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Jean Baptiste Lully

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Jean Baptiste Lully was a prolific composer who is best known for establishing French Opera. (Boynick) Born in Florence on the 28th of November 1632, (Boynick) Giovanni Battista Lulli 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 violons, 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. "His involvement was not limited to musical composition. He collaborated with his poets in the production of libretti, 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 lyriques", the first true form of French opera. "Cadmus et Hermione", France's first "tragedie lyrique" was produced in 1673, with libretti provided by the poet Quinault. (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 lyriques" 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 divertissements - decorative scenes that serve as a showcase for sets, dancers and costumes. (Arnold pg. 88)

French "tragedies lyriques" incorporated Lully's recitative technique, also used in "comedies ballets". Since the French despised castratis, 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 Opйra on February 15, 1686. (Straughan (b))

Lully's patron,



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