Lully, Jean-Baptiste (1632–1687)
LULLY, JEAN-BAPTISTE (1632–1687)
LULLY, JEAN-BAPTISTE (1632–1687), French composer and founder of the French operatic tradition. Lully was born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, the son of a miller. Despite his humble origins, he was selected at the age of thirteen to teach Italian in Paris to Louis XIV's cousin Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, known as the "Grande Mademoiselle," and he completed his education while serving in her household, mastering harpsichord, violin, and dancing. Lully became familiar with the ballet style of the royal court and by 1652 had so risen in musical status that he composed some of the music for a ballet that was given in the Grande Mademoiselle's palace. She became a partisan of the Fronde (a rebellion against the authority of the monarchy) later in the same year and was banished from Paris, freeing Lully to accept a post in 1653 as composer of instrumental music at the court of Louis XIV, functioning at first as both dancer and composer. The king, six years younger than Lully, befriended the composer, and the stage was set for Lully's extraordinary rise to musical power in France. By 1656 he had his own royal orchestra (the "petits violons") and began to compose all of the music for ballets, rather than collaborating with other composers. In the early 1660s he was understood to be the principal composer of ballets at court.
At this time, opera was understood to be exclusively an Italian phenomenon, and the considerable Italian presence at the court of Louis XIV (his first minister, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, was Italian) resulted in the importation of much opera. In 1664, Lully began to move in the direction of dramatic music in French, first by collaborating with Molière (1622–1673) in comédies-ballets (plays with much dance music). Louis XIV was in the process of extending his power in all aspects of French life, and in 1669 he added an Académie Royale de Musique to the "academies" he had established to control the artistic and intellectual life of the country; the new academy's stated purpose was to promote operas in French. Lully soon saw his opportunity and became its director in 1672, a position he held and aggrandized until his death, at the age of fifty-four. According to one contemporary source (Jean-Laurant Le Cerf de La Viéville), he died of gangrene after banging his foot while conducting with a cane.
Lully and librettist Philippe Quinault (1635–1688) created a noble new genre that signaled the beginning of a French style of opera. It was first termed simply tragédie, then tragédie en musique; later, the genre was labeled tragédie lyrique. Lully completed thirteen of these, approximately one a year, eleven to librettos by Quinault and two to librettos by Pierre Corneille (1606–1684): Cadmus et Hermione (1673), Alceste (1674), Thésée (1675), Atys (1676), Isis (1677), Psyché (1678, libretto by Corneille), Bellérophon (1679, Corneille), Prosperpine (1680), Persée (1682), Phaëton (1683), Amadis (1684), Roland (1685), and Armide (1686). Because Lully held royal privileges that gave him a complete monopoly on musical stage works, his operas dominated the musical life of the court and of Paris, and they held the stage well into the eighteenth century. Stylistically, they eschewed the rapid speechlike declamation typical of Italian recitatives. Rather, Lully created a fluid and expressive style of melodic line based on the declamation used in spoken French drama. Airs are usually dance-songs, and there are many dances interspersed with the vocal music, including full-fledged divertissements (entertainments that interrupt the plot). The five-act structure of the tragédie en musique was adopted from the spoken dramas of Corneille, and the prologue that either directly or allegorically praises Louis XIV came from the ballet tradition. Lully established a form for his overtures that was widely imitated elsewhere in Europe, and came to be known as the "French overture," consisting of a stately chordal section characterized by dotted-note rhythms, followed by a lively contrapuntal section.
Lully also composed a small but influential body of church music, particularly grands motets and petits motets. While he did not compose much independent instrumental music, the large amount of dance music in his stage works circulated separately, was gathered into suites, and was transcribed for other instruments. There is, for example, more harpsichord music derived from Lully's operatic dances than original music by any seventeenth-century French harpsichordist. Outside France, his influence was particularly strong in the Netherlands and Germany, and also in England. After the middle of the eighteenth century, his music was regarded for the most part as historical artifact until a revival of Atys in 1987 generated a new wave of appreciation for his operas.
See also Corneille, Pierre ; Dance ; Louis XIV (France) ; Mazarin, Jules ; Molière ; Music ; Opera .
