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Jean-Baptiste Lully

1632 - 1687

Jean-Baptiste Lully (French: [ʒɑ̃ ba.tist]; born Giovanni Battista Lulli [dʒoˈvanni batˈtista ˈlulli]; 28 November 1632 – 22 March 1687) was an Italian-born French composer, instrumentalist, and dancer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered a master of the French baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period.

(b. Florence, November 29, 1632; d. Paris, March 22, 1687)

Italian/French composer. His works played a dominant role in establishing many of the stylistic conventions of the French Baroque and of tragedie lyrique, including the five-part division of orchestral strings (violins, three sizes of viola, and basses) and the use of the French overture and accompanied recitative.

His father, of peasant stock, married a miller’s daughter and took over the business. The boy probably received his musical education from Franciscan friars in Florence, learning to play the guitar and violin. He left Italy for Paris in 1646 to serve as an Italian tutor to Anne-Marie-Louise d’Orleans, a cousin of Louis XIV. While working in that capacity he completed his musical education, studying harpsichord and composition, and became an accomplished dancer. He entered the service of Louis XIV in 1652, when the Sun King was 14 years old. In 1653 the king appointed him composer of instrumental music, and from that post he began a steady ascent to the top of French musical life, receiving the title of superintendent of the king’s chamber music in 1661. His work as a violinist and orchestra leader won him a sterling reputation, which grew even more lustrous as a result of his collaboration with the playwright Moliere on a series of comedie-ballets beginning in 1664. (When Moliere pocketed a disproportionate share of the proceeds from their joint ventures, the relationship cooled.

Lully professed to be unperturbed when, in 1669, the librettist Pierre Perrin was granted letters patent by the king to form an opera company. In due course Perrin and some perfidious business associates produced Pomone (1671), to music by Robert Cambert; the first French opera and the first opera of any kind to be publicly performed in France, it was an overnight success. Sensing the profit that awaited him—and taking advantage of the scandal that ensued when Perrin’s partners failed to pay those who had created Pomone—Lully in 1672 persuaded the king to withdraw the monopoly from Perrin and award it to him. With this coup, Lully put himself firmly in control of opera in France. Fortunately, his gifts as a musician were equal to his skills as an intriguer, and in such works as Cadmus et Hermione (1673), Alceste (1674), Atys (1676), and Armide (1686)— composed, as were nearly all of his operas, to librettos by Philippe Quinault—he achieved an extremely elegant yet lively fusion of ballet, choral music, and solo singing highlighted by richly varied airs and duets, expressively charged recitatives, and vibrant orchestral colorism. Lully died a wealthy man, able to command the highest ticket prices in Paris for the splendid entertainments he put on.

Key Works

Jean-Baptiste Lully, around 1670

Grand Motet - Exaudiat Te Dominus

Te Deum

I. Te Deum
II. Il Patrem immensae majestatis
III. Te ergo quaesumus
IV. Dignare Domine

Grand Motet 'Miserere mei Deus' 

I. Miserere mei Deus [00:00]
II. Amplius lava me [03:17]
III. Tibi soli peccavi [06:25]
IV. Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti [07:57]
V. Asperges me [08:57]
VI. Averte faciem tuam [11:35]
VII. Ne projicias me a facie tua [12:51]
VIII. Docebo iniquos vias tuas [14:46]
IX. Domine labia mea aperies [16:44]
X. Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus [18:21]
XI. Benigne fac, Domine [19:47]
XII. Tunc acceptabis [20:14]

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme - Suite

This work came out of a renewed interest in Turkish culture in France following a rare visit to the French court by the Turkish envoy. Lully and the playwright Moliere had already collaborated on other comedy-ballets theatrical works that incorporated music and dance into the spoken drama - but it was with this work that they reached the pinnacle of the genre. The work features musical interludes between acts which, in effect, form part of the play itself. The first interlude, for example, consists of the story’s dancing tutor demonstrating ballet steps. (He teaches the “middle-class gentleman” of the title how to behave in society.)
The inclusion of music and dancing tutors in the plot allows for further blending of music, dance, and drama in one work. The style of both text and music is light-hearted and satirical, with frequent tongue-in-cheek musical references to both the Turkish style and other modern musical fashions.

