Peter Tommerup


Location: Saratoga, CA
Country: US

My Latest Followers:

Tony Wyant Patricia Delich Dusty Turtle Doug Berch Jeannie in Paradise


youtube videos: 10
images: 17
videos: 1

"Branle des chevaux"

musician/member name:
Duration: 00:02:19
This is a wonderful French Renaissance tune. Here it is played by an informal "pick-up band" (of which I was a participant) for a French dance in San Francisco. From L-R, musicians include: Peter Tommerup (me) on hammered dulcimer, Mitch Gordon on hurdy gurdy, Laurent Vintaer on flute. Don't know the names of other players. It's definitely not a polished performance, but I like the energy of the music and dancers, and hope you do too.
Peter Tommerup
06/26/12 08:40:23PM @peter-tommerup:


Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed our playing. We do have lots of fun when we get together. French music just seems to lead us into "joie de vivre" (joy of life)!

Karen Keane
06/25/12 03:14:21PM @karen-keane:

Great, I can tell you guys are having lots of fun. Loved the dancers too!

Peter Tommerup
06/25/12 04:46:33AM @peter-tommerup:


Thanks for telling us about how "Branle des Chevaux" is played as a final tune for the Nonesuch Dulcimer Club. That would be in England, if I recall. Interesting that this tune is so well known there. I've only heard it in the San Francisco Bay Area at gatherings of French musicians. Well, unless some of us "Francophyles" wind up at another kind of session and "crash" it with this tune (like I did playfully yesterday at an Irish music party).9.gif They forgave me, however.Grin.gifGrin.gifGrin.gif

Dusty Turtle
06/24/12 09:55:05PM @dusty-turtle:

Peter, thanks for such a lengthy reply. I'll go back and check out your response in the other forum; I must have missed. that. I am almost definitely going to RDD again this year, although August is turning out busier than I had planned. I also hope to attend one of your Irish sessions (as a drinker/listener, not a player).

Folkfan, you are certainly correct that court dances would have been shared among the various monarchs of Europe. So if a branle was one of them, it could indeed have been known in a relatively stable form in both England and France. I guess I mistakenly assumed it to be a peasant dance rather than one enjoyed at court.

06/24/12 08:48:20PM @folkfan:

Dusty, As to sharing the dance, I read that back in 1520 at the meeting between the English Tudor court under Henry VIII and the French King in France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the Branle was performed. It was also a "court" dance as well as being done in the villages. Though, considering the difference in class dress at the time a court dance was probably not quite as wild as would have been done in the country. It was one of the faster dances as I understand, though with kicking steps.

Peter Tommerup
06/24/12 06:59:44PM @peter-tommerup:


You also asked about a source for all of these tasty French tunes. Well, the folks who play these haven't had (to the best of my knowledge) a "master organizer and popularizer" on the order of Francis O'Neil who complied large collections of Irish tunes, as I'm sure you're aware. There are several small collections floating around. Some of these are published; some of the published ones are out of print; others have been complied by a lone enthusiast at some point and have then just been xeroxed and passed around by a particular "community of enthusiasts."

I am very lucky in that there is such a community of enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay Area that has welcomed me to their sessions, to play for their dances, and to perform with them even though I don't play one of the canon of traditional French instruments: various bagpipes, hurdy gurdy and diatonic button accordion (am working on the latter, actually). I do have a nice "epinette des vosges" (French ancestor to the mountain dulcimer), but it's not as versatile as my DAd tuned MD (and I'm not as well practiced on it). So a lot of these tunes I have picked up from the folks with whom I play. Many of them are in the videos I've posted.

Where did they pick these tunes up? Well, some of these folks have been collecting and playing these tunes for 30 or more years, and several of our little community have gone to France several times to attend and learn tunes and stylistics at French folk music festivals. There are also a couple of music camps in the US that teach French repertoire and instruments. Some of the folks I play with attend and teach at these.

I actually did respond to your question re: a source for these tunes on the thread that developed around the previous video I posted of the French jam session. If you go back and look at that thread, I gave you a citation for the two books by Mel Stevens that are our principal reference sources. However, they are out of print, to the best of my knowledge. There is a compilation of these 2 books that Mato mentioned he has a few days ago. I know someone who may have an extra copy or two of this book, if you're interested. If interested, send me a message (email or FOTMD).

Look forward to seeing you at RDD, if you can make it this year!


Peter Tommerup
06/24/12 06:35:42PM @peter-tommerup:

Hi Dusty,

Wow! You put a lot into your comment! Very interesting reading. Who could anticipate that a video could lead to such interesting discussions of French dance terms that appear to have multiple meanings--but then, of course, we have the French to thank for the term: "double entendre!"

As French Renaissance tunes go, "Branle des Chevaux" is quite well known. If you punch it into You Tube, you get a surprising number of videos of folks (from a variety of geographic locales, including France, England and Holland, if I recall) doing the tune and dance.

