Jean-Baptiste Lully


May 17, 2022

Jean-Baptiste Lully, original name: Giovanni Battista Lulli (Florence, November 28, 1632 – March 22, 1687) was an Italian-born Baroque composer and creator/designer of French opera. He spent most of his life in the service of the court of the French King Louis XIV, from where he dominated French musical life for decades. His work had an important influence on the development of Western European music.


Lully was the son of a miller and had little formal education. However, he learned to dance, play the violin and guitar and immersed himself in music in general. In March 1646, when he was 13 years old, his musical talents were discovered by the Count de Guise, who took him to Paris, where he was employed by Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as a handyman and kitchen helper. In exchange for Italian lessons, she stimulated the boy to continue working on his musical development under the guidance of the singer and composer Michel Lambert. He studied composition and harpsichord and was allowed to play as a violinist in the house chapel. He often had the opportunity to hear the great court orchestra play and studied French dance music closely. The story goes that the princess fired him when she discovered a vulgar poem about herself. True or not, Lully had already established such close contact with her cousin, the young King Louis XIV, that he was able to leave the princess's palace in 1652, when she had been expelled from Paris after the defeat of La Fronde, whose she was a part. After that Lully studied music theory under Métra and joined the royal court orchestra. In February 1653, he danced with the king in the ballet Ballet de la nuit (in which the monarch played the role of the Rising Sun, which earned him his famous nickname the Sun King). A few weeks later he was appointed by the king as court composer for instrumental music. He would remain in the service of his patron for the rest of his life to their mutual satisfaction.


Court life with its many feasts, parties and receptions made special demands on the type of music that a court musician had to produce. Lully composed a series of Italian divertissements in those early days and thirty ballets between 1655 and 1671, half of which were in collaboration with Isaac de Benserade. He thus had a great influence on the dance style at the royal court. Instead of the usual music suitable for slow and stately movements, he composed lively dances to a fast rhythm: the minuet, the gavotte and the bourrée. In 1655 Lully's piece Ballet des bienvenues received a very positive reception. At that time he became conductor and musical director of the small ensemble of very talented violinists, Les petits violons, which quickly became much more successful than the large violin ensemble. He started experimenting with different playing styles and with new forms of expression of orchestral music. Not long after, he also took charge of the large ensemble and his name also became known outside of France. In 1661 Lully was naturalized as a Frenchman. Lully's friendship and collaboration with Molière, lasting from c. 1661 until Molière's death in 1673, resulted in cómedies-ballets, compositions of illustrative accompaniments to some of the writer's best plays. For example, they composed the comedie-ballet Les Fâcheux together for Fouquet's grand opening party at the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte on 17 August 1661. In 1662 he was appointed music master in the service of the royal family and married in July of that year. with Madeleine, a daughter of the composer Lambert.


It was important to Lully that the performances showed a good tension in the drama and that they had a high literary content. His pursuit closed seamlessly