The Fortunes of French Dance in Maria Theresa’s Vienna, 1752-1765

Well before the 1756 diplomatic renversement des alliances, French dance was in the ascendant at the Viennese court.  Gasparo Angiolini attests to the esteem in which la danse noble was held there during the 1740s, and the use of French dance notation in Vienna is documented in a manuscript “Compendio” of Feuillet’s and Taubert’s notation treatises by Philipp Gumpenhuber, “Maître de danse de Sa Maj[esté] Imp[ériale] et Royale,” in 1752.  That same year saw the hiring of a French theatrical troupe, whose performances were normally accompanied by ballets.  This company included Viennese, Italian, and French dancers, with the latter increasing in numbers particularly after 1759, when theater director Giacomo Durazzo enlisted Charles-Simon Favart as his Parisian theatrical agent.

The present study draws upon unpublished sources to investigate the uses in Vienna of French dance and dancers.  These sources include court payment records, the Durazzo-Favart correspondence, letters between Favart or his deputies and dancers being considered for employment in Vienna, Gumpenhuber’s manuscript chronicle of Viennese theatrical offerings, partbooks for Viennese ballets (in which dancers’ names appear frequently), as well as iconographic evidence.  These sources illuminate the interactions of different national idioms of dance; the place accorded to noble and grotesque dancing, respectively; and the material conditions of French dancers in Vienna.  It is clear that Durazzo was concerned to keep Viennese spectacles au courant as regards Parisian developments; and also that he saw a continued need for la haute danse, for purposes of monarchial representation, despite its tepid reception by Viennese spectators.

Bruce Alan Brown
Symposium Title: 
Living, dancing, travelling, dying... 2013
Author affiliation: 
University of Southern California