Eric McKee

Ballroom Dances of the Late 18th Century

Dance topics represent the largest and most pervasive category of late 18th-century topics. My paper examines ballroom dances current in Vienna during the last quarter of the 18th century. My repertoire is largely drawn from the ‘Redoutentänze’ that Mozart composed for the Imperial court balls held during Carnival season during the last three years of his life (1788–1791). This rich and diverse group of works includes the most popular ballroom dances of the Classic period: minuets, contredanses, and ‘Deutsche’.

I have two objectives. The first is to provide an account of the prototypical features of the choreography for each dance as practiced in Vienna during the second half of the 18th century. The second objective is to examine dance–music relations, especially in regard to phrase structure and hypermeter. What sonic cues — beyond an audible, consistent beat at an appropriate tempo — did dancers require from the music to execute their steps and figures? And how does the music’s phrase structure and hypermeter respond to these needs? Mozart, who was a considerably more accomplished and enthusiastic dancer than Haydn or Beethoven, well understood the practical requirements of ballroom dancers. Within each dance type Mozart employs a particular type of phrase and hypermetrical organization that correlates to the patterns and characteristic movements of the dancers’ choreography. My overall goal is to provide a contextual understanding of dance topics that will provide a better basis for recognizing and interpreting them in non-dance genres.