Some Reconstructions from the Il Papa Manuscript

by Roselyne de l'Estrangere and Maria Elisabetta Gonzaga
(Susan E. Kronenfeld and F. Bess Libby)

Music (not appearing here yet) by Agatha of Carolingia (Heather Josselyn-Cranson).

With thanks to Daniele di Padola for a number of useful suggestions, and to the Carolingian Accademia della Danza for their help in play- testing our reconstructions.

The Source

Here is what the New York Public Library catalog has to say about the Il Papa manuscript :
Manoscritto di Balletti composti da Giovannino e Il Lanzino e Il Papa; scritto da Cosimo Ticcio [155-?] [27] p. (26-31 lines) 29 cm (fc.)

MS. written in Northern Italy, in roman script, on paper with unidentified watermark. Title from cover.

Cia Fornaroli Collection. NN 72-7014766
[[S]*MGZMB - RES. 72-255]
Microfilm of same: [*ZBD-26] NN72-7014778

Specifically, the introduction and two dances are by Il Papa, two dances are by Il Lanzino, and the remaining eleven dances are by Giovannino. That is, the introduction is signed "Il Papa", but the dances are merely attributed. Indeed, the first dance in order, La Vita, attributed to Giovannino, bears a remarkable resemblance to Guglielmo Ebreoís La Vita di Cholino, composed in the mid-fifteenth century. Could this "Giovannino" refer to Giovanni Ambrosio, the author of at least one fifteenth-century dance source, and often identified with Ebreo himself? If so, this manuscript could be a "lost source" of dances from the same period, most of which are also attributed to Ebreo. In this case, scholars might wish to revise their estimate of the age of the manuscript, dating it earlier than the 1550s. Alternatively, Giovannino could simply be taking credit for adapting La Vita di Cholino to contemporary trends in dance, or La Vita may be wrongly attributed to him.

It is not known to whom "Il Lanzino" refers, nor "Il Papa," although this title suggests that these dances could literally have been composed by a pope, or flatteringly attributed to one.

Of the fifteen dances, all but one are for one lady between two men. The remaining dance is for two couples. There are three possible opening configurations for the dancers: in a triangle (in triangolo), in a half moon (mezza luna) or holding hands, possibly in a line. The in triangolo formation does not specify whether hands are held, but it seems likely that they are not. The mezza luna formation specifies that hands are not held in three of the four cases, and implies as much in the fourth.


We know of no contemporary music corresponding to these dances. We have, therefore, no firm evidence of the tempo(s) used in the dances. Each dance is described as a balletto which does not necessarily imply a specific timing. Additionally, we found no compelling reason to change the tempo in the course of our reconstructions; certainly the text gives no indication of such changes. We have therefore elected to interpret these dances as being performed in single tempo. We have chosen 4/4 as probable, mostly because it is suggested by repeated groupings of factors of four in the choreographies. This choice seems confirmed by the number of Caroso's balletti that are in 4/4 throughout, or are in 4/4 with a clearly specified section in a different tempo.

Dance Terms

The Steps

The following steps constitute the entire step repertoire of these dances as far as we have been able to determine: sempio (s), doppio (d), passo (P), passetto (p), passettino (p2), riverenza (R), continenza (c), ripresa (r), mezza ripresa (mr), trapassino (t), volta (vt), and volta di Lasso (VdL). There is also a somewhat mysterious half-turn (v) used to change direction. Among these step types we have found timing correspondences by comparing instances where the ladyís part differs from the menís yet takes the same amount of time. These equivalencies are as follows:
d = P P P = p p p p = p2 p2 p2 p2 p2 = vt = VdL = t P
Additional concordances, based on our interpretation, include:
R = c c = s s = P = P P = r = mr mr = t t
We interpret all of the above steps, when executed in the specified number, to take one measure. There are almost no step descriptions whatsoever in the MS. Our suggested methods for executing the steps are mostly based on our understanding of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century step descriptions.