Suite pour ensemble de hautbois:
- Ouverture 00:00
- Premier Interlude 03:02
- Bourrée / Gaillarde 04:24
- Canarie 05:31
- Entrée / Menuet 05:58
- Marche pour la Cérémonie des Turcs 09:18
- Air 10:40
- L’Entrée des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins 11:47
- Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins 12:56

"Armide" - Passacaglia

Armide was the last of a series of lyric tragedies by Lully and his long-time librettist, Philippe Quinault. They had worked together since Lully’s first opera, Les Jetes de I’Amour et de Bacchus in 1672. Quinault retired after Armide, which premiered in 1686, although Lully wrote two more operas before his death the following year.

Based on an epic poem by Italian poet, Torquato Tasso, and set during the First Crusade, the story is that of the sorceress Armide who falls in love with her sworn enemy Renaud. Unusually for the era, the opera centres almost entirely on the title character and her conflicting emotions. The work was an immediate success and became a staple of the French repertoire.

The opera opens with a Prologue in which the goddesses Glory and Wisdom summarize the plot and (obliquely) praise the king.

ACT ONE Armide has captured some crusaders in Damascus, but is obsessed with Renaud whom she cannot defeat. Her obsession worsens when Renaud frees the prisoners.

ACT TWO Renaud assures one of the rescued crusaders that his heart is safe from Armide’s spells, but Armide send demons disguised as nymphs and
shepherds to put Renaud to sleep. Armide approaches the sleeping warrior intending to kill him, but instead falls deeply in love.

ACT THREE Having won control over Renaud through sorcery, Armide finds herself controlled as well by her love, which cannot be returned. She implores the spirit of Hate to cure her, but when it attempts to do so she recants and sends Hate away. In spite, Hate condemns her to love eternally.
ACT FOUR Renaud’s companions attempt to rescue him, only to be confounded by Armide’s machinations.
ACT FIVE After a love scene in Armide’s magical palace, she departs. Renaud’s companions arrive and break her spell over him. Before they can leave she returns and, realizing she cannot keep Renaud, begs to be taken as a captive so that she may stay with him.

Renaud, bound by Glory and Duty, refuses and leaves. Doomed by Hate’s curse, Armide leaves in a flying chariot as demons destroy her castle.

Jean-Baptiste Lully and Philippe Quinault's opera Alceste being performed in the marble courtyard at the Palace of Versailles, 1674

The broad plan of Lullian opera—a prologue and five acts, each with its own set, a divertissement with chorus and dance, and special effects (with the fantastic a necessary element of the conception)— would remain the model for serious opera in France for almost a century, all the way up to Gluck. His style would be emulated in the opera-ballets of Andre Campra (1660-1744) and the tragedies of Jean-Philippe Rameau, and his colorful use of the orchestra would influence composers from Purcell to Vivaldi to Bach and Telemann. In addition to his many works for the stage (16 tragedies and several dozen ballets), Lully composed a small but significant body of sacred choral works for double choir with orchestral accompaniment, intended for use at the royal chapel.

When conducting his music Lully was accustomed to using a pointed ballet master’s cane to beat time on the floor. In the winter of 1686-87, during a performance ofhis TeDeum (1677) at a Parisian church, Lully accidentally jabbed his foot with the cane. The wound became infected, gangrene set in and eventually spread to his leg, and he died three months later.

Ambitious and fiercely competitive, Lully remained a brutish figure all his life. In the high-stakes cultural politics at the court of Louis XIV he brought not only a powerful personality but an equally powerful artistic vision to bear. He transformed French music in the 17th century, assimilating its speech-derived rhythms and cadences and introducing an Italian lightness and grace along with a novel sense of animation and color. His music, with its appealing lyricism and quick-hitting emotive power, was revolutionary long before the Revolution.

"Dies Irae" for five soli, two choirs and orchestra

 L' Orchestre du Roi Soleil

 L'Orchestre du Roi Soleil. Symphonies, Ouvertures & Airs à jouer. "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme". "Le Divertissement Royal". "Alceste". Chaconne de "L'Amour Médecin". 

Le Ballet du Temps (LWV 1) - Air pour l'Esté

Portrait of Several Musicians and Artists by François Puget. Traditionally the two main figures have been identified as the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully and the librettist Philippe Quinault. (Musée du Louvre)

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