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11.6.11

Court Ballet as You've Never Seen It Before

La Délivrance de Renaud: Ballet dansé par Louis XIII en 1617, ed. Greer Garden. Centre d'Études Supérieures de la Renaissance. Collection ‹‹Épitome musical››, dir. Philippe Vendrix. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011. XXI+293 p., 17 b/w ill. + 68 colour ill., 190 x 290 mm, ISBN: 978-2-503-52347-7

Recently, the postman made the delivery of a much longed-for birth: after over a decade of research, collaboration, sweat, and prayer, a new book on the 1617 court ballet La Délivrance de Renaud has been published. This astounding court ballet, performed by King Louis XIII along with some of the gentlemen of his court and a host of professional dancers, singers, and musicians, was one of the works I studied in my doctoral dissertation. After completing graduate school, I began an attempt to make a critical edition of the music, only to discover that scholars from New Zealand and France were pursuing the same goal. They kindly allowed me to contribute to their undertaking, and after many years of anguish, the book has finally seen the light of day.

The luxurious (and expensive) edition, published beautifully by Brepols, includes a facsimile of the principal source for the ballet, a remarkable document that contains musical notation, a narrative account of the first and only performance (in the Louvre on January 29, 1617), and illustrations of the lavish costumes and sets, as well as an English translation of that document and a critical edition of the vocal and dance music. The first part of the book brings together essays by the team of scholars, myself included, on a range of topics related to this ballet and its unprecedented documentation in archival sources: historical context, literary inspiration, the musical performance and instrumentation, staging, scenography, costuming, and dance.

As a precursor to the development of opera in France, the court ballet in the era of Louis XIII is a frequently mentioned but little understood phenomenon. This volume is a comprehensive and beautifully presented introduction to it, and the fact that it is in both English and French, with some of the articles in only one language or the other, should make it of interest to research libraries and other collections in many places. The obvious goal of this sort of musicological research is a reconstructed performance of the work pieced together from historical sources: for more about that, stay tuned.

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