Jean-Baptiste Lully

John Florens | Dec 18, 2023

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Jean-Baptiste Lully, born Giovanni Battista Lulli († March 22, 1687 in Paris), was an Italian-French composer, violinist, guitarist, and dancer who first came to prominence in the French royal court from the age of 14 as a valet to Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans and rose to the highest musical offices under King Louis XIV. He became a French citizen in December 1661 and was ennobled in 1681. As a creator of characteristically French Baroque music, he is considered one of the most influential composers in the history of French music, and foreign composers, especially in northern Europe, such as Purcell, Haendel, and Bach, also referred to him in their works. Many of his pieces belonged to the fixed musical repertoire of European noble courts, especially in German lands, for several generations. His collaboration with the comedy poet Molière and his work at the court of the Sun King Louis XIV are famous.

Origin and childhood in Italy

Jean-Baptiste Lully's paternal ancestors were farmers in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. His parents, Lorenzo Lulli and his Florentine wife Caterina, née del Sera (or Seta), a miller's daughter, lived in Florence at Lully's birth. He himself was born under the name Giovanni Battista; only later in France was his name Frenchified to Jean-Baptiste Lully. In June 1638 his older brother Vergini died, and in October 1639 his sister Margherita. This left the seven-year-old Jean-Baptiste the only child of his parents. Lorenzo Lulli took over his father-in-law's mill after his death and earned a certain amount of wealth. This enabled him to provide a good education for Jean-Baptiste, who probably attended the school of the Franciscan church of Santa Croce in Florence. A print from 1705 reports that Lully gratefully spoke of a "cordelier" (Franciscan) who gave him his first music lessons and taught him to play the guitar.

In February 1646, at Carnival, Roger de la Lorraine, Chevalier de Guise, who had been educated at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, visited Florence on his return from a campaign against the Turks. Commissioned by Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, a niece of the French king, Louis XIII, he sought an Italian to teach her languages for her conversation. The Chevalier became aware of the comedically gifted and violin-playing Lully and, with the consent of his parents, took him to France. Cardinal Giovanni Carlo, brother of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, accompanied both to the ship.

In the service of the "Grande Mademoiselle", Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans

From the age of 14, Lully lived with the "Grande Mademoiselle," Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier and niece of the king, Louis XIII, and cousin of his successor, Louis XIV, at the Tuileries Palace in Paris. At first, he served her as a "garçon de chambre" (valet), arranging her wardrobe, heating the fireplaces and lighting the candles, for example. He also accompanied the singing and dancing duchess on the guitar and entertained her with burlesque jokes. Lully also benefited from his employment by Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans as a budding artist, since the duchess employed famous music and dance teachers: the composer and singer at her father's court, Étienne Moulinié, and the dance teacher and violinist Jacques Cordier (called "Bocan"), who belonged to the Musique du Roy. It is reasonable to assume that the young Lully took over from Bocan the critical attitude towards the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy - many years later, in 1655

First meeting with Louis XIV.

During the guardianship of Anna of Austria over her minor son Louis XIV, the Grande Mademoiselle, Lully's mistress, actively participated in the Fronde (civil war) against the regency of the Queen Mother and Cardinal Mazarin. For this reason, she was banished to Saint-Fargeau, where she was followed by the now twenty-year-old Lully, who had still appeared as composer and performer in a récit grotesque at the Tuileries Palace on March 7, 1652. Back in Paris, he appeared several times between February 23 and March 16, 1653, in the Ballet royal de la nuit as a shepherd, soldier, beggar, cripple, and grace. Fourteen-year-old Louis XIV himself danced the role of the rising sun here for the first time. Jean Regnault de Segrais - co-organizer of the Ballet royal de la nuit - comes into question as Lully's intermediary to the royal court. Lully was obviously a gifted dancer, a "balladin", felt comfortable on stage, was completely a theatrical man. There was something unusual about his dancing, so that some journalists, who were otherwise hardly concerned with the person of dancers, made him the subject of their reports as "Baptiste".

