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A branle (also bransle, pronounced brawl) is a 16th century French dance style which moves mainly from side to side, and is performed in either a line or a circle.

In Italy the branle became the Brando, and in Spain the Bran[1]. Brando Alta Regina by Cesare Negri demonstrates how widely the French and Italian dances had diverged by the beginning of the 17th century. The Branle seems to have travelled to Scotland and survived for some time as the brail, but in England it was rarely danced, and of over 2,000 lute pieces from England only ten were called Branle.

The only extant source for the dance steps to the French branles is Orchesography by Thoinot Arbeau, although Antonius de Arena also makes brief mention of them. Arbeau strongly implies that the branle was a dance mainly performed by commoners.

The Branles as Musical Forms

According to Arbeau, every ball began with the same four branles. The Double Branle, the Single Branle, the Gay Branle and the Burgundian Branle. The Double Branle has a simple form involving two phrases of two bars each. This form was not sufficiently different to the pavan to be of interest to composers and so pieces with these names rarely occur in the instrumental books of the time unless they are specifically designed for dancers.

The Single Branle, however, consists of a phrase of two bars, followed by a phrase of one bar and appears in numerous places. Likewise the Gay Branle consists of two phrases of two bars each, but in 3/4 time, and so was also widely used.

The Burgundian Branle as described by Arbeau is of the same structure as the Double Branle, but played with a lighter feel. Musical sources however often give an irregular structure for this dance.

Regional Branles

Arbeau gives choreographies for five Branles which are associated with specific regions, the Breton Branle, the Burgundian Branle (see above), the Poitou Branle and the Scottish Branles. Aside from the Burgundian Branle each of these dances seem to have a genuine connection to the region, particularly the Breton Branle. Some 16th century books also contain music entitled Champagne Branle, which Arbeau tells us is another name for Burgundian.

Musical Characteristics of the Regional Branles

Although the Breton Branle is rarely mentioned outside Arbeau the other two dance styles seems to have provided a little more inspiration to composers.

According to Mabel Dolmetsch the Branle was referred to as the Brail in Scotland. As described by Arbeau it is in duple time. The first Scottish branle has musical phrases of 2 bars, the second phrases of 2 and 3 bars. Two examples of music called the Scottish Branle by Estienne du Tertre, however, appear in 3/4 time. Furthermore, despite a similarity in structure for one of these branles, the precise choreography given by Arbeau could not be danced to this music even if the music were in 4/4.

The Poitou Branle usually has a 9/4 metre, although some settings use 6/4 or even alternate between 6/4 and 9/4. There is a variation called the Poitou double Branle (Branle double de Poitou), which appears exclusively in 6/4.

Branles not mentioned by Arbeau

Branle de Montirandé

The Branle de Montirandé appears to be related to the Haut Barrois Branle, which Arbeau says was arranged on the tune of a Branle of Montierandal (probably Montier-en-Der). This is danced in duple time, and as described by Arbeau has a similar structure to the Double Branle. Settings for this appear in both Le Trésor d'Orphée by Antoine Francisque and Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius.

Branles de village

There were a number of pieces of music from as early as 1550 called Branle de Village, and they seem to have gained popularity in the early 17th century. Musically they usually incorporated "rustic" features in their melody, such as repeated notes. It is clear from the Robert Ballard lute music however that the Branle de Village was not associated with one specific dance as the structure differs significantly between pieces.


Emmanuel Adriaenssen includes a piece called Branle Englese in his book of lute music, Pratum Musicum.

Branle Suites

Arbeau tells us in his Orchesography that there were several well established Branle suites of up to ten dances. These were the Branles de Champagne, the Branles de Camp, the Branles de Henault and the Branles d'Avignon. He named the suites Branles couppez, which translates literally as cut branles, but is probably more accurately translated as mixed branles.


Aridan Branle | Breton Branle | Burgundian Branle | Candlestick Branle | Cassandra Branle | Charlotte Branle | Clog Branle | Double Branle | Gavotte | Gay Branle | Haut Barrois Branle | Hay Branle | Hermits Branle | Horses Branle | Maltese Branle | Montarde Branle | Official Branle | Pease Branle | Pinagay Branle | Poitou Branle | Scottish Branle | Single Branle | War Branle | Washerwomen's Branle


  1. ^ Mabel Dolmetsch (1959). Dances of France and England. Lund Humphries. ISBN 030670725X.
  2. ^ Henry Expert (1969). Les Maitres Musiciens de la Renaissance Francaise, XXIII. Broude Brothers. ..
  3. ^ Thoinot Arbeau (trans. Mary Evans) (1995). Orchesography. Dover. ISBN 0486217450.
  4. ^ Daniel Heartz (1998). New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (pp.242-245). Macmillan Publishers Ltd.. ISBN 1561592390.
  5. Julia Craig-McFeely's thesis