- Nigel Wilkins
One of the three formes fixes (the others are the ballade and the virelai) that dominated French song and poetry in the 14th and 15th centuries. Unlike the ballade and the virelai, the rondeau had taken on its definitive structure by the early 13th century, when it was already a dance-song form of importance. At that stage it was known as ronde, rondet, rondel and rondelet (English ‘roundelay’), derived from the Latin forms rotundettum or rotundellum, diminutives meaning ‘circular’; this is generally taken to imply circular motion in the dances for which such pieces were originally sung.
The earliest known Old French rondeaux are found among the courtly and popular songs interpolated into the Roman de Guillaume de Dole by its author, Jean Renart (c1210/c1228). There are 16 in all, with varied metres and rhyme schemes and frequent ‘irregularities’ not to be found later in the rondeau’s history. Fundamentally, however, they all conform to a six-line type with music on the pattern I–I–I–II–I–II. A typical example, no.6, reads:...