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Rusty Bully

This is a dance (Rostiboli Gioioso) that was very popular in Europe during the late 15th and early 16th centuries (Crane, page 100). I wanted to set it for keyboard in a style similar to that found in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book contains many complex keyboard settings of popular pieces, which usually consist of a fairly straightforward setting with a much-embellished repeat for each section (eg No. XIX -- Muscadin or No. LXIV -- Sellenger's Round). However, I wanted to create a piece that a keyboard player (me) could play at a reasonable speed for dancing, rather than a piece that was merely meant to be listened to. A few pieces in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, such as No. XXVI -- The Irish Ho-Hoane and No. CLXXX -- Watkins Ale are simple enough to be played at a speed for dancing. Willi Apel mentions that some slightly earlier Italian pieces were clearly meant to be functional dances (Apel, page 237). I based my setting of Rostiboli on the simpler dances in FWVB and the examples given by Apel. The dance tune is in the soprano, with minimal ornamentation in the soprano and alto voices. The left hand plays simple chords.

Late-renaissance music theory was not fully tonal, so I did not attempt any sequence of chord progression. Instead, I merely chose chords for the left hand which contained the melody notes I was trying to harmonize. My source for the melody of this dance was "Inventory of 15th Century Bassedanze, Balli, and Balletti in Italian Dance Manuals" (Marrocco, page 94-95). In this source the dance was notated in 3/4 time in quarter notes. I chose to notate it in 6/2 time (tempus perfectum) in half notes to give it more of the look of the pieces in FWVB. Because of the shift from two bars of three notes to one bar of six notes, I was able in some places to add a rhythmic feature known as a hemiola, in which a piece switches from having two beats per bar to three beats per bar. This was a feature in many keyboard pieces from the renaissance, for example FWVB No. CLXXXVIII -- Can shee. I have not seen Rostiboli Gioioso danced, so I am not certain whether the hemiolas are appropriate where I have placed them, but since it is my intention that this be a functional dance piece I would change them if they were inappropriate.

I originally chose to title this piece "Intavolatura sopra Rostiboli Gioioso" because my persona is Italian and this is an Italian dance. However, the word "intavolatura" refers to a certain method of notating music, closer to modern guitar tablature than to standard music notation. As a second option, I chose to title this piece "Rusty Bully", an Anglicized version of the name of this dance which I found in Crane (page 100).


The History of Keyboard Music to 1700, Willi Apel. Translated and revised by Hans Tischler. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1972.

Materials for the study of the fifteenth century basse danse, Frederic Crane. Brooklyn, Institute of Mediaeval Music, 1968.

Inventory of 15th Century Bassedanze, Balli, and Balletti in Italian Dance Manuals W. Thomas Marrocco. New York, Congress on Research in Dance, 1981.

The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book


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