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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


A rigaudon [rigodɔ] (also rigadon, rigadoon[rɪgədu:n] or rigodon) was a French folk dance, court dance and instrumental form popular in France and England in the 17th and 18th centuries.

As a folkdance it was traditionally associated with southern France, especially the provinces of Vavarais, Languedoc, Dauphiné and Provence, although the term is now used to refer to a wide variety of folk dances from several regions. It is not certain that any of the folk rigaudons were related to the court dance that gained popularity during the reign of Louis XIV. A letter of Mme de Sévigné to her daughter, dated 1673, remarked that "Mme Santa Cruz triumphs in the Rigadon." The popularity of the dance seems to have spread quickly from Paris and Versailles to England and Germany. The rigaudon was especially popular in England, where at least one "Rigadoon Royal" (Little and Marsh, no.7260) was composed by the famous dancing-master Isaac for Queen Anne's birthday in 1711. It was popular as a social dance for individual couples at balls, as a virtuoso theatre dance and, in simplified form for several couples at once, as one of the many kinds of contredanse.

Like the bourrée, with which it was often compared (Mattheson, Quantz, Rousseau), the rigaudon was a "gay" duple-metre dance in two or more strains characterized by four-bar phrases, usually with an upbeat. Apparently more than one type of rigaudon was known in England, as several rigadoons in 6/8 metre appeared in George Bickham's An Easy Introduction to Dancing (1738). The duple rigaudon was used widely in French ballets and operas, and occasionally somewhat stylized rigaudons were included in instrumental suites, usually after the sarabande movement along with one or more other 'popular' dances.

At least 36 choreographies with the title "rigaudon" survive from the early 18th century, some by French choreographers but many by English; most are for social dancing, although a few were evidently for use in the theatre. Many rigaudons survive in choreographic notation. In addition to numerous contredanses (for example, "La Frene," published by Raoul-Auger Feuillet in 1707) there are at least twenty-nine theatrical and social dances, composed by choreographers residing in France (Louis Pecour, Feuillet, Claude Ballon, and Jacques Dezais), in England (Mister Isaac, Anthony LAbbe, Kellom Tomlinson, and Jean Jacques Rousseau), and in Germany (the French dancing master Jean Dubreuil).

The rigaudon was a courtship dance and was similar to the bourrée in that each dance represented a particular mixture of steps chosen from among many, including both the pas de bourrée and the fleuret (both characteristic of the bourrée, involving a bend–rise–step–step combination). At least one step was peculiar to the rigaudon, the pas de rigaudon; this was a group of three movements (hop, step step, jump) done in place during three crotchets of music (Hilton, 226–7). This unusual step-unit, occasionally used in other dance types as well, includes leg gestures to the side. It is usually seen only once or twice in a dance and marks a particularly important moment or climax. Charles Compan (Dictionnaire de danse, 1787) remarked that the courtly pas de rigaudon was more graceful and actually quite different from the one done in Provence; the leg, instead of extending to the side, was extended to the front in Provence, as if the dancers were kicking each other. The figures of the rigaudon follow the geometric patterns common to French court dancing, with both performers of a pair usually doing the same steps but on opposite feet to create a mirror image.

The first example below shows the opening phrase of a popular early 18th-century court dance, the Rigaudon de la paix (Little and Marsh, no.7340), as it appeared in Feuillet's Recüeil de dances (1700). The pas de rigaudon is not shown here, but the second and fourth bars show the use of the fleuret; the combination of the rather restful fleurets in alternation with the activity of the first and third bars creates a rhythmic pattern of motion–repose–motion–repose for the phrase that was typical of the dance.

Image:Le rigaudon de la paix.gif

The heyday of the rigaudon was somewhat later than that of the bourrée. None of Lully's stage works includes pieces called "rigaudon," although two airs from the pastorale Acis et Galatée (1686) were so labelled elsewhere. Lully's successors favoured it: Campra included two rigaudons in his ballet L'Europe galante (1697), both simple binary structures. The four-bar phrases begin with a rather static harmony and agogic emphasis on the first two downbeats, with both harmonic and rhythmic activity accelerating to the ends of phrases. Campra's rigaudon pair follows a brief shepherd's air that shares the rhythm and form of the dance, and the scene is followed by an instrumental passepied. The second example shows the opening strain of the air and that of the first rigaudon.

