Peter Maund, riqq
Elisabeth Reed and Tanya Tomkins, baroque cellos
Farley Pearce, violone
David Tayler, archlute