The Regency Ballroom
English Country Dance Music from the era of Jane Austen
as heard in Jane Campion's movie Bright Star

cd cover

Step back into the early 1800s, into Almack's fashionable Assembly Rooms in London. The evening's festivities are well underway, and the dancers are in position, awaiting the music. Prepare to honor your partner to the opening strain, as the orchestra is about to begin!

Spare Parts trio

These are the days of Jane Austen and John Keats, Lord Byron and Beau Brummell, of Lord Nelson and Napoleon, and the setting for "Master and Commander" and the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. Selections from this recording can be heard in Bright Star, the romantic movie about poet John Keats. Jane Campion's time capsule of the Regency Era uses Spare Parts as the orchestra heard in the big dance scene. Listen for "Sussex Waltz" in the dance, and "Bonnie Highland Laddie" in the background as Fanny and John leave the ballroom. Check out the New York Times movie review and trailer.

This elegant music is played by Spare Parts, a group specializing in dance music from many eras. Liz Stell (flute), Bill Matthiesen (piano) and Eric Buddington (violin) win praise for historical accuracy and for bringing lively dance energy to all their performances.
(photo: copyright Bryan Krauthamer)

Read a review of the CD.

Learn more about the dances of this period from Susan de Guardiola's informative articles, What Did Jane Austen Dance? and What Did Regency-era Dancers Dance?

This evening's dance programme includes:

1. The Sussex Waltz (4:00) [audio sample]
Also known as Michael Turner’s Waltz, this Mozart melody was passed down as a traditional tune in England. It appears as untitled waltz #105 in a manuscript tune book by Michael Turner (1796-1885) of Sussex. Listen for Mozart’s harmonies in the flute and violin duo. (Mozart, KV 536 no. 2[Trio], 1788)

2. La Belle Assemblée March (0:56)
This short march signals dancers to take their positions for a country dance. In the 18th century, an assembly was a gathering for social entertainment; in the Regency era it usually included dancing. La Belle Assemblée was also a popular British women’s magazine, first appearing in 1806 and published by John Bell. (Wilson, 1816)

3. Country Dance Medley (32 bars): [audio sample]
Miss Moore's Rant, Revenge, and Earl Breadalbain’s Reel (7:28)

Scottish tunes were popular in the Regency ballroom. The orchestra at the elite Almack’s Assembly Rooms in London was from Edinburgh, conducted by Neil Gow, grandson of the celebrated Scottish violinist and composer of the same name. Revenge is still popular as an English country dance tune. (Willcox, 1793; Perkins MS, 1790; Wilson, 1816)

4. Sauteuse in Dm/F (1:48) [audio sample]
Most of the melodies in Clarchies’ book contain no names; they are identified only as “Waltz” or “Sauteuse” at the top of the page. The three pieces included on this recording are unusual in that Clarchies printed a simple second part along with the melody; we based our arrangements on these period harmonies. (Clarchies, 1815)

5. Scotch Reel: Lady Mary Ramsay (2:40)
Reels were an important part of any ball during the dancing years of Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra. In the later years of the Regency era they lost ground not only to the quadrille but also to couple dances such as the waltz and sauteuse. (Court & Bath, 1804)

Fashionable Parisian Quadrille (13:00):
6. No. 1 L'Annette (Le Pantalon, ABAC x 2 + A)
7. No. 2 L’Hipparchia (L’Été, ABB x 4 + A)
8. No. 3 La Corinne (La Poule, ABAC x 4 + A)
9. No. 4 La Belle Parisienne (La Trenis, ABBAC x 4 + A)
10. No. 5 La Rosalinde (La Finale, A + ABAC x 4 + A)

The quadrille was introduced from France early in the Regency era and became fashionable by about 1815. A diary of the period (by Captain Gronow) states that Lady Jersey introduced the quadrille to Almack’s Assembly Rooms in 1815. Dancing in square sets of four couples had been popular for years, but the dances (known as cotillions) included a repeating chorus figure. The quadrille kept the changing figures but dropped the repeating chorus. (Simonet, c.1820)

11. Slow Waltz in Bb (4:00)
The waltz was a new sensation in the Regency ballroom. Though introduced to England from the continent around 1810, it took a couple of years to become popular. At first it was considered scandalous because of the close embrace of dance partners, away from the other dancers. (Clarchies, 1815)

12. La Boulanger (3:39)
This tune goes with the only dance Jane Austen mentioned by name. A very simple dance, it can be adapted to sets of different sizes. Here it’s played six times for a three-couple circle. It was sometimes used in place of Sir Roger de Coverley as the last dance of the evening. (Dale, c.1800)

13. Sauteuse in D (1:22)
The sauteuse was a turning dance for couples in 2/4 time with small leaping steps (sauter means to leap in French). It was done in a close embrace similar to that for the waltz. Like that dance, it was introduced to England during the Regency era. (Clarchies, 1815)

14. Scotch Reel: Bonny Highland Laddie (2:38) [audio sample]
Wilson lists this tune as Crookie Den; he explains that it’s often called the Bonny Highland Laddie because of a song written to the original tune. (Wilson, 1816)

15. The Patriot’s Waltz (6:24) [audio sample]
This waltz is arranged as 40 bars (AABBC) to fit the figures for a type of waltz country dance known as the Spanish Dance. A version of one of these Regency-era dances remained popular throughout the century as "the" Spanish Dance. Waltz country dances were the first use of waltz music in England; music with figures for these appear in the 1804 Court & Bath Collection. (Chivers, 1822)

16. Country Dance Medley (24 bars): Amateurs and Actors & Elfrida (2:46)
At the start of the 19th century, country dances dominated English ball programs. As quadrilles gained in popularity, these lost ground. Dancing masters attempted to revive interest in country dances by inventing new figures and borrowing others from quadrilles. (L’Assemblée, 1819)

17. Mrs. Chiver’s Favorite Waltz (2:46)
Thomas Wilson was a dancing master who filled his several volumes on dance with opinions. In A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing (1816) he states, “The musicians ought to be instructed… to play the waltzes tenderly and distinctly, laying the emphasis on the first note of each bar, which more clearly marks the time for the dancers…; without such attention, the beauty and effect altogether will be completely destroyed, and the dancers be disappointed." (Chivers, 1822)

18. Sir Roger de Coverley, or the Finishing Dance:
Sir Roger de Coverley, Andrew Carey, Rakes of Westmeath, and Hyp Doctor (6:50) [audio sample]

This medley of slip jigs accompanies a dance that is the British precursor to the Virginia Reel. Wilson identifies Sir Roger de Coverley as an “Old English” tune (though he describes its close relative The Maltman Comes on Monday as “Very Old Scotch”). Wilson calls Rakes of Westmeath “Old Irish” and the other two “Irish.” The figure’s role as the last dance of the evening gave rise to its alternate name, The Finishing Dance. (all tunes from Wilson, 1816)


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