A gavotte dance in Brittany, France, 1878
The gavotte (also gavot or gavote) originated as a French folk dance, taking its name from the Gavot people of the Pays de Gap region of Dauphiné, where the dance originated. It is notated in 4/4 or 2/2 time and is of moderate tempo. The distinctive rhythmic feature of the original gavotte is that phrases begin in the middle of the bar; that is, in either 4/4 or 2/2 time, the phrases begin on the third quarter note of the bar, creating a half-measure upbeat, as illustrated below:
J.-M. Guilcher’s study of the gavotte in Brittany (1963) revealed great variety in modern practice, especially in the type of steps used, floor patterns and formations and musical accompaniment. Gavottes in some areas are accompanied by singing, with a soloist alternating either with a group or with another soloist; in other areas gavottes are accompanied by instruments..... such as the violin, drum, bagpipe or a kind of shawm.
Unlike the branle, in which sideways motion was achieved by the dancer’s continually bringing the feet together, the gavotte required crossing of the feet twice in each step pattern, and each step was followed by a hop. Various pantomimic motions, such as the choice of a leader for the next dance, usually formed part of a gavotte performance.
The gavotte in Baroque music
The gavotte became popular in the court of Louis XIV where Jean-Baptiste Lully was the leading court composer. Consequently several other composers of the Baroque period incorporated the dance as one of many optional additions to the standard instrumental suite of the era. The examples in suites and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach are best known. When present in the Baroque suite, the gavotte is often played after the sarabande and before the gigue, along with other optional dances such as minuet, bourrée, rigaudon, and passepied.
The gavotte could be played at a variety of tempi; in his Musicalisches Lexicon (Leipzig, 1732), Johann Gottfried Walther wrote that the gavotte is "often quick, but occasionally slow"; and Johann Joachim Quantz wrote in Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (Berlin, 1752) that "A gavotte is almost like the rigaudon, but somewhat more moderate in tempo."
The gavotte in the Baroque period is typically in binary form. A notable exception is the rondo form of the Gavotte from Bach's Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.
Later composers, particularly in the nineteenth century, began to write gavottes to begin on the downbeat rather than on the half-measure upbeat. The famous Gavotte in D by Gossec is such an example, as is the Gavotte in Massenet's Manon. A gavotte also occurs in the second act of The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan and the Finale of the First Act of Ruddigore also by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Late in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, composers especially of piano music began to write self-contained gavottes in Scherzo and Trio form, in which the section that would normally be labelled "Trio" is instead labelled "Musette". Sometimes these works are called simply "Gavotte", and sometimes "Gavotte and Musette".
In each work of this type, the first section is a complete gavotte, usually in the traditional binary form, and the second section marked "Musette" is simply another gavotte, usually also in binary form, and usually in either a different key or the same key but of opposite mode (major instead of minor, or vice-versa).
The Musette section's distinguishing feature is that the left-hand part features prolonged pedal points for much or even all of its duration, which attempt to mimic the drones of bagpipes. (The musette was a variety of bagpipe, and also a dance form.) These pedal points consist of either prolonged or repeated bass notes, usually on the tonic note of the Musette section.
At the end of the Musette, the Gavotte is usually written out again instead of indicated by the instruction "D.C." (Da capo), because of changes the composer wishes to introduce in the reappearance of the Gavotte section.
These works are usually in a late romantic 19th-century style which may occasionally introduce elements of early 20th-century-style harmony, but, in keeping with the origins of the gavotte, it usually also evokes elements of the Baroque style, often with some liberty.
Examples of gavottes of this type exist by Giovanni Sgambati, Eugen d'Albert, Arthur Benjamin (subtitled "Chinoiserie"), and Una Bourne (an early Australian composer).
Sergei Prokofiev employs a gavotte instead of a minuet in his "Classical" Symphony.
In the musical My Fair Lady (1956), the number titled "Ascot Gavotte" does away completely with the traditional rhythmic pattern by having a quarter-note upbeat in the phrases while retaining the mildly march-like stateliness of the dance to characterize the stilted, high-society world of the attendants at the horserace. In contrast, "The Venice Gavotte" from the American operetta Candide (from the same year) presents the original half-bar-upbeat rhythm of this particular dance type. The gavotte from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella is somewhat of a blend, having some phrases beginning on the upbeat and some beginning on the downbeat.
References in popular culture
Carly Simon's song "You're So Vain" includes the lyric "You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte", in this context it can be taken to mean a pretentious or egotistical style of dancing.
The Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park With George uses the word "gavotte" as a satirical device in the otherwise irregular, non-steadily rhythmical, song "It's Hot Up Here" to start the second Act, "We're stuck up here in this gavotte.
The Johnny Mercer song "Strip Polka" includes the lyric "Oh, she hates corny waltzes and she hates the gavotte".
Geneticist W.D. Hamilton in his paper entitled "Gamblers since life began: barnacles, aphids, elms." in the Quarterly Review of Biology (1975) made an earnest attempt at wit by referring to the drilled formality of the mechanisms of individual reproduction as "the gavotte of chromosomes".
Agustin Barrios wrote a solo guitar piece called Madrigal Gavotte, which is a combination of the two styles.
In the anime Kiniro no Corda (La Corda D'Oro), the "Gavotte in D by Gossec" is heard many times, though referred to only as "Gavotte".
In the novel Good Omens, it is noted that one cannot determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, because angels do not dance—the exception being the Principality Aziraphale, who once learned to do the Gavotte.
The "Cutting Gavotte" is an attack in the Japanese version of the RPG Infinite Undiscovery.
In the Broadway musical 1776 during the song "Cool, Considerate Men", reference is made to "Mr. Adams' new gavotte"--a reference regarding John Adams' ideas for a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
In the 1967 movie, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, the song "A Secretary Is Not A Toy" refers to a gavotte. The song discourages personal indiscretions with secretaries at the firm. The reference to a gavotte is meant to be ironic, as the original dance accompanying the song from the Broadway show was a modified gavotte.
In the manga and anime One Piece, the skeleton musician character Brooke (and his "zombie," Ryuuma, which was given life by Brooke's shadow) has a signature technique: Gavotte Bond en Avant.
In the Robert Pinsky poem Impossible To Tell the gavotte is mentioned in the first line.
^ Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.28. ISBN 0415974402.
^ Bach. The French Suites: Embellished version. Barenreiter Urtext