Sion Collection: Anthony L’Abbé’s Dance for the Princess Royal

Of all the collections held at Lambeth Palace Library the Sion College Library collection has to be the most diverse, ranging as it does from art to science to theology and beyond. One of the highlights of this collection is a small collection of dances composed by Anthony L’Abbé for Princess Anne (second child and eldest daughter of King George II) in 1716 and published by Mr Edmund Pemberton. What is especially interesting in this copy is the dance steps have been recorded in a form of notation, referred to as Beauchamp-Feuillet, allowing one to recreate the dance and music as was originally intended. For further reading see Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV – Le Mariage de la Grosse Cathos which contains an in-depth analysis of the notation.


Anthony L’Abbé, born in 1667, was, as well as being a choreographer, a very famous dancer and dance master, having performed at the Paris Opera, Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Drury Lane. He also performed before William III at Kensington Palace in 1698 and was appointed dancing master to the grandchildren of George I.[1] He was highly praised by contemporaries for his compositions, for instance the French publisher F. le Roussau wrote of his taste and ingenuity in the theatre.[2] One thing of interest about this is the separation in the public views on different types of stagecraft. Even whilst Jeremy Collier was publishing Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage, a polemic regarding plays and shows, dances and music were being performed and celebrated by all levels of society. This is not to say of course that there was no disapprobation attached to performing on the public stage. An amusing aside, if one peruses the minute books of the Royal Academy of Music Committee one can find a great many references to well-heeled parents allowing their children to study at the Academy but requesting that they do not take part in the mandatory performances on stage, if necessary stating that they can perform from behind a curtain.


This piece also presents a useful example of the state of the music publishing business in London during the 18th century. Following the Glorious Revolution, the monopolies and copyright laws of the 16th and 17th centuries had either lapsed or were no longer enforced. This had led over the years to a huge increase in publishers and publishing. From John Playford’s publishing house onwards a huge publishing industry had grown up and was constantly looking for new material.  No sooner had the music and dance moves been published by Pemberton, with a dedication to the King’s eldest granddaughter the young Princess Royal, than the birthday dance was quickly pirated by the music publisher John Walsh, who also tried to undercut Pemberton. Walsh, it appears, had a history of such tactics having put forward copies of Pemberton’s earlier works.[3] In this instance however Mr Pemberton, the publisher, responded and attacked Walsh in the Evening Post for 14 June 1716:
‘Whereas the judicious Mr. Walsh has condescended to sell Mr. Isaac’s dances for 1s. 6d. each, the usual price being 5s. It is to be hop’d his tender conscience will cause him to refund the overplus of every 5s. he has receiv’d for 8 or 10 years past, but as it appears his design is equally level’d against me his friend, he having pirated upon me the last birth day dance, compos’d by Mr. Labee. The main reason he gives for it, is, he loves to be doing, and by the same rule, a highwayman may exclaim against the heinous sin of idleness, and plead that for following his vocation: as I have attain’d to a mastery in my art, ‘tis but reasonable I should reap some advantage by it; the masters are impos’d upon by his impression, it being faulty in several places, particularly in the footing. The original is sold against Mercer’s street, Long-Acre, by me the author, E. Pemberton.’

The distinct features of English dance at this time, as can be seen in the score, were imaginative floor patterns, the use of asymmetric passages, and the extensive use of newly and purposely composed music.[4] (For more see works by Ricard Ralph and Caroline Marsh.) This distinction is further enhanced by the style of dance portrayed – the chaconne. The chaconne is a baroque dance form in triple meter based around variation on a theme. It is built up of discrete, short units, up to 16 bars, that lead from the cadence, without a break, into the next unit. This is clearly a pattern that lends itself to dancing particularly well. The style is probably Spanish in origin, possibly imported in the 16th century from the new world,[5] and is a lively form considered more ‘exotic’ than the saraband.[6] There are no extant examples from this period; however there are numerous references to the form. The music gained significant popularity in England through the last decades of the 17th century with the importing of French and Italian musical styles and forms,[7] although the extensive use of the ground-bass can be seen as a particularly native adaptation.

This book of dances, along with two others, are the only surviving examples of notated chaconnes composed for a man and a woman from the 18th century. There are 14 dances referred to as chaconnes surviving from the 18th century and the notations are nearly all dances for a man or woman separately.[8] Due to the small number of surviving examples and the significant quantity of dances for mixed genders that survive as well as secondary evidence this is probably more a historic curiosity than an active decision.

