Jean Baptiste Lully
- Category : Entertain-Music-Composer/Arranger
- Type : GE
- Profile : 3/5 - Martyr / Heretic
- Definition : Split - Small (1,20)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Planning 4
Jean-Baptiste Lully; born Giovanni Battista Lulli; 28 November 1632 – 22 March 1687) was a Florentine-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French baroque style. Lully disavowed any Italian influence in French music of the period. He became a French subject in 1661.
Lully was born in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to a family of millers. His general education and his musical training during his youth in Florence remain uncertain, but his adult handwriting suggests that he manipulated a quill pen with ease. He used to say that a Franciscan friar gave him his first music lessons and taught him guitar. He also learned to play the violin. In 1646, dressed as Harlequin during Mardi Gras and amusing bystanders with his clowning and his violin, the boy attracted the attention of Roger de Lorraine, chevalier de Guise, son of Charles, Duke of Guise, who was returning to France and was looking for someone to converse in Italian with his niece, Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle). Guise took the boy to Paris, where the fourteen year-old entered Mademoiselle's service; from 1647 to 1652 he served as her "chamber boy" (garçon de chambre). He probably honed his musical skills by working with Mademoiselle's household musicians and with composers Nicolas Métru, François Roberday and Nicolas Gigault. The teenager's talents as a guitarist, violinist, and dancer quickly won him the nicknames "Baptiste", and "le grand baladin" (great street-artist).
When Mademoiselle was exiled to the provinces in 1652 after the rebellion known as the Fronde, Lully "begged his leave ... because he did not want to live in the country." The princess granted his request.
By February 1653 Lully had attracted the attention of young Louis XIV, dancing with him in the Ballet royal de la nuit. By March 16, 1653, Lully had been made royal composer for instrumental music. His vocal and instrumental music for court ballets gradually made him indispensable. In 1660 and 1662 he collaborated on court performances of Francesco Cavalli's Xerse and Ercole amante. When Louis XIV took over the reins of government in 1661, he named Lully superintendent of the royal music and music master of the royal family. In December 1661 the Florentine was granted letters of naturalization. Thus, when he married the daughter of the renowned singer and composer Michel Lambert in 1662, Giovanni Battista Lulli declared himself to be "Jean-Baptiste Lully, escuyer , son of "Laurent de Lully, gentilhomme Florentin ". The latter assertion was an untruth.
From 1661 on, the trios and dances he wrote for the court were promptly published. As early as 1653, Louis XIV made him director of his personal violin orchestra, known as the Petits Violons ("Little Violins"), which was proving to be open to Lully's innovations, as contrasted with the Twenty-Four Violins or Grands Violons ("Great Violins"), who only slowly were abandoning the polyphony and divisions of past decades. When he became surintendant de la musique de la chambre du roi in 1661, the Great Violins also came under Lully's control. He relied mainly on the Little Violins for court ballets.
His collaboration with playwright Molière began in 1661 when Lully and Pierre Beauchamp worked on the music and dancing for Les Fâcheux, first performed for Nicolas Fouquet at his sumptuous chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte. More theatrical collaborations followed, some of them conceived for fetes at the royal court, and others taking the form of incidental music (intermèdes) for plays performed at command performances at court and also in Molière's Parisian theater.
In 1672 Lully broke with Molière, who turned to Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Having acquired Pierre Perrin's opera privilege, Lully became the director of the Académie Royale de Musique, that is, the royal opera, which performed in the Palais-Royal. Between 1673 and 1687 he produced a new opera almost yearly and fiercely protected his monopoly over that new genre.
After Queen Marie-Thérèse's death in 1683 and the king's secret marriage to Mme de Maintenon, devotion came to the fore at court. The king's enthusiasm for opera dissipated; he was revolted by Lully's dissolute life and homosexual encounters. In 1686, to show his displeasure, Louis XIV made a point of not inviting Lully to perform Armide at Versailles. Lully died from gangrene, having struck his foot with his long conducting staff during a performance of his Te Deum to celebrate Louis XIV's recovery from surgery. He died in Paris and was buried in the church of Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, where his tomb with its marble bust can still be seen. All three of his sons (Louis Lully, Jean-Baptiste Lully fils, and Jean-Louis Lully) had musical careers as successive surintendants of the King's Music.