Isherwood, Robert. Music in the Service of the King: France in the Seventeenth Century. Ithaca, N.Y., 1973.
Lully, who came to epitomize both the French Baroque musical style and its musical scene, was born Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, the son of a miller. He began his musical studies there but moved to Paris as a tutor of Italian to Anne-Marie-Louise d'Orléans, the cousin of Louis XIV, in 1646. There he continued to study music and ballet, and rose quickly to the top of the musical profession. He was appointed composer of instrumental music to the king in 1652. The king, an excellent dancer, was known to appear on stage himself, and Lully's close relationship with Louis helped his career considerably. Lully was a violinist, and was put in charge of a group of sixteen players, the petits violons (the "small violins"). He wrote an early surviving work for this group, the masquerade, La galanterie du temps. Lully worked on their performance practice and discipline so successfully that by 1666, he also conducted the esteemed ensemble, the 24 violons du Roi ("The Twenty-Four Violins of the King"), at performances of the court ballets. In 1662 he married Madeleine, daughter of the court composer Michel Lambert, and became a French subject.
Lully's fame as a composer grew. His compositions would come to include several main types: ballets, comédies-ballets, operas, and sacred music. From 1664–1671 he worked with the great French playwright Molière in writing a number of comédies-ballets, among them Le bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman) and Les amants magnifiques (The Magnificent Lovers). The comédie-ballet was a French genre that combined spoken or sung dialogue and dance. In writing the vocal music for these works, Lully worked to fit the music to the French language and its literary traditions, and he wrote some very popular arias. He developed a recitative style that he continued to use in his operas. Here the continuo supported the voice more than was normal in Italian recitative, while the lines themselves might vary in length. Lully insisted that the singers follow his notations exactly, unlike Italian styles that allowed freer interpretation by the performer. In 1672 Lully took an opportunity to purchase a royal privilege on academies for performing operas in France, and so he became director of the Royal Academy of Music. As he moved to write and produce operas, Lully continued to work very closely with his librettists, who were among France's most capable writers. Together composer and librettist developed plots in five acts, conforming to the ancient standards of writers like Aristotle. Lully also demanded effectively written lines that might be set attractively to music. The subjects of his operas came either from ancient mythology or modern romances.
Innovations and Later Career.
Lully probably did not invent the form known as the French overture, but he did a great deal to popularize it by using it early and often in his dramatic works and elsewhere. He introduced new dances to the court ballet, such as the minuet. French operas typically included ballets, so Lully continued to write dance music even when he had become France's great operatic composer. Lully's career had blossomed thanks to the king's support, but he also found himself caught in some bitter and colorful rivalries with other composers and writers, one of whom he sued for having tried to poison him so that he could assume Lully's operatic privilege. His equally colorful private life also earned some disfavor with Louis XIV when late in his career he was accused of having seduced one of the king's pageboys. Although damaged by the incident personally, it seems to have had little effect on his professional standing. In addition to his music for the stage, Lully also composed a number of important works of religious music for combined voice and instruments, among them a Miserere and a Te Deum. It was his performance of the latter work that caused his fatal injury. In his role as conductor, he beat time (as was then traditional) by striking the floor with a large cane. The point pierced his toe; the toe became gangrenous, and Lully died after refusing its amputation. Although Lully had purchased the exclusive right to produce opera in France from the king, his skill as a composer and producer ensured his fame and the popularity of his works. Lully's innovations set the standards for those who followed him in French music, and his works were frequently revived in France throughout the eighteenth century. Lully's role in fashioning the second major regional style of the Baroque era, the French style, is indisputable as well. He helped establish performance practices, standards concerning ornamentation and embellishments, and musical forms like the French overture, and he ensured as well the central role of dance and dance music in both operatic and instrumental music in France.
James R. Anthony, et al., eds., French Baroque Masters: Lully, Charpentier, Lalande, Couperin, Rameau (London: Macmillan, 1986).
Joyce Newman, Jean-Baptiste De Lully and His Tragédies Lyriques (Epping, England: Bowker, 1979).
Caroline Wood, Music and Drama in the Tragédie en Musique, 1673–1715: Jean-Baptiste Lully and His Successors (New York; London: Garland, 1996).