- Music, Discipline, and Arms in Early Modern France
The equestrian ballets that conclude this masterful study exemplify much about the courtly world of early modern France: its love of dance, of status and hierarchy, of the ancient air of chivalric culture. To unpack and examine the factors that made them important as more than simply spectacle is no easy task; this task took author Kate van Orden back to the French Renaissance, and to associations between music and things military that have remained too long underexamined. She argues persuasively that music played a central role in the transformations of French culture from the sixteenth to the seventeenth centuries. To make her case she examines music broadly defined, not simply as compositional practice but as part of education, as extended to the physical movement that accompanied it in both dance and military maneuvers, and as an element in public spectacles.
Van Orden begins with the educational reforms of sixteenth-century France. [End Page 528] New schools developed due both to the humanist movement as well as new professional needs, including the education of aristocrats. Nobles needed skills for both war and peace; in each case, abundant classical examples attested to the centrality of music. To the many French Platonists, proper and regular musical activity brought proper proportion to the soul, and to the soul's connection with the body; thus music was essential to moral education as well as having great practical value. Ancient music theorists had written mainly about pitch proportion in these terms, but a number of moderns extended the discussion to rhythm, and from there not only to dance but to other activities, including things military (in one notable example, fencing), and even to theories of political organization. Non-Platonists too could cite ancient authorities to show how regular sound and rhythmic movement could help to regulate the passions. The new education thus supported the important social roles that dance was acquiring at court, as well as the value ascribed to an individual noble's ability to sing and play the lute.
Large-scale musical activities with court participants did more than show off the talents of individual participants; carefully planned events allowed planners to regulate social behaviors and orchestrate public statements, and monarchs developed them with a political sensibility. Catherine de' Medici was known for the ballet de cour, an elaborate spectacle that frequently included mock battles and other stylized violence, often brought under control by the ruler as participant. The religious hymns and rituals featured in official processions and ceremonies were of interest to planners and became matters of some contest during the long religious wars; van Orden pays particular attention to the singing of the Te Deum, which in praising the Lord of Hosts elevated the image of the terrestrial military leader being celebrated.
At the same time, music developed a higher profile in military life. The growing ranks of foot soldiers required drilling for effective deployment; drumbeats and trumpet calls signaled specific maneuvers in battle. Dance manuals and military handbooks contain remarkably similar charts for the movement of participants. Fighting thus took on a close relationship to choreography, a relationship that had also been celebrated by ancient authors; pyrrhic dance formed a continuum between court dance and military marching, drilling, and battle. The Jesuits featured such pyrrhics in their academies, and emphasized the discipline instilled by such exercises in their aristocratic charges, both for time of peace and time of war.
The French particularly maintained the ideal of the horse-mounted nobleman, even as his military value diminished. Formal equitation helped serve as a middle ground, offering nobles a prominent ceremonial role for the demonstration of horsemanship that could also be integrated to some degree into actual military performance. And here, as in the specifics of all musical and military performances, not only nobility but also Frenchness was on display. Equestrian ballets displayed nobles' mastery of their persons as well as their horses, as they executed together complicated military-type...