On March 16, 1653, Lully was appointed Compositeur de la musique instrumentale. He composed the dances for the ballets de cour, which played a special role at the French court, while the texts and composition of the sung airs de ballet were in the hands of other court artists, such as Michel Lambert. Not infrequently, Lully himself danced alongside the king, for example in the Ballet des plaisirs. His Italian origins were long apparent from his compositions, for example in the Ballet de Psyché, for which he composed a Concert italien. His first major composition was the masquerade La Galanterie du temps, which was staged at the palace of Cardinal Jules Mazarin with the participation of the Petits violons. In the Petits violons (string ensemble), which had existed since 1648, Lully found an ensemble of his own that could be used more flexibly than the established Grande bande, the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy (24 Violins of the King), which had already been founded by Louis XIII and is considered the first permanent orchestra in the history of music. A serious rivalry developed between their director, Guillaume Dumanoir, as well as Jean de Cambefort, who until then had been responsible for dance music at the French court, and him, the younger Lully. Other court musicians, on the other hand, encouraged Lully, such as Regnault or the master of the Air de Cour, Michel Lambert, who helped him set French to music. The latter became Louis XIV's chamber music master and Lully's father-in-law in 1661.

Lully belonged to the group of Italian musicians in Paris who were promoted by the influential Cardinal Mazarin, himself a native of Italy. Among them was the singer Anna Bergerotti, who supported the young Lully. Lully wrote Italianate pieces, such as chaconnes, ritornelles, and Italian vocal music, but regardless of his musical background, he eventually rose to become the main representative of court ballet in France, the ballet de cour.

With Amour malade, premiered on January 17, 1657, Lully achieved his breakthrough as a composer. The influence of Italian opera was expressed in Amour malade, among other things, in the fact that he replaced the French récit, traditionally at the beginning of the performance, with an innovation, a prologue. Lully excelled in this ballet as a performer in the role of Scaramouche, to whom a donkey dedicates a dissertation. The very Italian flavor of this composition was the reason for Henri duc de Guise to have a mascarade performed in February 1657 at considerable expense with music composed by Louis de Mollier in the French tradition, the Plaisirs troublés.

Career at the court of Louis XIV.

Lully now belonged to the inner circle around the king. When he traveled to southern France with Mazarin in 1659 to prepare the Peace of the Pyrenees, Lully accompanied him and composed, among other works, the Ballet de Toulouse. On August 29, 1660, three days after Louis' entry into Paris, Lully's Jubilate Deo, a motet de la paix (peace motet), was performed in the Église de la Merci in the presence of the queen mother, Anne of Austria, the king, Queen Marie-Thérèse (the celebrations of her marriage to the king were not yet over), and Philippe I de Bourbon, the king's brother, to great acclaim. Other ecclesiastical works followed in the years that followed, all of them together bringing special honor to Lully.

There was a special challenge for Lully when Cardinal Mazarin invited the famous Italian opera composer Francesco Cavalli to Paris. Paris had also seen performances of Italian operas before: Luigi Rossi's works were often performed, especially the opera Orfeo. Cavalli was now to write a festive opera under the title Ercole amante (Hercules in Love) for the wedding of Louis XIV to Marie-Thérèse, and Lully composed the ballets. Due to organizational problems, Cavalli had to resort to an older work: Serse. Lully composed the ballet interludes for this as well. This opera was finally performed on November 21, 1660 in the picture gallery of the Palais du Louvre. After Mazarin's death on March 9, 1661, many Italians left France. Cavalli also returned to Venice.

On May 5, 1661, Louis XIV appointed Lully Sur-intendant de la musique du Roy, forgoing the 10,000 livres the post would have cost. Michel Lambert became maître de musique de la chambre. From now on, Lully composed the ballets alone, both the dances and the sung passages, the so-called récits.

In February 1662, two months after successfully petitioning the king for his naturalization, he took Magdelaine Lambert as his wife - not without pressure from the authorities, for it was necessary to conceal Lully's homosexuality. He retained a Florentine accent throughout his life and provided for his extended family Italian-style: his six children as well as relatives and their friends lived with him. After three moves, the Hôtel Lully on Rue Sainte-Anne in Paris became his final residence. In music, however, his previous style of an Italian "buffone" disappeared. In 1663 he composed Ballet des Arts, his first entirely French grand ballet de cour. The lyrics for it were written by Isaac de Benserade. Equally important for its success were his verses in the "Livre du Ballet", which explained the events on stage.