After an Irish session at O'Flaherty's Irish Pub in San Jose, CA, I once nudged a friend--who also plays French music--to play the tune with me to close out the session. After we played it, much to my surprise, someone sitting at the bar called out to us: "Wasn't that 'Branle des Chevaux'"? It would never have dawned on me that we would have gotten that question from a patron in an Irish pub. But that gives you an idea of how well known it is.

John Henry
06/24/12 12:39:04PM @john-henry:

Well, as my mother used to saya lot "you learn something everyday" !!! There's a lot in that post of yours Dusty 9.gif , so I will leave some of it for others to consider and comment on, while I concentrate on the last sentence. I played HD for many years at pub sessions, festivals, etc, and so far as I am concerned the tune falls into the 'its played a lot, everybody knows it, but may not know its name' category. For some years now the 'Nonsuch Dulcimer Club' have used it to finish off the Saturday night concert at their annual meet, where some of us more staid members play the tune 41.gif , and the more wild and nimble among us 'do the dance' a sight to behold, I assure you 42.gif ! It does have recogised steps which 'tell a story' (if you don't believe me check it out with Butch Ross, a fine mover when pressed 77.gif !!!)

Now to read that post of yours again...................!


Dusty Turtle
06/24/12 11:44:06AM @dusty-turtle:

First, that is very nice playing, Peter. I am still eager to learn how you discover all these French tunes. Is there a big collection somewhere as there is for all those Irish fiddle tunes?

Second, just a week or two ago I learned "Branle du verlage" from a posting by Stephen Seifert. I tried to figure out the meaning of the title, but all I got was that a "branle" was a kind of medieval dance and "verlage" was a medieval (and I suspect Provenal) word for village.

Today, most meanings of the word branler are not fit for polite society, but it can mean simply "to wobble" or "to shake" if you are talking about a staircase or chair, for example.

However, in today's French slang, branler has all kinds of blue meanings. I'm embarrassed to say that I was familiar with these meanings of the word and not the medieval music. "Se branler" can mean to masturbate, which might be another use of the word's connotation of shakingor wobbling. One can also say "Il est bien branl," meaning something like "he is well hung," althoughthe French term can also apply to a curvacious, well-built woman. And the word can also mean to do nothing at all, as in to f**k off, so one might say "Je n'ai rien branl aujourd'hui," meaning "I've done nothing today" or to capture the slang, "I've done f**k all today."

Back to themusic . . . is there really evidence that the actual dance and not only the word was shared in France, England and Scotland? That would surprise me.

06/23/12 07:43:37PM @folkfan:

Peter, Found Branle in Wikipedia and now understand the English use of Brawl for the French dance style. Also found references to the exact step that was a Brawl as a winging, kicking dance step in use during the Tudor times. The Scots have a slightly different spelling in their version of the dance, the Brail.

It seems that the word Branle was Anglicized but the origin of brawl as a word meaning a lot noisy argument may come from the Dutch "to boast" or the French "to shout".

Interesting how words develop.

06/23/12 06:04:17PM @folkfan:

I'm not fluent in French, either. But when I went on a hunt to find the meaning of "branle", I found more connections to motion. Des chevaux, I knew, but branle needed a meaning. Here's some of what I found. Branle, as in mettre en branle means to set swinging, donner le branle a means to set in motion. Branler means to stagger or to shake. En branler is in motion.

There was one site that has someone asking about branle and brawl, but the people answering said "No" but that it might be from the French for shouting etc.

Peter Tommerup
06/23/12 05:26:21PM @peter-tommerup:

BTW, "branle" in French is pronounced similarly to "brawl" in English. There are often silent "n's" in French.

Peter Tommerup
06/23/12 04:22:52PM @peter-tommerup:

Hi Folkfan,

I'm not a linguist or fluent French speaker. The info re: "branle" being related to "brawl" I shared came from a friend who is fluent in French and knowledgeable about French folk music and folk dance. I can ask him again sometime.

When he mentioned the connection a few years ago, it was a passing conversational tidbit. He didn't consult a dictionary at the time, so it might have been his educated guess. I would not be surprised if they are somehow related to the same French root, however. Grin.gif

06/22/12 08:26:50PM @folkfan:

Brawl in Websters is shown as Middle English from braullen "to quarrel" but I've, also, heard that may be from the Old French, but from brailler which puts it from "to bawl, to scream, to holler, to roar etc".

Peter Tommerup
06/22/12 05:32:04PM @peter-tommerup:

BTW, "Branle des Cheveaux" means "Dance of the Horses." And not just any "dance" that horses might do, but one that is rather rowdy, possibly such as when they rear up on their hind legs. The stamping of feet in the 3rd or minor part of the tune is meant to represent the animated prancing of horses. Actually, our word "brawl" comes from the French "branle," as I understand it.

Peter Tommerup
06/22/12 05:30:27PM @peter-tommerup:


Glad to hear that you're enjoying this. It's a "pick up band," so it's not a polished performance, but I thought the energy and interaction of the musicians and dancers made it kinda fun.

06/22/12 03:16:42PM @folkfan:

What fun everyone is having. Thanks for sharing it, Peter.