‘Not always the same Menuetts’: dance at the Württemberg court, 1662-1711

In common with many German principalities, the latter decades of the seventeenth century saw the ducal court of Württemberg actively emulate French-style music and dance. Reinstituting an earlier tradition abandoned during the Thirty Years’ War, from 1662 until the invasion of French troops in 1688, important occasions in the life of the court were celebrated with major ballet productions. Generally held in the opulent Lusthaus located in the gardens adjoining the ducal palace (now Stuttgart’s Altes Schloss), these entertainments provide a unique insight into the intimate working relationship between the resident French dancing masters and the court’s Kapellmeister. While their presence is generally ignored by musicologists, sizeable numbers of French violinist-dancing masters found employment in the German-speaking lands and thus played a central part in the dissemination of French musical style during the Baroque era.

Drawing upon printed ballet libretti, as well as a rich collection of manuscript documents held in the Württembergische Landesbibliothek and the Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart, this paper will examine the role of dance at the Württemberg court, focusing particularly on the employment of French and French-trained musicians and violinist-dancing masters. Extant salary registers, employment contracts, and sets of official instructions regulating music-making at the court provide detailed information regarding the adoption of French musical style and dance, as well as their importance in both large-scale theatrical productions and everyday courtly life. The audiences for such entertainment will also be discussed, as will the importance of dance in the education of the young royals, with two of the court’s ballets - the Ballet de la Patience (1666) and the Ballet de la Concorde (1667) - being held in Tübingen, where Crown Prince Wilhelm Ludwig and his brother, Friedrich Carl, were students.

Samantha Owens
Author affiliation
University of Queensland