Collaboration with Molière (1664-1671)

The finance minister Nicolas Fouquet had a palace built in Vaux-le-Vicomte and hired the best artists in France for it: Louis Le Vau as architect, André Le Nôtre for the gardens and Charles Lebrun, the first court painter and outstanding decorator for the design of the state rooms. On August 17, 1661, a great feast was held to which the king, his family and numerous guests were invited. They were entertained at eighty tables and on thirty buffets there were 6000 solid silver plates. Music was provided by the most skilled instrumentalists, including the lutenist Michel Lambert and Lully. Lully, a friend of Molière, whose comedy Les Fâcheux (The Troublesome Ones) was to be performed, had found the latter in a panicky mood just a few days before, as there were not enough actors available for the performance. A simple idea provided a remedy: ballet pieces were inserted between the scenes to give the actors time to change clothes. Pierre Beauchamp and Lully arranged the ballets, for which Lully recomposed only one dance, a courante.

The performance pleased, and thus the first of a total of twelve comédie-ballets (ballet comedies) was created. However, the ostentatious chateau and the lavish feast had angered the king. He later had Fouquet, who seemed to be putting himself on his level with it, arrested, his possessions confiscated, and himself began to expand Versailles, his father's old hunting lodge, into his most magnificent residence.

When the first works in the park of Versailles were completed in 1664, a great festival was given, Les Plaisirs de l'îsle enchantée; it lasted from May 7 to 13. Its climax was thematically based on the story from Ariost's Orlando furioso with the enchantress Alcina. It opened with a "carrousel," a horse ballet in which the court presented itself in sumptuous costumes. The king himself, costumed as the knight Roger, led the procession. Molière's La Princesse d'Elide with Lully's music was given, and the finale was the Ballet des saisons (Ballet of the Seasons), in which spring arrived on a horse, summer on an elephant, autumn on a camel, and winter on a bear. Lully's music for it is now lost. There were also lotteries, banquets, balls, and performances of other danced plays by Molière and Lully: Les Fâcheux (May 11), Le Mariage forcé (The Forced Marriage, May 13), and on the 12th, the premiere of Tartuffe, which was followed by a ban on the play. The festival culminated in the storming of the "Palace of Alcina" on an artificial island in the great canal of Versailles, which went down in an elaborate fireworks display. The description of the entire feast is by André Félibien, documented by engravings by the "Graveur ordinaire du Roi" Israël Silvestre.

In the following years, further ballet comedies were written: George Dandin was given in 1668 as part of the second great festival of Versailles, Monsieur de Pourceaugnac the following year (also Le Divertissement de Chambord, Chambord 1669). Lully sang in this - he had the vocal range of a baritone - under the pseudonym "Chiacchiarone," which was due to his position of "sur-intendant." But the greatest success came in 1670 with the two ballet comedies Les amants magnifiques (The Princes as Suitors) and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Bourgeois as Nobleman). The latter is said to have been directed at a Turkish ambassador who had made a fool of himself at court.

In addition to his collaboration with Molière, Lully continued to compose the Ballets de Cour. The last to be created was the Ballet Royal de Flore in 1669, in which Louis XIV appeared as the Sun for the third time, then for the fourth and last time in the ballet comedy Les amants magnifiques - according to the livret printed and distributed in advance. In fact, he renounced it in favor of the Comte d'Armagnac and the Marquis des Villeroy, because he felt unwell after attacks of fever. He gave up stage dancing at the age of 30. Lully had done the same in 1668 at the age of 35.

In 1671, Lully and Molière created the tragédie-ballet (ballet tragedy) Psiché (Psyche) to present heroic to the "greatest king in the world". Due to time constraints, Molière had to employ two other librettists, Pierre Corneille and, for the divertissements, Philippe Quinault, who from then on became Lully's preferred librettist. Nine different sets were required, all the gods of Olympus and a multitude of monsters and mythical creatures were on display. The work was very successful despite its length. Performed at the Tuileries Theater, Psiché was the court's most expensive production to date, costing 334,645 livres. Lully's operas of the following years were only about half as expensive.