Lully himself was posthumously given a conspicuous place on Titon du Tillet's Parnasse François ("the French Mount Parnassus"). In the engraving, he stands to the left, on the lowest level, his right arm extended and holding a scroll of paper with which to beat time. (The bronze ensemble has survived and is part of the collections of the Museum of Versailles.) Titon honored Lully as:
"the prince of French musicians, ... the inventor of that beautiful and grand French music, such as our operas and the grand pieces for voices and instruments that were only imperfectly known before him. He brought it to the peak of perfection and was the father of our most illustrious musicians working in that musical form. ... Lully entertained the king infinitely, by his music, by the way he performed it, and by his witty remarks. The prince was also very fond of Lully and showered him with benefits in a most gracious way."
Music, style and influence
Lully's music was written during the Middle Baroque period, 1650 to 1700. Typical of Baroque music is the use of the basso continuo as the driving force behind the music. The pitch standard for French Baroque music was about 392 Hz for A above middle C, a whole tone lower than modern practice where A is usually 440 Hz.
Lully's music is known for its power, liveliness in its fast movements and its deep emotional character in its sad movements. Some of his most popular works are his passacaille (passacaglia) and chaconne which are dance movements found in many of his works such as Armide or Phaëton.
The influence of Lully's music produced a radical revolution in the style of the dances of the court itself. In the place of the slow and stately movements which had prevailed until then, he introduced lively ballets of rapid rhythm, often based on well-known dance types such as gavottes, menuets, rigaudons and sarabandes.
Through his collaboration with playwright Molière, a new music form emerged during the 1660s: the comédie-ballet which combined theater, comedy, incidental music and ballet. The popularity of these plays, with their sometimes lavish special effects, and the success and publication of Lully's operas and its diffusion beyond the borders of France, played a crucial role in synthesizing, consolidating and disseminating orchestral organization, scorings, performance practices, and repertory.
The instruments in Lully's music were: five voices of strings such as dessus (a higher range than soprano), haute-contre (the instrumental equivalent of the high tenor voice by that name), taille (baritenor), quinte, basse), divided as follows: one voice of violins, three voices of violas, one voice of cello, and basse de viole (viole, viola da gamba). He also utilized guitar, lute, archlute, theorbo, harpsichord, organ, oboe, bassoon, recorder, flute, brass instruments (natural trumpet) and various percussion instruments (castanets, timpani).
He is often credited with introducing new instruments into the orchestra, but this legend needs closer scrutiny. He continued to use recorders in preference to the newer transverse flute, and the "hautbois" he used in his orchestra were transitional instruments, somewhere between shawms and so-called Baroque oboes.
Lully created French-style opera as a musical genre (tragédie en musique or tragédie lyrique). Concluding that Italian-style opera was inappropriate for the French language, he and his librettist, Philippe Quinault, a respected playwright, employed the same poetics that dramatists used for verse tragedies: the 12-syllable "Alexandrine" and the 10-syllable "heroic" poetic lines of the spoken theater were used for the recitative of Lully's operas and were perceived by their contemporaries as creating a very "natural" effect. Airs, especially if they were based on dances, were by contrast set to lines of less than 8 syllables. Lully also forsook the Italian method of dividing musical numbers into separate recitatives and arias, choosing instead to combine and intermingle the two, for dramatic effect. He and Quinault also opted for quicker story development, which was more to the taste of the French public.
William Christie has summarized the distribution of instruments in Lully's operas: "The orchestra is easier to reconstitute. In Lully's case, it is made up of strings, winds and sometimes brass. The strings, or the grand chœur written for five parts is distinct from the petit chœur, which is the continuo made up of a handful of players, following the formula inherited from the continuo operas of post-Monteverdian composers, Antonio Cesti and Francesco Cavalli. The continuo is a supple formula which minimizes the role of the orchestra, thus favoring the lute, the theorbo and the harpsichord. It therefore permits variation of color of the recitatives, which sometimes seem of excessive length."
Lully is credited with the invention in the 1650s of the French overture, a form used extensively in the Baroque and Classical eras, especially by Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Händel.