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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. The Italian form of the word is Brando, and the Spanish in Bran.

The only source for the dance steps to 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

Accoring to Arbeau, every ball began with the same four branles. The Double Branle, the Single Branle, the Gay Branle and the Burgundian Branle. Both the Double Branle and the Burgundian Branle have 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.

Regional Branles

Arbeau gives choreographies for four Branles which are associated with specific regions, the Breton Branle, Burgundian Branle, Montarde Branle and Scottish Branle. Most of these dances seem to have a genuine connection to the region, particularly the Breton Branle. Some 16th century books also contain music for the Champagne Branle, which Arbeau does not describe.

Musical Structure

Although the Breton Branle is rarely mentioned outside Arbeau each of the other dance styles seems to have provided some inspiration to composers.

The Burgundian Branle is of the same structure as the Double Branle, but is played with a lighter feel.

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.

Branle Choreographies