When the Duke of Orleans, the king's brother, married Liselotte of the Palatinate after the death of his first wife in 1671, the ballet des ballets was ordered. Lully and Molière created a pastiche, a "pastet" of successful scenes from their last joint works, but fell into dispute during the work and fell out. Although the ballet was performed, Molière's comedy La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (The Countess of Escarbagnas, December 1671) had already been set to music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who also wrote the extensive incidental music for Molière's last work, Le malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Sick).

Tragédie lyrique (1672-1685)

In 1671, Robert Cambert, the then "chef de la musique" of the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, and his librettist, Pierre Perrin, brought the first "truly French opera" to the stage: Pomone. The success was unexpectedly great, "it ran for eight months to sold-out houses." Lully watched their success with curiosity and envy. Perrin had officially obtained a patent in 1669 for opera performances under the name "Académies d'Opéra," of which Pomone was the inaugural opera. Lully succeeded in having the rights of the Academy transferred to himself. Cambert left Paris in bitterness and went to London.

Lully now had a monopoly on opera performance, but he obtained other rights from the king. Thus, any performance with music without his - the Sur-intendant's - permission was forbidden and was punished with confiscation of all instruments, costumes, revenues, etc. This hit Molière particularly hard in the last year of his life. This hit Molière particularly hard in the last year of his life, since all his texts, to which Lully had composed music, were now considered his property. Under the name Académie royale de musique, the institution was firmly in Lully's hands. He let everyone feel his power, which is why respected composers and musicians are said to have left the court. One example of this is the founder of the French harpsichord school, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, who, however, had already sold the office of court harpsichordist to Jean-Henry d'Anglebert, a friend of Lully, in 1662.

In 1672, the year the privilege was granted, Lully finally brought his first opera to the stage, the pastoral Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus. Here, due to time constraints, he followed the model of the ballet des ballets, so it became a pastiche. All of Lully's subsequent tragédies consisted of a prologue and five acts. (Italian opera had three acts.) Each act also had a divertissement, an extensive ballet scene, and choral interludes.

In 1673, Cadmus et Hermione, Lully's first tragédie lyrique, began the series of French-style operas that would be performed every year from then on. Alceste followed in 1674, premiered in the marble courtyard of Versailles as a festive highlight, and Thésée in 1675. In this year, the Affaire Guichard began, in which Lully did not fare well, even if Henry Guichard had to leave the field in the end. The latter, like Lully, had obtained a privilege, that of the Académie royale des spectacles, for the performance of plays. Only music was lacking to perfect his performances, but Lully did not allow his rights to be curtailed. A singer told him of Guichard's alleged plans to kill him with poisoned snuff; Lully instigated a lawsuit over this, which he ultimately never won. Conversely, Guichard dragged him through the mud with revelations about his private life from 1676 on. This also embarrassed Carlo Vigarani, the stage designer and theater architect, part-owner of Lully's opera, who worked for Guichard on the side for three years.

In 1676 Atys was given. Since the king was supposedly involved in the composition here and sat with Lully for a very long time to complete the work, the tragedy was given the subtitle The King's Opera. Here Lully dispensed with timpani and trumpets to achieve a dark rough sound. The still-young Marin Marais appeared in a nightcap scene.

Isis followed in 1677. The idiosyncratic opera met with little success. People criticized the strange plot that Philippe Quinault had presented and found Lully's music too intellectual. The opera was given the subtitle The Musicians' Opera, because musicians and musically educated audiences were enthusiastic about the work.

In 1678, Lully reworked the Tragédie-ballet Psiché into his opera Psyché with the help of librettists Thomas Corneille and Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle; the spoken dialogue was replaced by song.

In 1679, Bellérophon came to the stage, again in cooperation with Thomas Corneille. A remarkable innovation was the accompaniment of the recitative by the string ensemble.

Proserpine followed in 1680, and in 1681 a court ballet, Le Triomphe de l'amour, by order of the king. Louis XIV wanted a revival of the old court ballets. The piece was danced by the king's descendants and became one of Lully's most famous works ever.

