Personalities | Jean-Baptiste Lully | Early & Middle Baroque | Opera
Jean-Baptiste Lully was a French composer with an Italian background. He was born in Florence on 28 November 1632. His original name, later gallicized, was Giovanni Battista Lulli. In 1646, aged 14, he was placed with a noble household in Paris as a singer, dancer and violinist, and he became familiar with both French and Italian music. In 1653, he caught the attention of King Louis XIV.
Compositions for the Court of Louis XIV
Although discomfited by the composer’s homosexual tendencies, King Louis thought a great deal of Lully and appointed him royal composer of instrumental music. By 1662, Lully was a naturalized Frenchman and he became music master to the French royal family. He produced numerous scores for the comédies-ballets performed at Louis’ lavish court. After 1671, when Robert Cambert’s Pomone received its first performance, Lully progressed to opera. Devious and opportunistic, Lully bought the ‘franchise’ to present operas that had been reserved to Cambert’s librettist, Pierre Perrin, after Perrin was imprisoned in 1672. Subsequently, Lully became a prolific composer of opera in the peculiarly French genre known as tragédie lyrique, which he promoted together with his librettist, Philippe Quinault (1635–88). Lully wrote 13 operas of this type, beginning with Cadmus et Hermione (1673) and ending with Armide (1686). Quinault was librettist for all but two.
More Sober Compositions
After 1683, when King Louis married the highly respectable Mme de Maintenon, the tone of the court became much more sober. Lully turned to writing sacred music and produced 13 ‘great’ and 14 ‘small’ motets, as well as his Te Deum (1677) and De Profundis (1683). Sadly, during a performance of the Te Deum early in 1687, Lully injured his foot with the point of the cane he was using to beat time. The injury became gangrenous and he died on 22 March 1687.
1672 Les fêtes de l’amour et de Bacchus
1673 Cadmus et Hermione
1674 Alceste, ou le triomphe d’Alcide
1684 Amadis de Gaule
1686 Acis et Galathée
1687 Achille et Polixène
1632 Born as Giovanni Battista Lulli in Florence, Italy
1646 Moves to France and changes name to Jean-Baptiste Lully
1653 Enters service of Louis XIV as ballet dancer and instrumental composer
c. 1656 Becomes leader of band of les petits violins du Roi
1662 Appointed music master to the royal family
1664 Collaborates with Molière on Le marriage force, first in series of comédies-ballets
1664 Writes Miserere
1670 Lully performs in his comédie-ballet, Le bourgeois gentilhomme
1672 Obtains exclusive rights from King Louis to arrange operatic performances in Paris
1673 Produces his first tragedie lyrique, Cadmus et Hermione
1674 Alceste premieres spectacularly in Paris
1677 Lully composes Te Deum
1683 Louis XIV marries, and Lully composes De Profundis
1686 Premiere of Acis et Galathée
1687 Lully dies of gangrene of the foot in Paris
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