The Danced Minuet in 1790s Vienna

Although the extent to which dance suffused social life in 18th- and 19th-century Vienna has long been acknowledged, little is known about the occasions and practices that shaped this dance culture. Even for a dance as established as the minuet, confusion still abounds: David Wyn Jones, for instance, claims that ‘it was the most common social dance in Austria, at all levels of society’ (2002), while Melanie Lowe holds that the minuet’s ‘courtly status and association with nobility was affirmed at every public ball by the effective exclusion of all but those dancers. . . . Only after the minuets were danced would the ballroom become crowded with middle-class dancers’ (2007).

In this paper I demonstrate that by the final decade of the eighteenth century a large portion of the bourgeoisie embraced the minuet, knew the steps for the dance, and performed it frequently. I examine contemporaneous accounts that attest to group dancing of the minuet at the public balls in Vienna. Drawing on dance treatises from the 1790s, music-theoretical writings from the 1780s-90s, and several sets of minuets written over 1792-1801 specifically for the annual balls of the Gesellschaft bildender Künstler (most of which are preserved only in the original instrumental parts held in the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), I reconstruct the minuet of 1790s Vienna. I focus on the logistics of the minuet as a group dance, performed simultaneously by multiple couples. As the sources show, the danced minuet enjoyed such ubiquity in this period that it—not the ‘art’ minuet of the quartets and symphonies—was considered to set the norms for the minuet genre.  

Joseph Fort completed his PhD dissertation ‘Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music’ at Harvard University in November 2015, and is currently preparing it for publication. His research explores dance-music relationships in the latter half of the eighteenth century, and he has presented papers at meetings of the American Musicological Society, the Mozart Society of America, and the North American Conference on Nineteenth-Century Music. Other research interests include performance and analysis, phenomenology, and choral performance practices. Joseph is also active as a choral conductor. He combines scholarly and performance activities in his position as College Organist & Director of the Chapel Choir and Lecturer in Music at King’s College London, which he assumed in September 2015. In this role, he conducts the university’s chapel choir in services, concerts, broadcasts and recordings in the UK and abroad. He teaches a wide range of courses in the music department, and oversees undergraduate instrumental and vocal studies. 

Joseph Fort
Symposium Title: 
Teaching Dance 2016
Author affiliation: 
King’s College, London