The gavotte is a highly accented dance in duple metre that arose in rural France during the late sixteenth century. Although originating in pesant dances, the gavotte became fashionable as a social dance in Parisian high-court culture, later flourishing widely throughout European music as a movement in instrumental suites. Its popularity continued well into the late eighteenth century (particularly in opera), but by the turn of the nineteenth century it had fallen out of use entirely. The gavotte's almost sudden disappearance after 1790 has been the subject of marginal speculation by some musicologists and dance historians, leaving many questions yet unaddressed.
Roughly a century later, during Germany's so-called "Dritten Rokoko" (Third Rococo) of the 1870s and 1880s, however, amateur composers began to take an unprecidented interest in the forgotten gavotte, re-envisioning it as a short instrumental piece that was ideally suited for domestic music making in the salon and music parlour. Even budding "serious" composers such as the young Ferruccio Busoni, Richard Strauss and Eugen d'Albert - to name only three prominent examples - wrote gavottes for piano as their very first published compositions between 1878 and 1883. Hundereds of "Kleinmeister" also followed suit in the decades that followed.
Why interest in this long-forgotten dance suddenly skyrocketed - and almost exclusively within German-speaking lands during the Bismarckzeit (c.1871-1890) - presents cultural historians with a wide range of musical, cultural and social questions ripe for critical investigation.
This project represents the first reception study of the gavotte in any language. A database of over 2,300 newly composed gavottes written in the second half of the nineteenth century (c. 1830-1914) is currently in progress, out of which several publications and related spin-off studies will aim to enrich our understanding of its various manifestations, uses and generic modifications.
Questions that this study seeks to illuminate include (but are not limited to): the ways in which the gavotte's sudden popularity reflected a broader set of cultural issues about middle-class habits of musical consumption and performance, the cultivation of an historically aware consciousness (or atavistic sensibility) among amateur musicians, the attendant networks of print culture and mass-publishing industry that enabled this phenomenon (including iconographic analysis), the cultural-historical resonances of music written for the domestic sphere (also with respect to gender politics and the history of the body/dance), and the reception of French "cultural goods" in Germany during the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War.
At its core, this project uncovers a cross section of previously unchecked social, aesthetic and even political strata related to what the historians David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley have famously called "the pecularities of bourgeois society" in the age of German Empire.
"Gavotte" (18th to 21st centuries), entry for the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (www.oxfordmusiconline.com) (September 2014)
For a sample overview of the raw data (simplified), please click here.