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Richard Hudson and Suzanne G. Cusick

(It.; Fr. ballet; Eng. ballett)

An Italian dance of the 16th and 17th centuries, occasionally called ‘bal’ or ‘ballo’. There seem to be three periods of development, two instrumental and one vocal: for lute during the second half of the 16th century; for voice from 1591 to about 1623; and for chamber ensemble from about 1616 to the end of the 17th century.

The term ‘balletto’ was also applied at the same time in a more general sense. It was used as early as 1581 by Fabritio Caroso as a heading for some of the choreographies published in Il ballarino, and Cesare Negri (Le gratie d’amore, 1602) used it alongside the apparently similar ‘ballo’ and ‘brando’ as a title for his created social and theatrical dances (see Ballo). In Barbetta’s Intavolatura di liuto (1585) ‘balletto’ indicates a dance from a foreign country. Some late 16th-century references use the word ‘balletto’ for theatrical or dramatic dances that would have been called ‘ballets’ in France (see A. Solerti: ...


Richard Hudson

The Italian instrumental balletto appeared from about 1561 to 1599 (mainly for lute) and from 1616 to 1700 (for chamber ensemble). During the second half of the 16th century, ‘bal’, ‘ballo’ or ‘balletto’ was a generic name in Italy for various foreign dances, such as the bal boemo, ballo francese and baletto polaco. Barbetta in 1585 referred to them collectively as ‘baletti de diverse nationi’. The most numerous were those indicating Germanic origin: the bal todescho (in Gorzanis’s lutebooks of 1561, 1563 and 1564), the ‘todescha’ or ‘tedescha’ (Mainerio’s ensemble collection of 1578), balo todesco (Gorzanis, 1579), baletto todesco (Barbetta, 1585), ballo tedesco (Terzi, 1593) and finally ballo or balletto alemano (Terzi, 1599). Similar terminology continued in the guitar books of the first half of the 17th century. Some of the earlier chamber examples are also entitled ‘balletto alemano’ (Biagio Marini, 1617, 1626 and ...


Suzanne G. Cusick

Both Morley and Praetorius (Syntagma musicum, iii, 1618, pp.18–19) considered the Mantuan composer G.G. Gastoldi to have invented the vocal balletto as a musical genre with his publication in 1591 of the Balletti a cinque voci con li suoi versi per cantare, sonare, & ballare (ed. in Le pupitre, x, 1968). These works enjoyed great popularity, being reprinted many times in Italy and northern Europe up to the mid-17th century. In most of his ballettos Gastoldi set strophic texts in a homophonic texture, with sections of nonsense syllables (‘fa-la’, ‘na-na’, ‘li-rum’) interpolated at the ends of couplets or tercets. Nearly all consist of two repeated strains (AABB) and the nonsense syllables, sometimes set contrapuntally, act as a refrain at the end of each section. The songs are syllabic and rather repetitious, the strophic form limiting the opportunities to depict the content of the verses, and all are highly rhythmic. It is likely that Gastoldi’s songs were originally part of a costumed dance, perhaps performed at the theatrically active Mantuan court or at an academy; the title-page states that they were for ‘singing, playing and dancing’. Each has a descriptive title (e.g. ...