This article is about the folk and court dances and their music. For other uses, see Gavot.
A gavotte in Brittany, France, 1878

The gavotte (also gavot or gavote) is a French dance, taking its name from a folk dance of the Gavot, the people of the Pays de Gap region of Dauphiné in the southeast of France, where the dance originated according to one source.[1] According to another reference, however, the word "gavotte" is a generic term for a variety of French folk dances, and most likely originated in Lower Brittany in the west, or possibly Provence in the southeast or the French Basque Country in the southwest of France. It is notated in 4
or 2
time and is usually of moderate tempo, though the folk dances also use meters such as 9
and 5

In late 16th-century renaissance dance the gavotte is first mentioned as the last of a suite of branles. Popular at the court of Louis XIV, it became one of many optional dances in the classical suite of dances. Many were composed by Lully, Rameau and Gluck, and the 17th-century cibell is a variety. The dance was popular in France throughout the 18th century and spread widely. In early courtly use the gavotte involved kissing, but this was replaced by the presentation of flowers.[3]

The gavotte of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries has nothing in common with the 19th-century column-dance called the "gavotte"[4] but may be compared with the rigaudon[5] and the bourrée.

Musical characteristics

Gavotte rhythm

The phrases of the 18th-century French court gavotte begin in the middle of the bar, creating a half-measure (half-bar) upbeat. However the music for the earlier court gavotte, first described by Thoinot Arbeau in 1589, invariably began on the downbeat of a duple measure. Later composers also wrote gavottes that began on the downbeat rather than on the half-measure: an example is Jean-Philippe Rameau's Gavotte Variée in A minor for keyboard.[6] Various folk gavottes found in mid-20th-century Brittany are danced to music in 4
, 2
, 9
, and 5

Another typical gavotte rhythm.[8]

In the ball-room the gavotte was often paired with a preceding triple-time minuet: both dances are stately, and the gavotte's lifted step contrasted with the shuffling minuet step. It had a steady rhythm, not broken up into faster notes.[9]

A Tempo di Gavotti by George Frideric Handel

In the Baroque suite the gavotte is played after (or sometimes before) the sarabande. Like most dance movements of the Baroque period it is typically in binary form but this may be extended by a second melody in the same metre, often one called the musette, having a pedal drone to imitate the French bagpipes, played after the first to create a grand ternary form; A–(A)–B–A.[10] There is a Gavotte en Rondeau ("Gavotte in rondo form") in J.S. Bach's Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.

The gavotte could be played at a variety of tempi: Johann Gottfried Walther wrote that the gavotte is "often quick but occasionally slow".[11]


The gavotte is first described in the late 16th century as a suite or miscellany of double branles danced in a line or circle to music in duple time, "with little springs in the manner of the Haut Barrois" branle and with some of the steps "divided" with figures borrowed from the galliard.

The basic gavotte step, as described by Arbeau, is that of the common or double branle, a line of dancers moving alternately to the left and right with a double à gauche and double à droite, each requiring a count of four. In the double branle these composite steps consist of; a pied largi (firm outward step), a pied approche (the other foot drawn near to the first), another pied largi and a pied joint (the other foot drawn against the first).

In the gavotte's double à gauche a skip (petit saut) is inserted after each of the four components; the second pied largi is replaced by a marque pied croisé (the following foot crosses over the left with toe contacting the floor); the final pied approche is replaced by a grève croisée (the right foot crosses over the left, raised).

The double à droite begins with a pieds joints and petit saut, followed by two quick steps, a marque pied gauche croisé and marque pied droit croisé, during beat two, a grève droit croisée and petit saut on beat three and on the last beat pieds joints and a capriole (leap into the air with entrechat).[12]


Music and choreography of a gavotte, by Vestris

The gavotte became popular in the court of Louis XIV where Jean-Baptiste Lully was the leading court composer. Gaétan Vestris did much to define the dance. Subsequently many 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 well known.

Movements of early 18th-century musical works entitled Tempo di gavotta sometimes indicated the sense of a gavotte rhythm or movement, without fitting the number of measures or strains typical of the actual dance. Examples of these can be found in the works of Arcangelo Corelli or Johann Sebastian Bach.[13]

Later examples

Composers in the 19th century wrote gavottes that began, like the 16th-century gavotte, 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 but not the one in Ambroise Thomas's Mignon. A gavotte also occurs in the second act of The Gondoliers and the Act I Finale of Ruddigore, both by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Sergei Prokofiev employs a gavotte instead of a minuet in his "Classical" Symphony.

