Turn, Turn, Turn

This is the first part of a two-part article on the dances in Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”

Aside from the violent world of duels and battles, through“War and Peace” Tolstoy also introduces his readers to at least eight types of Napoleonic era social dances. The sheer variety of which could rival Jane Austen’s ball scenes.

The Écossaise : Early Russian Style

Imported from Scotland

Originally a Scottish contradance, the écossaise featured in “War and Peace” belongs to the court category. Its popularity in Tsarist Russia was influenced by the French and the British, in whose courts it was widely danced at the end of the 18th and into the 19th centuries.


Sitting at the Clavichords

At least four characters in the book could play the clavichord, and three of them was particularly good at playing écossaise compositions. A new question arises: whose composition was it?

Historical Ecossaise (Courtesy of Agefotostock.com)

Prominent classical composers of early to mid 19th century, including Franz Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, and Ludwig van Beethoven wrote music for the dance. Schubert’s was completed in 1815 and published in 1897, while Chopin’s was dated 1826 and 1855 respectively as its completion and publication. Because the epilogue was set in 1820, Beethoven’s was therefore the likeliest candidate of the composition played several times in the book. One of his twelve écossaise compositions was completed in 1806 and published a year later.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1820), a portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler

Eager to Dance the Écossaise?

Stanford dance historian Richard Powers describes the following steps (just in case you are in trying out the dance) for Early Russian Écossaise in his manual for Social Dance:

“Triple minor sets were most common at this time, with spacer couples between the two dancing couples. “1” is the Active couple, “2” is the Inactive couple, “3” is the inactive Spacer couple: (Top of hall) 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 Cpls 1 and 2 are dancing. Cpl 3 is standing and watching…”

The rest of the steps is available in the manual.


The Mazurka (Polish and Russian)

Along Came the Polish

Historically there are at least four different types of the mazur: the nobility style from the 17th century, the patriotic society style in the 19th century, central Poland peasant style, as well as regional style of western and south-central Poland.

In the book, two styles of the mazurka are compared: the Russian (which was derived from the nobility style mazur) and the original Polish (which was of faster tempo and of folk dance character). The Rostovs children’s dance master taught them the former, while officer Vassili Denisov danced the latter, having learned it when he was stationed in Poland.

The Russian mazurka which was apparently danced in quadrilles (a square dance performed typically by four couples and containing five figures) as seen in the video below.

Although the Russian retains the powerful spirit of the dance, the Polish mazurka is slightly different. You can see it in the following video.


Shall We Dance the Mazurka?

Richard Powers explained the steps following the description by Charles Durang (1856). This of course was a much later version of the mazurka than the ones danced in “War and Peace”, but it was still placed within the 19th century period.

“ Formation: Four couples in a square.

Honor partners and corners.

Kolo: Take hands-8 and CIRCLE LEFT with 4 coup de talon (heel clicks); CIRCLE RIGHT with 4 more. (8 bars)…”

The rest of the description is here. Let me know if you have practiced it.


Danced to the Tunes of Whom?

So many famous names contributed to the body of mazurka pieces in the 19th-20th centuries. Russian composers included Alexander Scriabin, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and Mily Balakirev , while non-Russian composers included Polish Maria Szymanowska and Frédéric Chopin , French Claude Debussy, and Czech Antonín Dvořák among these contributors.

Maria Szymanowska (portrait by Walenti Wańkowicz) (courtesy of user Marylai of liveinternet.ru)

Unfortunately, from the list in Wikipedia , International Music Score Library Project, or OhioLINK Music Center, none of the archived mazurkas were published in the time setting of “War and Peace”. Most of the mazurkas were published well into the 1870–1880s. However, the earliest publications — those of Chopin’s and Szymanowska’s — were published in 1825, thus there is a possibility that they were composed long before that.


The Anglaise (or Angloise) Contradance

Out of Britain, Into Russia

The anglaise or angloise (from French word anglais, meaning “English”), otherwise known as the contradance, was originally an English country dance. It was made popular by the British and the French since the publications of manuals in the 17th century by John Playford and André Lorin respectively. The dance became a favorite in French ballrooms, and from there it spread all over Europe, including Russia.

In the book, the Rostovs and their guests are very familiar with the dance, as is shown by Tolstoy in the name-day chapters.

See the dance for yourselves here.

Angling the Anglaise

According to the Library of Congress website,

“…The majority of the dances were longways sets of three or four couples, or ‘as many as will’..”

John Playford’s Manual (1651) (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In addition, complicated footwork is not the emphasis in the dance. Rather, it is the spatial arrangement of the dancers that matters. The dance was performed by columns of couples who faced each other and moved down and up the column.


The Daniel Cooper

The Elusive Mr. Cooper

A figure of the anglaise (according to Tolstoy himself), it is otherwise known as “Danilo Kupor” or “Danila Cooper” in Russia. At the time set of “War and Peace”, only the older characters such as Count Rostov and Marya Dmitrievna were able to dance it. Nowadays, Russian dance and music ensemble Barinya was among the performers of the dance. There is no accurate information regarding the titular Daniel Cooper. Whether he was a choreographer or simply a generic English name adopted by enthusiastic Russian dancers is remain unknown.

The dance as performed by the ensemble is shown in this video:


Difficult to Follow Count Rostov

I could not find a manual of the dance online, neither in English nor in Russian. However, the description generally ranges from its “moderately fast pace” and slow beginning and fast ending. In general, there is a difference in male and female movements, as there is in any other dances.


This is the end of the first part. I will continue with the second part, where there are four more dances left to discuss!