Even before Proserpine, Lully had parted company with his stage designer, Carlo Vigarani. His successor, Jean Bérain the Elder, who instead of being a partner in the opera academy became only its servant, designed admirable costumes, but he failed in operating the theater machinery, which is why he was to be replaced after Proserpine by the Italian Ercole Rivani. When Rivani demanded 5000 livres for the work on Proserpine, the commission went back to Bérain in 1682.

In 1682, the court finally moved to Versailles. Persée was given for the occasion. Ninety years later, on May 17, 1770, the opera house at Versailles was inaugurated with this work, for the wedding of the future king Louis XVI with Marie-Antoinette. This speaks for the importance that was still accorded to Lully's works in the 18th century.

In 1683, Marie-Thérèse, Queen of France, died, so the performances of Phaëton were postponed until 1684, as were those of Lully's most successful work, Amadis. This was performed every year from then on as long as the king lived. Furthermore, Lully and Quinault turned away from mythological material and reworked French chivalric epics that focused on the defense of the faith as the highest ideal. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes was also to leave its mark on music.

Lully's fall (1685-1687)

In 1685, Lully's opera Roland was given. Around this time, a scandal arose when it became public that Lully was having a love affair with a page named Brunet; added to this was his involvement in the orgiastic feasts of the Dukes of Orléans and Vendôme. The king submitted to Lully, who by then had been appointed Secrétaire du Roi, advisor to the king, and ennobled, that he was no longer willing to tolerate his debauchery. Lully wrote to the king asking for his forgiveness. He almost succeeded: The Marquis de Seignelay, son of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, had commissioned a work from him, Idylle sur la Paix. Jean Racine wrote the text for it. The king, who attended the performance in Sceaux, was extremely taken with his chamberlain's latest work and had Lully repeat large sections of the performance.

In 1686, Lully's Armide was premiered, but not at court, but in Paris, because the king no longer received it. Lully nevertheless hoped to regain the king's protection. His next opera, composed for Louis-Joseph Duc de Vendôme to a libretto by Jean Galbert de Campistron, was a subtle homage to the heir to the throne and thus to the king. Acis et Galatée was heard on September 6, 1686, at the Château de Anet on the occasion of a hunting party given by the Dauphin. In the preface to the score dedicated to the king, Lully wrote that he felt a "certainty" within himself that "lifted him above himself" and "filled him with a divine spark." At the end of 1686, probably after the revival of Acis et Galatée in Paris, the Regent informed him that he intended to create living quarters for the Duke of Chartres in the Palais Royal, and that Lully was to leave the theater set up there. Lully then wanted to build an opera house in the Rue Saint-André-des-Arts and bought a developed plot of land for this purpose.

In 1687, Lully was working on his opera Achille et Polixene. During this time, the king developed significant health problems. The physician Charles-François Félix de Tassy had to remove a dangerous fistula from the monarch's buttocks on November 18; Duke Richelieu had died during such an operation at the time. The king's possible death was expected, but he recovered. For the celebrations of his recovery, Lully reworked his Te Deum, composed in 1678, and had it performed at his own expense with 150 musicians. Jean-Laurent Le Cerf de La Viéville wrote in 1705 that Lully, while performing the motet on January 8, 1687, in the Église des Pères Feuillants, had injured his front foot by moving his almost shoulder-high baton up and down with its tip. The wound quickly became infected with gangrene. Lully refused to have the toe amputated and died a few months later. He was buried at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires with great sympathy. In contemporary writings and illustrations, however, there is no evidence of a practice of giving time with a long baton similar to a tambour stick - a rolled-up sheet of paper in one or both hands was usually used. It is possible that Lully's dramatic mishap involved not a conductor's baton but a walking stick sharpened at the bottom, which the master used to call his musicians to attention.

Lully's last opera was completed by his secretary, Pascal Collasse. Lully's sons, Jean and Louis de Lully, together with his pupil Marin Marais, first succeeded him as Surintendant, until the King entrusted the post to Michel-Richard Delalande.

Since 1961 the Lully Foothills on Alexander I Island in Antarctica and since 1992 also an asteroid (8676) bear Lully's name.

Precursor of the modern orchestra

With his new orchestral discipline, Lully not only had a decisive influence on the French style, but also exerted a great influence on the musical practice of the late 17th century.