Samuel Siegel and Roy Butin play Gavotte.
A 1909 Edison Amberol recording of Samuel Siegel on mandolin and Roy Butin on guitar

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  1. Percy Scholes, "Gavotte", The Oxford Companion to Music (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).
  2. Meredith Ellis Little and Matthew Werley, "Gavotte", Grove Music Online, edited by Deane Root (updated and revised 3 September 2014).
  3. Percy Scholes, "Gavotte", The Oxford Companion to Music (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).
  4. Curt Sachs, World History of the Dance, translated by Bessie Schönberg (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1963): 389.
  5. Johann Joachim Quantz, On Playing the Flute, a complete translation with an introduction and notes by Edward R. Reilly (London: Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1966; paperback reprint, New York: Schirmer Books. 1975): 291.
  6. Rameau / Ingrid Heiler, 1960: Gavotte Variée (Gavotte and Variations)
  7. Meredith Ellis Little, "Gavotte", The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers).
  8. Alfred Blatter, Revisiting Music Theory: A Guide to the Practice (London and New York: Routledge, 2007): 28. ISBN 0-415-97439-9 (cloth); ISBN 0-415-97440-2 (New York, pbk).
  9. Percy Scholes, "Gavotte", The Oxford Companion to Music (Oxford and New York: University Press, 1970).
  10. Percy Scholes, "Gavotte", The Oxford Companion to Music (Oxford and New York: University Press, 1970).
  11. In his Musicalisches Lexicon (Leipzig, 1732), quoted in the preface to Johann Sebastian Bach The French Suites: Embellished Version Bärenreiter Urtext Edition. (Kassel: Bärenreiter, ).
  12. Thoinot Arbeau, Orchesography, translated by Mary Stewart Evans, with a new introduction and notes by Julia Sutton and a new Labanotation section by Mireille Backer and Julia Sutton. American Musicological Society Reprint Series (New York: Dover Publications, 1967): 128–30, 175–76. ISBN 0-486-21745-0.
  13. Meredith Ellis Little. "Tempo di gavotta". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  14. Stephen David Ross, Metaphysical Aporia and Philosophical Heresy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989): vii. ISBN 0-7914-0006-9 (cloth); ISBN 0-7914-0007-7 (pbk).
  15. John Updike, Bech at Bay: A Quasi-Novel (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998): 28. ISBN 978-0-449-00404-3
  16. David Gerrold, Blood and Fire (Dallas: BenBella Books, 2003): 113. ISBN 1-932100-11-3.
  17. William Gilmore Simms, The Scout: Or the Black Riders of Congaree. ([n.p.]: W. J. Widdleton, 1854): 385. Reprinted in the Americans in Fiction Series (Ridgewood, NJ: The Gregg Press Incorporated, 1968).
  18. James Hawkins, Crazy Lady: An Inspector Bliss Mystery, A Castle Street Mystery. (Toronto, ON, and Tonawanda, NY: Dundurn Press; Hightown, Lancs: Gazelle Book Services Limited, 2005): 173. ISBN 978-1-55002-581-1.
  19. Anne McCaffrey, Nimisha’s Ship, A Del Ray Book (New York: Random House, 1993): 174. ISBN 0-345-43425-0.
  20. Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, revised edition, translated by Clifford Ansgar Nelson and Hans Andrae (Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2005): 39. ISBN 0-8066-5130-X.
  21. Norman Podhoretz, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (New York: Doubleday, 2007|: 102. ISBN 978-0-385-52221-2
  22. Anne Ludlum, Kate and Isabel (Woodstock, Illinois: The Dramatic Publishing Company, 1995): 128
  23. Desmond Meiring, A Cost of Magic (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing, 2011): 16. ISBN 978-1-4349-0976-3.
  24. Jan Kamieński, Hidden in the Enemy’s Sight: Resisting the Third Reich from Within, with a foreword by the Right Honourable Edward R. Schreyer (Toronto, ON, and Tonawanda, NY: Dundurn Press; Hightown, Lancs: Gazelle Book Services Limited, 2008): 21. ISBN 978-1-55002-854-6.
  25. John Ashberry, Wakefulness: poems (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999): 3. ISBN 0-374-52593-5.

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