Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Ballet Music for the Sun King
Lully's early childhood is veiled in obscurity. He washorn on 28th November 1631, and although he claimed to be the son of Lorenzode' Lully, a Florentine
Gentleman it is more likely that his origins were humble.
He learnt the violin from an oldshoemaker monk, and was taken from his native Florenceto France by the Chevalier de Guise when he was ten or eleven, so that he couldtutor the Chevalier, niece, Mademoiselle de Montpensier, in Italian. Hisviolin-playing found him favour, for he was placed in the Mademoiselle'sprivate orchestra, and was soon outshining the other violinists. His standingin the household suffered a sharp blow, however, when he was dismissed forhaving composed a satirical air at the expense of the Mademoiselle. By this time,however, he had already gained the attention of young King Louis XIV, and sojoined the Royal court.
The King and Lully danced together in the 1653 productionof the Ballet de la Muit. Less than a month later, on 16th March, JeanBaptiste Lully was appointed Compositeur de la Musique instrumentale de lachamber. This, and his friendship with the Roi Soleil was thestarting-point of Lully's meteoric rise to fame and power in the world of musicin France.
Several events took place fast on the heels of Lully'sappointment as Compositeur de la Musique. In 1656 he was given his ownorchestra, the Petits Violons, and in May 1661 he was appointed to theimportant position of Surintendant de la Musique de la Cambre. In March1672, Lully received the patent to establish an Academie Royale de Musique,which subsequently forbade the performance of any theatre work without thewritten permission of Lully, under penalty of 10,000 livres fine and theconfiscation of theatre, machines, costumes and other item.
Having manoeuvered himself into a position of total powerin the musical world, Lully demonstrated that he was far from being a talentlessopportunist. He has left a legacy of style and influence that helped pave theway for a whole tradition of French music, particularly in opera. He transformedthe standard and practices of the orchestra, composed sacred music, and crownedhis glory by creating the Tragedies Lyriques. These established an operastructure to rival the Italian, a structure that was rooted in the Ballet deCour. Unfortunately, it is the circumstances of his death that are most notorious.
While conducting a performance of his Te Deum. Lully accidentally struckhimself on the foot with the large staff that he used to pound the floor tokeep time. He contracted gangrene, which led to blood poisoning and hiseventual death on 22nd March
Scaramouches, Clowns and Harlequins
In 1581 Baltasar de Beaujoyeulx was commissionedby Catherine de Medici to produce Circe, ou le ballet comique de la royne,and as was the Italian custom, members of the royal family danced and appearedon stage. Beaujoyeulx claimed to have introduced an invention novelle
and indeed, by virtue of the unity of action, dance, music, poetry andcostumes, it is a significant turning point in the development of Frenchdramatic music. Beaujoyeulx's claims aside, it may have been this very customof Royal involvement that was the most important factor. For some seventy yearslater, we find the young king, Louis XIV, becoming a great exponent and loverof dance. So, when in 1651 the thirteen-year-old monarch danced in the
Ballet de Cassandre, we see the start of a new era.
Starting with l'Este from Ballet du Temps (1654),the music on this recording gives a brief overview of Lully's early years atcourt, the dawning of Le Grand Siecle and in particular, the Balletde Cour. In the Ballet du Temps, we see Lully in a dual role ascomposer and dancer - for along with Louis XIV, Moliere and his father-in-lawMichel Lambert, he depicted the Hours, the Years and the Centuries.
In the Ballet des Plaisirs (1655) Lully was inturn a satyr, an Egyptian, a drunkard and an old man. It was in this balletthat Lully penned an air that was to become one of the most famous dances ofthe French court. It went through several manifestations from the Air pour
le vieillard et sa famille to a 'burlesque' rendition in Lully's 1663ballet Les Noces de village entitled La Mariee. This air made itsStamp on history in 1700,
when Raoul Anger Feuillet published the first systematicdance notation: Choreographie, ou l'art d'ecrire la danse.
In his early works, Lullyexploited comedic elements. Central to the production of the ballet de cour wasthe Commedia dell'arte tradition (mime with masks, of Italian origin), andin particular the figure of Scaramouche. In turn, Aradia has made this the centraltheme of this recording. The juxtaposition of Commedia dell'arte withairs in the French style obviously suited the young Italian, newly located in France.
As luck would have it, at the time of the Ballet de l'Amour Malade (1657),the real Scaramouche, Tiberio Fiorilli, was in Paris with his troupe of actors.
Fiorilli had developed all enigmatic character, Scaramouche, whose many guisesand disguises combined buffoonery and pathos, not unlike the nineteenth-centuryPagliacci. Lully was obviously drawn by the figure, for he himself played therole of Scaramouche in the Ballet de l'Amour Malade and in the Ballet interludesto Xerxes (1660).
The famous Italian composer, Frallcesco Cavalli (1602-1676)was commissioned to write an opera, Erole amante to celebrate themarriage of Louis XIV to Marie- Therese. In the event, Cavalli arrived in Pariswith the work unfinished, and so at the last minute, a simplified version ofhis opera Xerxes was substituted. Lully was asked to supply ballet interludes,and because of the short notice, he used material from previous productionswith no collection to Xerxes. Compared to the under-rehearsed opera, thesix intermedes had a light comedic mood. There are Basques and Spanish peasants(in honour of Marie Therese), Clowns, Scaramouche, and a ship-owner with withhis slaves, who carry monkeys dressed as clowns accompanied by sailors playing ontrompettes marines.
Lully, however, obviously had to struggle with a synthesisof Italian and French style. The air Que les jaloux sont importuns maybe the first authentic air written by Lully in French (The string parts,however, are the work of the author of these notes). This piece illustrates howwell the young Florentine had already mastered the air de cour style andin a small way, how his dramatic experiences could be amplified into full-scaleoperatic proportions. Lully remained unconvinced by the French language as amedium for serious dramatic productions, and even some forty years after Lully'sdeath, Sebastien de Brossard stated