Typical for the sound of his orchestra are the five-part string section, the mixture of strings and winds, and the large instrumentation of the orchestra for his time. The 24 violins of the king formed the core of the ensemble; in addition, there are the 12 oboes (Lully is said to have been instrumental in the further development of the shawm into an oboe), as well as recorders and transverse flutes, an extensive continuo group with lutes, guitars, harpsichord, etc., and in certain scenes timpani and trumpets. Also popular was the "display" of new instruments incorporated into the work, such as the transverse flute or the "French trio" of two oboes and bassoon. These instruments had solo appearances in many dances and instrumental pieces, usually even on stage. In the subsequent German tradition, the French trio was often used, for example by Telemann and Fasch. In the early years, Lully himself played the first violin in his ensemble; scores in the Philidor collection often contain notations such as "M. de Lully joue" ("Mr. von Lully plays"); the violin part was then to be performed with improvised ornamentation.


The French overture with a first part in gravitational dotted rhythm followed by a fast, imitative part and at the end (sometimes) a resumption of the first tempo is only partly a new creation of Lully. His predecessors, teachers and contemporaries such as Jean de Cambefort, François Caroubel, Nicolas Dugap, Jacques de Montmorency de Bellville, Jacques Cordier, Pierre Beauchamps, Guillaume Dumanoir, Michel Mazuel, Mignot de la Voye or Robert Cambert already wrote overtures, or rather opening music for the court ballets. These overtures have nothing to do with the Italian opera symphonies as composed by Monteverdi, Luigi Rossi or Francesco Cavalli and Antonio Cesti. The French orchestral style was already developed in the time of Louis XIII and his ballet masters and can be traced back to the foundation of the group of 24 violins - Lully's work consists mainly in continuing the tradition of his predecessors. But while the old overtures were rather merely gravitational, Lully added a fugal part to them. In 1660, such a "new" overture was performed for the first time in the ballet Xerxes. Since then, this form has been retained. Almost every one of his works begins with such an overture, the exception being Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus, which still opens with an old-style ritournell.

French opera

Lully's greatest merit lies in the founding of the French national opera. Louis XIV demanded, as in all areas of art, an own French form of expression also in music. In Lully and his librettist, Philippe Quinault, he found masters who implemented his ideas. With the opera form they created, the tragédie lyrique, Lully and Quinault succeeded in creating their own form of opera, which was formally based on the great classical tragedies of important writers such as Corneille or Racine. On this basis, Lully developed his operas as a total work of art, incorporating large choral scenes and dance, traditionally important for France, in the form of ballet interludes. In this way, he was able to satisfy the expectations of the king and the French public.

Each of his operas is divided into five acts and a prologue. Only classical material was treated, such as epics of knights or stories of Greco-Roman mythology. The prologue, only loosely connected to the subsequent tragedy in terms of content, served to glorify the king and his glorious deeds. It begins and ends with the overture and usually consists less of recitatives and more of a divertissement with airs, choruses, and ballet. The five acts of the tragedies are written in verse, declaimed in the form of the French recitative. Each of the five acts has another divertissement with airs, choral scenes and ballet, usually - but not always - at the end. Certain scenes became standard, such as the poetic dream scenes ("sommeil," e.g., in Atys), pompous battles ("combats"), the storms ("vents"), and the concluding great chaconnes and passacailles, often with soloists and chorus.

French singing style and forms

From the beginning, French opera was intended as a counterpart to the established Italian opera. The difference begins with the voices and registers used. Italian baroque opera was inconceivable without the perfectly trained virtuosity of the male castrato voices. This, together with the female prima donnas, led to a marked emphasis on high soprano and alto voices; there were few roles for low voices and almost no tenors at all. In France, castration was rejected; therefore, all types of male voices are present in supporting roles in French opera. A typical French voice register is the haute-contre, a high, soft-voiced tenor, almost an alto register.

Another difference is also the use of choirs in French opera.

