J.B. Lully biography

J.B. Lully

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J.B. Lully Biography

Jean-Baptiste Lully, originally Giovanni Battista Lulli (November 28, 1632–March 22, 1687), was an Italian-born French composer, who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He took French citizenship in 1661.

Jean-Baptiste Lully
Jean-Baptiste Lully


Born in Florence, the son of a miller, Lully had very little education, musical or otherwise, but learnt the guitar and violin. In 1646 he was discovered by the Duke of Guise and taken to France by him, where he entered the services of Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as scullery-boy. With the help of this lady his musical talents were cultivated. A scurrilous poem on his patroness resulted in his dismissal.

He then studied the theory of music under Métra and entered the royal string orchestra of the French court, Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi or the Grande Bande and eventually became its conductor. He tired of the lack of discipline of the Grande Bande, and with the King's permission formed his own Petits Violons. In being subsequently appointed director of music to Louis XIV and director of the Paris opera. The influence of his music produced a radical revolution in the style of the dances of the court itself. Instead of the slow and stately movements which had prevailed until then, he introduced lively ballets of rapid rhythm.

In 1662 he was appointed music master to the royal family. In 1681 he was made a court secretary to the king and ennobled. After Lully was ennobled, he wrote his name Jean Baptiste de Lully and he was addressed as 'Monsieur de Lully'.

On January 8, 1687, Lully was conducting a Te Deum in honor of Louis XIV's recent recovery from illness. He was beating time by banging a long staff against the floor, as was the common practice at the time, when he struck his foot, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, resulting in his death on the 22nd of March. He left his last opera, Achille & Polyxène, unfinished.

Lully founded French opera (tragédie en musique or tragédie lyrique), having found Italian-style opera inappropriate for the French language. Having found a congenial poet and librettist in Quinault, Lully composed many operas and other works, which met with a most enthusiastic reception. Indeed he has good claim to be considered the founder of French opera, forsaking the Italian method of separate recitative and aria for a dramatic consolidation of the two and a quickened action of the story such as was more congenial to the taste of the French public.

He effected important improvements in the composition of the orchestra, into which he introduced several new instruments.

Lully enjoyed the friendship of Molière, and with Molière created a new music form the comédie-ballet which combined theater, comedy, and ballet.

His Miserere, written for the funeral of the minister Sequier, is a work of genius; and very remarkable are also his minor sacred compositions.

He was a notorious homosexual and libertine. In 1662, he did marry Madeleine Lambert, daughter of Lully's friend and fellow musician Michel Lambert, and proceded to have ten children by her. But at the height of his career he felt confident enough to flaunt his relationship with Brunet, his page. Although his life is full of meteoric heights, his love affairs with men and women brought him down in scandal several times to the great displeasure of Louis XIV and led to his renown as a sodomite. Despite these scandals, he always managed to get back into the good graces of Louis XIV who found Lully essential for his musical entertainments and who thought of Lully as one of his few true friends.

On his death-bed he wrote Bisogna morire, peccatore (It's time to die, you sinner.)

Lully's Music

Lully's music is from the Middle Baroque period, 1650-1700. Typical of Baroque music is the use of the basso continuo (or simply continuo) as the driving force behind the music. French Middle Baroque is exceptional in all of classical music as having the lowest pitch, 392 Hz for A above middle C (which in modern practice is usually 440 Hz). Lully's music is known for its power: liveliness in its fast movements and its deep emotional character in its sad movements. Some of his most popular works are his passacaille (passacaglia) and chaconne which are dance movements found in many of his works such as Armide & Renaud or Phaëton.


Lully's instrumentation is varied and typical of the time period:

French court dances of the 17th Century

Lully's Works

Operas (Tragédies en musique)

  • Cadmus & Hermione (1673)
  • Alceste ou le Triomphe d'Alcide (1674)
  • Thésée (1675)
  • Atys (1676)
  • Isis (1677)
  • Psyché (1678)
  • Bellérophon (1679)
  • Proserpine (1680)
  • Persée (1682)
  • Phaëton (1683)
  • Amadis de Gaule (1684)
  • Roland (1685)
  • Armide & Renaud (1686)
  • Achille & Polyxène (1687)


  • Pastorale Comique (1657}
  • Les Fêtes de l'Amour et de Bacchus (1672)
  • Acis et Galatée (1686)