The music used in this piece by a composer called John Gillard has not, as yet, been traced meaning that the notation in this may be the only surviving copy. The composer himself is largely unknown aside from this work. It consists of a chaconne of 44 bars, some repeated, and is followed by a hornpipe of 24 bars. This arrangement provides the distinctive asymmetric pattern which is a feature of this style of dance. Whilst it cannot be known if the dance was ever performed by Princess Anne it was performed at Covent Garden by Dupre and Mademoiselle in 1735.[9]


Above is a breakdown of the dancer’s step vocabulary from Historical Dance Volume 3, Number 3 1994.[10] It is further broken down in the article looking at spatial symmetries, dancers’ body directions, and step symmetry.

What they find are dances with significant amounts of mirror symmetries, where the two dancers mirror each other’s movements, with few notated ornamentations. The dancers also spend much of the time facing each other and the dance lacks the more clearly presentational aspects that one can find in other dances of the time. It should also be noted that whilst the overall patterns are mirrored there are differences in body directions and directions of the curve, whilst contemporary dances for two people of the same gender show much more strict imitation. There are also instances where the parts differ for ornamental reasons with a ‘caper’ in the men’s part or a turning jump in the women’s matched by a jump with a beat in the men’s. The more presentational aspects, facing the audience, separation of performers etc. are much more common when one looks at works designed for stage performance, for example in The Fairy Queen or The Loves of Mars and Venus.


The dances are constructed from a set of commonly used steps. These can be found in the tables of steps published by Feuillet in Chorégraphie and by Siris and Weaver in their translations of the same. These tables, it was claimed, provided the complete list of the steps used in dancing and should be used to guide the choreographer. What we find however when looking at the steps and moves shown in the L’Abbé’s dances, and as shown in the table above, there are a significant number that either are not shown in the books or that differ in detail, i.e. position, turn, linking manoeuvre. Some of this can be put down to changes in national practice: there are symbols found in the Weaver and Siris table, published later as translations and updates, not found in the original French publication. However even accounting for that there are still symbols in the piece that one cannot find in any of the books. Of particular note is that one of the most common changes or variations of the ‘official’ symbols shown in the Princess Anne are added turns possibly representing changes in taste or style as English dance evolved.  This could be seen as a sign as well of the increasing expressiveness of the dances or performers. However, it should be noted based on what we know of performance practice in both music and dance that the lack of written ornamentation in earlier pieces does not mean that none was used. Rather there was an assumed knowledge of moves and gestures that could be added at the performer’s discretion.

A further example of these dance forms is another dance by Anthony L’Abbé, the Chacone of Galathee, here performed by La Belle Danse at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, National Ballet School, Toronto.[11] Dancers from La Belle Danse Baroque Dance Company are Daniel Gariépy and Melissa Fink. This is another Chaconne in the same style and should give an idea of how the dances were performed.

This piece allows us a fascinating insight to a lively and colourful world of music and dance, and a look at how the tastes and desires of people changed and adapted over the years. It is also worth noting that Lambeth Palace Library holds a much wider range of material than often assumed: this piece being just a small example of such.

[1] Marsh, Carol G. 2001 “L’Abbé, Anthony.” Grove Music Online. 12 Sep. 2018. http:////
[2] Thorp, Jennifer. Pierce, Ken “Taste and Ingenuity: Three English Chaconnes of the Early Eighteenth Century” Historical Dance Vol 3 No. 3 (1994) 3-16.
[3] Goff, Moira. “Edmund Pemberton, Dancing-Master and Publisher.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 11, no. 1 (1993) 52-81.
[4] Thorp, Jennifer. Pierce, Ken “Taste and Ingenuity: Three English Chaconnes of the Early Eighteenth Century” Historical Dance Vol 3 No. 3 (1994) 3-16.
[5] Silbiger, Alexander. 2001 “Chaconne.” Grove Music Online. 12 Sep. 2018. http:////
[6] Sadie S (1980) (Editor) New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians London.
[7] Silbiger, Alexander. 2001 “Chaconne.” Grove Music Online. 12 Sep. 2018. http:////
[8] Thorp, Jennifer. Pierce, Ken “Taste and Ingenuity: Three English Chaconnes of the Early Eighteenth Century” Historical Dance Vol 3 No. 3 (1994) 3-16.
[9] Avery, E.L et al. (1960-63) (editors) The London Stage, 1660-1800 Carbondale Illinois University Press.
[10] Thorp, Jennifer. Pierce, Ken “Taste and Ingenuity: Three English Chaconnes of the Early Eighteenth Century” Historical Dance Vol 3 No. 3 (1994) 3-16.
[11] LaBelleDanse. Baroque Dance: Chacone of Galathee Duration 4:04 posted 17 June 2009

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