Jean Baptiste Lully was a prolific composer who is best known for establishing French Opera. (Boynick) Born in Florence on the 28 th of November 1632, (Boynick) Giovanni Battista Lully was a miller’s son. (Sadie 2000 pg 166) Lully first arrived in France in March of 1646 (Jean Baptiste Lully) to work as an attendant for a female courtier. (Sadie 2000 pg.
166) “During his six years in her household, Lully, already an expert at the guitar and violin, polished his skills as a performer and composer.” (Straughan (a) ) He made a name for himself as a dancer in the court ballets. (Straughan (a) ) He caught the attention of King Louis XIV and initially served him as ‘composer of instrumental music” (Straughan (a) ) He soon took over compositions of entire ballets. (Straughan (a) ) “Some time before 1656, he also took over responsibility for the string ensemble called the Petits violins, which he transformed into a group widely renowned for their discipline and artistic excellence.” (Straughan (a) ) A clever diplomatist and thorough courtier, he completely won the royal favour, and in March, 1672, he succeeded in ousting Abbe Perrin from the directorship of the Academy of Music, also known as “the Academie Royale.” (Knight) “Ten years later he had consolidated his position by obtaining sole rights over all dramatic performances with singing.” (Sadie 2000 pg. 166) “Any production not affiliated with The Academie Royale was limited to two singers and six players.” (Jean Baptiste Lully) From that point on, he successfully founded modern French opera.
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“His involvement was not limited to musical composition. He collaborated with his poets in the production of libretto, and even took an interest in the acting and declamation of the performers. His insistence on discipline and high artistic standards in the opera orchestra was legendary” (Straughan (a) ) “Louis XIV became ill in late 1686.” (Jean Baptiste Lully) While conducting a Te Deum on January 8, 1687, (Straughan (a) ) to celebrate the king’s recovery Lully accidentally hit his foot with the point of the cane he used to keep time. (Sadie 2000 pg. 166) This wound caused an abscess which proved fatal as Lully died on March 22, 1687. (Straughan (a) ) Jean Baptiste Lully made significant contributions to French music.
His initial compositions “ballets de cour” didn’t deviate from the Italian forms. (Straughan (a) ) They were merely collections of dances and burlesque scenes. (Gregory) “A step in Lully’s progression from ballet to opera was the increased role of music in his ballets.” His music still incorporated some elements of Italian opera such as bel canto and recitative secco, however the ornamentation was different and markedly French. (Gregory) As his influence grew, Lully began to leave his mark on French music. In the 1660’s he devised “comedies ballets” and joined forces with the writer Moliere to pioneer this new genre. Since French lacked the accentuation patterns of Italian or other languages “Comedies ballets” adapted operatic recitative to suit the French language.
(Sadie 2000 pg. 166) “Lully’s recitative has considerable variety of tempo, alternating duple and triple time, with expressive pauses or more lyrical, song-like sections.” (Kendall pg. 53) He also “employed a narrow melodic range, syllabic setting of words and frequent cadences.” (Gregory) Thus, Lully’s works are free from secco recitative, and consequently the ornate singing of Italian opera. (Kendall pg. 53) The zenith of Lully’s definitive French style is best reflected in his “tragedies ly riques”, the first true form of French opera. “Cadmus et Hermione”, France’s first “tragedies ly rique” was produced in 1673, with libretto provided by the poet Quinault.
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(Lewis pg. 1092) This genre is different from “comedies-ballets” because it is entirely set to music. (Anthony pg. 318) “It shares certain superficial characteristics with French spoken tragedy of the time, notably its five act structure and heroic characters, usually from ancient mythology, who work out their problems in conversations with their confidants.” (Arnold pg. 84) A key element of the “tragedies ly riques” is the unity of action.
Lully manufactures stretched scenes out of numerous tiny melodic components, some of which reappear frequently. (Arnold pg. 89) “Recurring passages and patterns of scoring (such as recitative followed by chorus and followed by dance) combine to make large scale complex designs.” (Arnold pg. 89) “Each act centers on a single incident that fits into the cohesive whole.” (Gregory) Lully also utilized divertissement’s – decorative scenes that serve as a showcase for sets, dancers and costumes. (Arnold pg. 88) French “tragedies ly riques” incorporated Lully’s recitative technique, also used in “comedies ballets.” Since the French despised castrates, Lully’s arias were simpler and were used sparsely, only in moments when intense passion or musing was required.
(Gregory) At the heart of the tragedy was the glorification of the monarch. The prologue, which only rarely had any connection with the tale following, was essentially intended as homage to Louis XIV, while many of the stories, sometimes chosen by the king himself, were presented as an allegory of the royal character. (Sadie 1980 pg. 422) “Conversely, Italian opera was to entertain and the thematic material was more driven by passionate emotions, violence and comic relief as a result.” (Gregory) A work that represents all of what Lully introduced in French opera is “Armide”, which debuted at the Paris Op ” era on February 15, 1686.
(Straughan (b) ) Lully’s patron, Louis XIV, selected the story of Armide in May of 1685 from among several offered by Quinault. Armide is based on a section of Gerusalemme liberate, a popular epic poem by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso which uses the story of the capture of Jerusalem by Christians during the First Crusade (1096-99) as the starting point for a fabulous extravaganza of heroism, villainy, war, star-crossed lovers, sorcery, bad temper, warrior maidens, and eventual total victory by the forces of good. The section on which Armide is based tells the story of Armide, a sorceress who falls in love with the Crusader Renaud, her sworn enemy. (Straughan (b) ) Lully’s style is exemplified in the monologue in Act 2 scene 5 of Armide. Here, Armide’s internal conflict is intimated via recitative. (Sadie 1980 pg.
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322) “Many 18 th century partisans of French opera considered this monologue to be in Tit on du Tillet’s words, ‘the greatest piece in all our opera’.” (Sadie 1980 pg 322) In Armide, arias were sparsely used. The prologue of Armide is an example one which praises King Louis XIV. “Here, Glory and Wisdom argue over which of them loves most their greatest hero, Louis XIV, before they agree on equality and proceed to view the story of the French hero Renaud.” (Straughan (b) ) Divertissement were also used. A particularly impressive one occurs in the final act of Armide. This divertissement was comprised of three songs, a dance, three choruses and a recitative. (Sadie 1980 pg.
322) Lully’s style began a new trend of listening to French music when he opposed the traditionally Italian principles in opera and created a style all his own. (Gregory) Lully acknowledged the significance of language and used French almost exclusively in his operas. Since culture and thought are undoubtedly influenced by the common language, this new style better reflected the preferences of the majority of the French people. “His hold on the French public is clear from the fact that “The see” held the stage for 104 years, that “Armide” was performed as late as 1764 and that “Am adis” remained in Paris Opera repertory for 87 years. (Sadie 1980 pg. 326) Lully truly revolutionized opera within France.
Bibliography: Arnold, Denis. (1983) The New Oxford Companion to Music. London: Oxford University Press. Boynick, Matt.
(1996) “Jean Baptiste Lully.” The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Online ed. web Laura. (1997) Lully’s Ballets and Operas. web Baptiste Lully. web Alan.
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(2000) The Chronicle of Classical Music. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd. Knight, K. (2003) The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. web Anthony and Fortune, Nigel.
eds. (1975) Opera and Church Music 1630-1750. London: Oxford University Press Sadie, Stanley ed. (1980) The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Sadie, Stanley ed.
(2000) The Cambridge Music Guide. New York: Cambridge University Press Straughan, Greg. (a) France in the Time of Lully web Greg. (b) Operas of Jean Baptiste Lully: Armide Plot Summary. web.