Image:L’Europe galante (1697), Act 2 scene iii.gif

A similar rhythmic and harmonic phrase structure appears in the one rigaudon in Desmarets' opera Circé (1694). Rameau seems to have been particularly fond of the rigaudon, using it in nearly all his operas. In Act 3 of Hippolyte et Aricie (1733) a pair of rigaudons, the first played da capo, frame a sailor's air in praise of a safe landing; the air borrows the opening rhythm of the second rigaudon. Example 3 shows the beginnings of both the rigaudon and the air based on it; the harmonic rhythm of this rigaudon is similar to that of Campra's, beginning with almost no motion and gradually quickening; but the melodic rhythm does not give the agogic emphasis usually accompanying this motion. In the ballet Platée (1744), two passepieds and two rigaudons, both da capo, are played during a dance representing the mingling of peasants and satyrs. Both dramatic uses of the rigaudon confirm Mattheson's judgment (Der vollkommene Capellmeister, 1739) that the dance evoked a sense of sailing or of pastoral scenes.

Image:Hippolyte et Aricie, Act 3 scene viii.gif

Many instrumental rigaudons for harpsichord and ensemble show the characteristic harmonic and melodic rhythms and clear phrase structure of the theatrical dance. Their form was usually either that of successive unrelated strains or, more typically in the 18th century, a rounded binary structure. Example 4, a rigadoon by Purcell from the second part of Musick's Hand-Maid, shows the adoption of a melodic rhythm like that in the Rameau example above, lacking the characteristic upbeat and long notes at the beginnings of phrases but retaining the harmonic shape of the phrase. A more typical keyboard rigaudon, adopting the rhythmic pattern of the Campra example above, is shown in Example 5, from Gottlieb Muffat's Componimento musicale (1726). Other keyboard composers who favoured the rigaudon were Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Charles Daquin, J.C.F. Fischer, Johann Pachelbel, François Couperin and Rameau.

Image:Musick’s Hand-Maid, pt 2.gif

The rigaudon also found its way into Baroque orchestral and chamber music. J.J. Fux's Concentus musicus (1701) included two rigaudons, one linked with a trio bourrée that works out some rhythmic ideas introduced in the preceding rigaudon. The only significant difference between the rigaudon and the bourrée in this group is in the speed of harmonic change at the beginnings of phrases, for the rigaudon continues to have static openings accelerating to the ends of phrases. As a number of pieces called 'rigaudon' (see, for example, two in Muffat's Componimento musicale) give prominence to the crotchet–minim syncopation thought to be characteristic of the bourrée, and hence to be a distinguishing feature, the harmonic rhythm of rigaudon phrases may prove a useful distinction. Rigaudons were also included in instrumental suites by François Couperin (4e concert royal), Boismortier, Heudelinne, Lalande, Montéclair, J.C.F. Fischer, Telemann, Georg Böhm, J.C. Pez, Georg Muffat and Christoph Graupner, often, as in opera and ballet, followed by a passepied. Although the rigaudon gradually disappeared about the mid-18th century, a few later composers used it, including Grieg (Holberg Suite, 1884), Prokofiev, Saint-Saëns, MacDowell (Air et rigaudon for piano op.49 no.2) and Ravel (Le tombeau de Couperin, 1914–1917).


The word rigaudon is of uncertain origin. Rousseau in his Dictionnaire de musique wrote, "I have heard a dancing-master say that the name of this dance came from that of its inventor, who was called Rigaud." Sir Charles Sedley in The Grumbler ii (a1701) also writes, "Mistral states that Rigaud was a celebrated dancing-master at Marseilles." Compare the Dutch rigadon, Spanish rigadon and rigodón, Portuguese rigodão, and Italian rigadone.

Other uses

Rigadoon has been used as a verb, as in "to rigadoon with a friend," a usage first recorded in 1803. The word has also been used atrributively (i.e., as an adjective). The first recorded usage of the word in English is in 1691. Another sense of the word is (formerly), in the French army, a drumbeat while men condemned to be shelled were before their punishment paraded up and down the ranks.


  • Violet Alford "The Rigaudon," Musical Quarterly, xxx (1944), 277–96
  • Paul Nettl The Story of Dance Music (New York, 1947)
  • Wendy Hilton Dance of Court and Theater: The French Noble Style (Princeton, NJ, 1981/R)
  • Betty Mather Dance Rhythms of the French Baroque (Bloomington, IN, 1987), 287–90
  • Meredith Little and Carol Marsh La danse noble: an Inventory of Dances and Sources (Williamstown, MA, 1992)
  • Francine Lancelot La belle dance: catalogue raisonné (Paris, 1996)
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