Jig (form)

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JIG. Many writers, notably the article in Grove's, regard the jig as only a form borrowed from the Italians in the latter half of the 17th century. In fact, Flood (1906) states there is "ample evidence of its existence in Ireland in the middle of the 16th century, at least in 1550." He quotes a letter from Sir Henry Sydney to Queen Elizabeth in 1569, where the author enthusiastically reports the dancing of Irish Jigs by Anglo-Irish ladies of Galway whom he said were "very beautiful, magnificently dressed, and first-class dancers" (p. 160). Pulver (1923) concurs that the form is native to Britain, but rather than Irish, he believes the dance to be English in origin, basing his reasoning in part on the probable Norse origin for the word 'jig' (and its transmittal through Anglo-Saxon lines), and the fact that English printings of collections containing the form predate Scottish and Irish ones. In point of fact the form is the same as the Galliard, whose place it took, and Pulver notes the tripping rhythm-dotted-crotchet, quaver, crotchet-"probably came spontaneously to the first dancer who felt genuinely happy." Emmerson (1972) regards the assertion that the Italian Giga (which is in the rhythm of consecutive triplets like the Irish double jig) derived from the Irish jig as plausible, and notes that Irish harpers were known in Italy and other parts of Europe in the 13th century. He does not support Pulver's conclusion that England was the well-spring of the form, however, and states: "In the light of what we know of the spirit of Irish music, even as early as Giraldus's reference in the 12th century, I can see no reason to entertain the idea that the jig came to Ireland from England."

Flood believes the Irish Jig a native form named for the geige, or fiddle. Pulver points out that many dance forms were named for accompanying instruments, such as the Hornpipe, Musette, Loure, Tambourin and others and so this is a seductive theory; however, he concludes: "very little etymological research will be necessary to prove that the one had very little to do with the other (in the case of the jig); that where the noun 'Gigue' or 'Giga' was used to mean the instrument, the dance-sense was not applied' while those dialects that used the verb 'Giguer', meaning 'to dance', did not have the noun at all." Today in Québec the term 'gigue' is still applied to any tune which is played for step dancing regardless of metre.

Medieval references to the Jig in both England and the continent invariably meant the instrument, but before the close of the 16th century the word was being used in England to refer to a type of ridiculous ballad (Pulver is certain the word then wandered to the Continent where it also entered lexicon as a dance term). This piece, sometimes rhymed, was sung by the clown who followed it with a dance, which was always performed to music by the Pipe and Tabor, and thus the connection between the ballad and the dance was strong. References in the literature of the period bear this out. Beaumont, writing about 1600, says: "A Jig shall be clapped at, and every rhyme praised and applauded," and Joshua Sylvester, in his translation of G. de Saluste du Bartas, his devine weeks and workes (1605), writes:

If neere unto some Eleusinian Spring,
Som sportfull Jig som wanton shepherd sing,
The ravisht Fountaine falls to daunce and bound.

In the ballad context Shakespeare mentions the jig three times; in Love's Labour's Lost he says "but to jig off a tune at the tongue's end, Canary to it with your feet..."; and in Hamlet it is written twice, "O God! your only jig-maker" and "He's for a Jigg or a tale of bawdry." By these references Pulver makes his case for the modern jig being originally derived from the dance of the mountebank after his ballad.

Lady Nevell's Virginal Book (1591) was the first work to contain the word as the name of a dance piece, with a tune named "Galliard Gygge," composed by the famous English musician William Byrd. Soon after, the word appears in other tune collections and in literature, as when Beaumont and Fletcher in Knight of the Burning Pestle (IV,1) make the citizen's wife say: "George, I will have him dance fading; fading is a fine Jig, I'll assure you."

