This is day 2 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)
The more I think about the Minuet in B Minor from Bach’s suite BWV 1067, the less I think I should ever play it for pliés. This was the first dance that I had to play for one of Belinda Quirey’s historical dance classes at the RAD, and it was a revelation.
As a musician, you are used to the sensation of hearing music for the first time when you put it on the stand and try it out on your instrument. But seeing those students dance a reconstructed baroque minuet to this music revealed another force in the music far beyond the music itself (‘reconstruction’ is an insult – those dances lived and breathed in Belinda’s hands). You realise that some music has deportment, it has a web of social relationships embedded in it, it has manners, turns of phrase and cadences which are revealed only by dance, not musical sounds; yet those sounds are crucial in helping to form those things. Once you have played for such an occasion, you and your playing become part of something that is never again purely aural.
The great thing about Belinda’s reconstructions was that they were adult and contemporary – no-one was pretending to be an 18th century courtier in order to get the effect, because as long as you got the mechanics of the movement, the social relations and the poise in the music to work together, you automatically became part of a timeless dance, and were the richer for it.
It’s to Belinda and those classes that I have to be grateful that I can see all these things from a page of music. And as I see it now, nothing could be further from the stately, swinging flow of a minuet than excruciating pliés done slightly off the music. “No use playing beautiful music just for them to stamp their feet through it”, she’d say good humouredly.