sempio (s)
These steps always come in pairs, apparently intended to start on the left. We recommend doing them in the same style as the fifteenth-century Italian repertoire.
doppio (d)
This is one of the few steps with any kind of description, from La Vita "and they turn and do a doppio forwards, that is, three passi." (l. 20) We should note that the choreographies appear to require a fourth movement—a close to change weight—when the step is called a doppio rather than enumerated as three passi . In other words, a doppio does not change weight, while a series of three passi does. All of this begs the question of what a passo is. Weíll come back to that presently.
passetto (p)
Literally, a "little step". These always come in sets of four, often following sempi. Logically, they should be smaller than passi (ending in "etto"). We interpret a set of four of these as taking one measure, or the same time as a pair of sempi. One can think of them as double-time sempi, done in the direction specified by the text of a dance.
passettino (p2)
Literally, a "teeny little step". We again recommend no particular ornamentation—just quick little steps. These, we are told, come in sets of five, and appear also to take one measure. In practice, this creates an effect like sixteenth-century scorsi, leading us to believe that "five" could just mean "many—more than four", or however many will fit in the allotted time; however, literally doing five is aesthetically adequate.
riverenza (R)
We interpret this as taking one measure, although it could well take two instead. In general, we have found in reconstructing from this repertoire that it works well to assume that each set of steps (e.g., ss or pppp or R) takes a single measure. We favor using the sixteenth-century riverenza lunga, which similarly takes four counts.
continenza (c)
These steps come in pairs. It seems logical to take the same amount of time for a pair of continenze and a single riverenza, again mimicking the sixteenth-century repertoire. Similarly, we recommend using sixteenth-century-style continenze, preferably the simple Caroso style (continenza semibreve), since the slightly more ornamented styles may be more useful in specific dances where a particular ornamentation is specified. We recommend against using the fifteenth-century interpretations of continenze, for two reasons. First, the earlier instances of continenze usually are done in 3/4 time, while these seem to be in 4/4. Second, to use the earlier style would create little contrast with mezze riprese, discussed below.
ripresa (r)
We interpret each of these as taking a full measure, though they seem to come in pairs. We recommend doing the "walking" (i.e. rather like a sideways doppio) riprese, partly because it makes it easy then to figure out what mezze riprese might be, in terms of both execution and timing.
mezza ripresa (mr)
Using the above ripresa, we can cut it in half in both time and motion, so that it may be done according to the style presented by Mistress Rosina , or simply with a flat sideways step and a close. These usually occur in pairs; one pair should take the same time as a single full ripresa: one measure.
trapassino (t)
Again, we have no clear indication of what this is, but the name suggests that it may consist of three steps (tre passi). This reminds one of the various flavors of fifteenth-century pive, which generally involve three movements of the feet (e.g., "down, up, up"; "up, up, up", "kick (l), kick (r), kick (l)", etc.). Also, these steps are most commonly found as the traveling steps of a hay, a function for which piva steps were often used. [We think tt takes a full measure.]
passo (P)
Literally, "a step". The passo poses a difficult problem. They can occur in groups of one, two or three, often varying in number within in a single dance. In La Vita, a doppio is defined as three passi (see doppio above), arguing that three passi can fit into a single measure. On the other hand, (in Che Faralla, for example), one trapassino and a passo take the same amount of time as a volta di Lasso (defined below as being done with a doppio). In a third dance, La Reale, two passi and a trapassino appear to fit in one measure in one place, while in another instance the dancers perform a single passo, then "return whence they departed" with three passi (ll. 8-9). In short, there seems to be no one set value for a passo; we have therefore interpreted the length of these steps according to the context in which each occurs. We do recommend that passi include a close at the end of the sequence, but without a weight change.
volta (vt)
This is an individual 360° turn, and appears to be executed with a doppio in a single measure wherever it occurs. It is unclear whether this is a turn over the right or left shoulder when the text fails to specify. It is even possible that this is just shorthand for the volta di Lasso unless otherwise noted, but it is difficult to justify such an interpretation without further evidence.
Volta di Lasso (vdL)
This is a volta done in the style specified in the dance Lasso. The turn is described as follows: "the volta on the right side, moving the left foot first" (ll. 5-6).
"turn"? (v)
In most dances the text mentions that the dancers "turn their faces", or implies directions of movement that require the dancers to have turned to face each other. We recommend turning "in no time" to change direction, usually at the end of the previous step.

Other Dance Terms

in anzi
backwards or to the rear
in traverso
This seems to mean stepping horizontally or "across (traverso) the line of direction". We came to the conclusion that it did not mean a diagonal step, since in anzi and in traverso are often used in tandem to indicate a step that moves both forwards and sideways; in anzi would be superfluous in this context if in traverso meant "diagonally".
Literally, a "braid". In context, it seems to correspond clearly to a type of hay.

The Dances

We thought that three dances from a brand-new repertoire would be sufficient for a single class. It seemed logical, therefore, to select one dance by each of the three composers. Also, since the volta di Lasso occurs so frequently throughout the manuscript, it seemed important to include it as one of the three. We decided against Fiammetta because it required a different number of dancers and would cause us to have to stop and regroup.

Notes to Lasso

In measure 18, the text specifies that the dancers repeat the previous section (from the sempi in measure 13), "leaving (uscendo) with a volta". We have interpreted this as a step that brings the dancers far enough from the center of the circle to be able to repeat that sequence.

In measures 23-28, we had considerable difficulty in determining how the dancers could "in a circle, go forwards straight towards one another", one at a time. We are indebted to a clever suggestion by Daniele that the path of each individual describes a quarter of a circle, visualizing the dancers as being at three of the cardinal points (east, north, west), and singly moving to the next point (south, west, and north, respectively).

Notes to La Reale

Note that the men exchange places a total of three times (twice during the two successive half-hays, and once during the latter half-hay), ending the dance in each othersí places. It seems wrong, but thatís what it says. Also, note that in the sequences P, PPP, the first passo takes a single measure (moving diagonally forwards) and the three passi bring the dancers back(wards?) to the place they left, apparently also in a single measure.

Notes to Che Faralla

This is the only dance in the Il Papa MS. that does not end with "and it is Finished" (et e Finita), leading us to wonder whether the dance is quite complete as it appears here. Also, it seems strange that this particular dance should end with a pair of sequential riverenze with the dancers still in a triangle, since the previous sections of the dance appear to conclude with the lady returning to her place between the two men, in a line. In our reconstruction, it actually seemed less speculative to add measure 30 to complete the pattern, rather than end where the manuscript does.


MS: Codex Magliabecchiana-Strozziano XIXm cod. 31: Il Papa MS.

Caroso, Marco Fabritio. Nobilta` Di Dame. Translated by Julia Sutton. Venice: Presso il Muschio, 1600; reprint, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN: 0-19-311917- X.

Stevens, Vivian and Monica Cellio, Joy and Jealousy, A Manual of 15th-Century Italian Balli. Pittsburgh, PA: Real Soon Now Press, 1997.

Il Papa documents

Main document
Timing Concordances
Che Faralla

Reconstructed by Sue Kronenfeld, and Bess Libby.

Copyright © Sue Kronenfeld and Bess Libby