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What is an Allemande?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 September 2016
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As one of the enduringly popular dances of the Baroque genre, an allemande is often offered as a standard portion of a musical suite. While early on an allemande served as a prelude to the suite, the dance is usually included in the first movement today. Here is some information on the history of the allemande, as well as some of the features that make the allemande unique in the world of Baroque dance.

The origins of the allemande can be traced back to the Renaissance of the 16th century. The name of the allemande is actually based on the French word for "German," and points to the fact that the dance is based partly on elements of popular Germany dances. Featuring a moderated tempo along with a double meter, the allemande was a lively representation and quickly caught the attention of dancers as well as composers.

Early instructions for executing the allemande do still exist, in the form of dance manuals printed in French. There are also a few British dance manuals containing details regarding the proper way to dance the allemande from the same era. However, the exact origin of this style of Baroque dancing is now lost. There is no documentation to prove in what region of France the dance was first conceived and danced, nor who created the dance moves.

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During the 17th century, there was some experimentation with the allemande that changed the basic structure of the dance. Instead of a double meter, a quadruple meter was employed. In addition, the overall tempo of the movement was increased. Most of the refinements came about in order to accommodate similar changes in the musical compositions.

It is worth noting that no less than Bach and Froberger in Germany composed allemandes that were geared for use with keyboard instruments, while Italian and English composers focused on musical compositions for string instruments. English composers also experimented with a tripe meter to the allemande, as well as working with the quadruple meter concept.

The modern day allemande has retained the faster tempo and quadruple meter in most cases. In addition, the allemande today features no syncopation, relying instead of a series of motivic and tonal contrasts through the movement that give the allemande a sense of excitement that is sometimes lacking in more repetitive instrumental dances.

Today, the allemande remains a popular part of French culture, enjoyed during many state festivals and holidays, as well as often being a part of personal celebrations, such as the dance selections at a wedding reception. With such a loyal following both in France and abroad, the allemande is sure to remain popular for many years to come.

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