Particularly striking in comparison to Italian opera is the French recitative developed by Lully and Lambert. It is based on the theatrical declamation of French tragedy and is a further development of the Air de Cour. It differs clearly from the Italian recitative, which is notated in even time, but was performed freely; on the other hand, in the French recitative, time changes are frequent, so that in stretches there are different even time meters such as C, 2 or Allabreve and triple meters such as 3

French airs also differ from the arias of Italian opera. French vocal style had fundamentally little in common with Italian bel canto, and French singers would not have been able to compete technically with great Italian castrati and prima donnas. Typical of French opera is a syllabic singing style: each syllable gets one note, not several; long runs or difficult coloratura as in Italian bel canto are taboo (with rare exceptions that must be motivated by the text or the situation). As a result, the airs of Lully's Tragèdie lyrique seem relatively simple, except for occasional preludes and notated trills and mordents. (With the Italians, improvisation of ornaments was part of good performance). Many airs by Lully and his successors correspond formally to one of the contemporary dances, such as the minuet or gavotte, and are also often accompanied by the appropriate stage dance. Such airs may also be repeated by a chorus. The Italian da capo aria, with its improvised cadence in the repeated ("da capo") A part, does not exist in French opera.

A famous scene is the monologue of Armide from the Tragèdie lyrique of the same name: Enfin il est en ma puissance! (Act II, Scene 5). Contemporaries, as well as later Jean-Philippe Rameau, considered this passage the ideal of French operatic art.

Aftermath in France

In France, Lully's style remained binding for another hundred years or so. The forms he gave to the tragédie lyrique with its vocal style and ballet were not touched. It was even taboo to set a text that Lully had already set to music a second time. Thus, French composers in direct succession to Lully wrote their operas entirely in his style. Among them were Pascal Collasse, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, André Campra, André Cardinal Destouches, Marin Marais, and later Jean Marie Leclair, François Francœur, Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, and Antoine Dauvergne. Only Jean-Philippe Rameau dared a more modern style and some innovations, especially in the field of instrumentation and virtuoso handling of the orchestra, which from then on divided the Parisian audience into "Lullists" and "Ramists".

With the founding of the Concert spirituel in Paris in 1725 and the increasingly frequent Italian concerts, the dislike of Italian music gave way. When an Italian troupe performed Pergolesi's La serva padrona in Paris, open conflict broke out between the supporters of French traditional opera and those of the new opera buffa. Contemporaries report that it was often like religious wars there, at least as far as invective was concerned. This buffonist dispute went down in history and was only settled years later by the first performances of Gluck's operas. With Gluck, the opera of the Ancien Régime also gradually disappeared; Lully, Campra and Rameau were hardly ever performed. Nevertheless, Gluck and his epigones learned much from the dramatic French declamation and syllabic singing of French opera as invented by Lully. This can also be heard in Gluck's French operas (Iphigénie en Tauride, Iphigénie en Aulide, Alceste). It is no coincidence that his operatic reform had the greatest and, above all, lasting success in France - French audiences were prepared for dramatic singing without coloratura.

International influence

Ever since Plaisirs de l'îsle enchantée at the latest, the French court, Versailles and the person of the Sun King had exerted an immense fascination. French language and culture set the tone, and there was also great interest in French music. Tragédie lyrique, on the other hand, was comparatively less popular, since Italian opera had already begun its triumphal march. French opera, with its emphasis on dramatic declamation and its comparatively "harmless" airs, could not do enough to counter this. Thus, outside of France, there were only a few noble courts where entire operas by Lully were performed.

Nevertheless, some composers were inspired by French opera. This is especially true of Henry Purcell. In England, musical development from 1660 onward was helped by the Francophile tastes of the Stuart kings Charles II and James II; this is also true of the music of Locke, Humfrey, Blow, and Purcell. In Dido and Aeneas and in his semi-operas, for example, Purcell uses the chorus in a way that goes back to Lully. Arias and dances are also French-influenced, though with a strong English flavor of their own. The musical interludes of the semi-operas are actually divertissements in the English manner. Purcell's famous frost scene in the third act of King Arthur (1692) probably traces directly to the "Chorus of the Trembling" in Lully's Isis (1677). Several composers of early German opera also drew inspiration from Lully, most notably Reinhard Keiser.

Lully's influence was particularly noticeable in Baroque orchestral music: The overtures and dances of his operas and ballets circulated as suites in printed form throughout Europe and contributed significantly to the emergence of the orchestral suite. Copies of Lully's works were found in almost every prince's music library. Not only was Lully's music collected at German princely courts, but French musicians were also employed. Even when Lully's operas were still being written, there were already black copies of his completed scenes being sold on the black market.