The Jig ever was a triple time dance, whether in 3/8, 3/4, 6/8, 12/8 or 6/4, and, since it had the same spirit and rhythm as the older Galliard, replaced it seamlessly though for a while the two were employed together. Barnaby Rich (1581), for example, wrote: "the dances in vogue were measures, galliards jigs, etc." Several collections of music in the first decade of the 17th century contain Jigs, printed sometimes alongside Galliards--Thomas Robinson's School of Musicke (1603) and Thomas Ford's Musicke of Sundrie Kindes (1607), are two such. There are tunes labeled Jigs in duple time in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book and other publications, however, these titles recorded rather the spirit or character of the Jig rather that the actuality of the dance, for they were instrumental compositions meant for listening.

The 17th century, and especially during the reign of the two Stuarts, saw the peak popularity of the form. Playford prints numerous examples of the Jig, which increasingly was played as an instrumental as well as for country dancing. Pulver states: "Before the Stuart regime ended the Jig was so popular as a dance that no entertainment or other occasion when many assembled, closed without a Jig. The form began a decline with the Hanoverian kings, and, by the early decades of the next century it had devolved to the final movement of the classical Suite form.

Scotland was the first country, according to Pulver, to embrace the English Jig, though the earliest reference he finds is by Thomas Morley (1597) who says: "And I boldy affirme, that look which he bee who enioyne him to make but a Scottish Iygge, he will grossly erre in the true nature and qualitie of it." Shakespeare mentions the Scotch Jig in Much Ado About Nothing (1599).

Pulver finds no musical examples of an Irish Jig until the second half of the 17th century (notwithstanding their mention in Henry Sydney's letter to Queen Elizabeth). The Irish, though, if they had no hand in fashioning the form, adopted it with a fervor, so much so that the Jig today is known popularly as the 'Irish Jig'. Indeed, the Irish have composed a large and extremely fine body of Jig literature (which was first composed and performed on the pipes, the fiddle being a late usurper of that popular pastoral instrument). An account of a Jig performed in Ireland was given by Lady Morgan in her Patriotic Sketches of Ireland (1807):

In the centre of the field...a distaff is fixed in the earth, on which is placed a large flat cake; this cake is the signal of pleasure and becomes the reward of talent ...At a little distance from this standard of revelry is placed its chief agent, the piper, who is always seated on the ground, with a hole dug near him, into which the contributions of the assembly are dropt...At the end of each Jig the piper is paid by the young man who dances it, and who endeavours to enhance the value of the gift by first bestowing it on his fair partner; and although a penny a Jig is esteemed very good pay, yet the gallantry or ostentation of the contributor...sometimes trebles the sum which the piper usually receives.

O'Neill (1922) differentiates the single jig from the double: "The Single Jig, like the Double Jig, is in six eight time, but differs from the latter chiefly in having at most but one triplet in each bar. More ancient that the Double Jig, the dance steps of the Single Jig are more light and graceful."

In North America the term 'jig' has often been used generically, especially by older fiddlers who would call any dances-reels, jigs, hornpipes etc.-as jig dances. The term was especially used for a solo-type step-dance. An interesting quote on dancing appears in Joseph Doddridge's Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1763 tto 1783 (New York: J. Munsels, 1876). The writer, born in 1769, describes a wedding on the southwestern Pennsylvania frontier:

After dinner the dancing commenced, and generally lasted till the next morning. The figures of the dances were three and four handed reels, or square sets, and jigs. The commencement was always a square four, which was followed by what was called jigging it off; that is, two of the four would single out for a jig, and were follwed by the remaining couple. The jigs were often accompanied with what was called cutting out; that is, when either of the parties became tired of the dance, on intimation, the place was supplied by some one of the company without any interruption of the dance. In this way a dance was often continued till the musician was heartily tired of his situation. Toward the latter part of the night, if any of the company, through weariness, attempted to conceal themselves for the purpose of sleeping, they were hunted up, paraded on the floor, and the fiddler ordered to play 'Hang on till to-morrow morning.' ... (p. 155)

Modern tempos to play jigs as an accompaniment for Scottish Country Dancing range from 110-126 bpm. On Cape Breton, dance jigs are played in the 120-126 range.



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