Many young musicians came to Paris to study with Lully. These students were to become so-called "Lullists": Pelham Humfrey, Johann Sigismund Kusser, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Agostino Steffani, Georg Muffat and others. They made the style of Lully or the music from the court of the Sun King popular especially in Germany and England. Not only the form of the French overture was spread, but also dances such as minuet, gavotte, bourrée, rigaudon, loure, even such imprecisely defined genres as the air or entrée, even the French forms of the chaconne and passacaille spread in Europe.

The overture suite "in the French manner" was, along with the Italian concerto, the most important orchestral genre in Germany in the first half of the 18th century, albeit with stylistic innovations and also concerto Italian influences: most notably by Georg Philipp Telemann, Johann Joseph Fux, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, Johann Friedrich Fasch and Christoph Graupner. The orchestral suites of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel - the Water Music and the Musick for the Royal Fireworks - are also based on the forms established by Lully. Handel cultivated the French-style overture throughout his life, even in his Italian operas. His opera Teseo (1713) was based on Quinault's libretto to Lully's Thésée, and thus unusually has five acts, but is otherwise an Italian opera with dacapo arias.

The minuet of the classical symphonies of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ultimately goes back to Lully.

Sacred vocal works

Grands motets

Petits motets

Secular vocal works

Ballets de cour, mascarades and divertissements

Intermedia, Comédies-ballets

Tragédies en musique, Pastorale, Pastorale héroïque


  1. Jean-Baptiste Lully
  2. Jean-Baptiste Lully
  3. Herbert Schneider: Lully. In: MGG2, Band 11, 2004, Sp. 582.
  4. Dorling Kindersley Verlag: Kompakt & Visuell Klassische Musik. München, ISBN 978-3-8310-3136-8, S. 88–89.
  5. Wortlaut bei Herbert Schneider 2004, MGG2 Band 11, Sp. 578: „Compagnia del Sagramento in Santa Croce“.
  6. Schneider 2004, MGG2 Band 11, Sp. 578–579.
  7. Schneider 2004: MMG2, Band 11, Spalte 579.
  8. ^ La Gorce 2002, pp. 21–22.
  9. ^ Le Cerf de La Viéville 1705, p. 183.
  10. ^ La Gorce 2002, pp. 23–27. Le Cerf de La Viéville 1705, p. 184 erred in saying he was a sous-marmiton, a kitchen worker.
  11. ^ La Gorce 2002, pp. 30–56.
  12. Henry Prunières, Lully : Biographie critique illustrée de douze planches hors texte. Les Musiciens célèbres, Librairie Renouard, édition Henri Laurens, Paris.
  13. Acte de baptême de Jean-Baptiste Lully, paroisse Santa Lucia sul Prato de Florence : Lunedi 29 : Gio. Bat.a di Lorenzo di Maldo Lulli e di Catna di Gabriello del Sera ps. Lucia nel Prato n. a di 28 ho 16 1/2 C. Antonio di Jacopo Comparini C. Madalena di Giovanni Bellieri., cité dans Bulletin français de la Société internationale de musique (janvier 1909).
  14. (en)The New Grove Baroque Masters, 1986, p. 1.
  15. Manuel Couvreur, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Musique et dramaturgie au service du Prince, M. Vokar, 1992, p. 9.
  16. Jean Gallois, Jean-Baptiste Lully ou la naissance de la tragédie lyrique, Éditions Papillon, 2001, p. 16-17.
  17. ^ Jérôme de La Gorce nel Grove Music online indica per la data di nascita il 29 novembre, mentre Jacques Chailley (DEUMM) e Mario Armellini (DBI) riportano quella del 28 novembre 1632.
  18. ^ Come riferisce Armellini, alcuni particolari lasciano intendere che Lulli si esibisse già in pubblico, forse alla corte del Granduca, come violinista e comico. Fu presumibilmente in occasione delle feste carnevalesche che il ragazzo fu notato.
  19. ^ Jérôme de La Gorce, «Jean Baptiste Lully» in Grove Music online

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