  • Alcidiane (1658)
  • La Raillerie (1659)
  • La Revente des habits du ballet et comédie (1661)
  • L'Impatience (1661)
  • Les Saisons (1661)
  • Les Arts (1663)
  • Les Noces de village (1663)
  • Les Amours desguisés (1664)
  • Palais d'Alcine (1664)
  • Le Naissance de Vénus (1665)
  • Les Gardes (1665)
  • Mascarade du Capitaine (1665)
  • Petit Ballet de Fontainebleau (1665)
  • Les Muses ((1666)
  • Le Carnaval (1668)
  • Flore (1669)
  • La Jeunesse (1669)
  • Les Jeux pythiens (1670)
  • Ballet des Nations (1670) in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
  • Le Temple de la paix (1685)

Ballets cowritten with Lully

  • Mascarade de la Foire de St-Germain (1652)
  • La Nuit (1653)
  • Les Proverbes (1654)
  • Le Temps (1654)
  • Les Plaisirs (1655)
  • Les Bienvenus (1655)
  • Psyché ou la Puissance de l'Amour (1656)
  • Les Galanteries du temps (1657)
  • Les Plaisirs troublés (1657)
  • Le Triomphe de Bacchus dans les Indes (1666)


  • Les Plaisirs de l'île enchantée (1664)
  • La Princesse d'Elide (1664)
  • Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670)

Comedies (Comédies)

  • L'Impromptu de Versailles (1663)
  • Le Mariage forcé (1664)
  • L'Amour médecin (1665)
  • Le Sicilien (1667)
  • Georges Dandin (1668)
  • Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1669)
  • Les Amants Magnifiques (1670)
  • La Comtesse d'Escarbagnas (1671)

Comedies cowritten with Lully

  • Les Fâcheux (1661)


  • Psyché (1671)


  • Le Grand Divertissement de Versailles (1668) in Georges Dandin
  • Le Divertissement de Chambord (1669) in Monsieur de Pourceaugnac
  • Le Divertissement Royal (1670) in Les Amants Magnifiques
  • Idylle sur le Paix (1685)

Eclogues (Églogues)

  • La Grotte de Versailles (1668)

Interludes (Intermèdes)

  • Les Noces de Pélée et de Thétis (1654)
  • Xerxes (1660)
  • Hercule amoureux (1662)
  • Oedipe (1664)

Grands Motets

  • Jubilate Deo (1660)
  • O Lachrymae Fideles (1664)
  • Miserere (1664)
  • Plaude Laetare Gallia (1668)
  • Te Deum (1677)
  • De Profundis (1683)
  • Dies Irae (1683)
  • Exaudiat te Dominus (1683)
  • Quae Fremuerunt (1685)
  • Benedictus (1685)
  • Notus in Judaea Deus

Petits Motets

  • Anima Christi
  • Ave Coeli
  • Dixit Dominus
  • Domine Salvum Regem
  • Exaudi Deus
  • Laudate Pueri
  • O Dulcissime
  • Omnes Gentes
  • O Sapientia
  • Regina Coeli
  • Salve Regina

Other Works

  • Dialogue de la Guerre avec la Paix (1655)
  • Première marche des mousquetaires (1658)
  • Courage, Amour, la Paix est faite (1661)
  • Douce et Charmante Paix (1661)
  • Ingrate Bergère (1664)
  • Qui les saura, mes secrètes amours (1664)
  • Branles (1665)
  • Trios pour le coucher du roi (1665)
  • Belle inhumaine, soulagez la peine (1665)
  • Savez-vous bien, la belle (1665)
  • La langueur des beaux yeux (1666)
  • Que vous connaissez peu trop aimable Climène (1666)
  • Si je n'ai parlé de ma flamme (1666)
  • En ces lieux, je ne vois que des promenades (1668)
  • Ah, qu'il est doux de se rendre à l'empire de l'Amour (1668)
  • Le printemps ramène la verdure (1668)
  • Depuis que l'on soupire sous l'amoureux empire (1668)
  • Marches et batteries de tambour (1670)
  • Sans mentir on est bien misérable (1671)
  • Marche (1672)
  • Marches pour le régiment de Savoie (1685)
  • Pièces de symphonies, Airs pour Mme la Dauphine (1683)
  • Airs pour le Carrousel de Monseigneur (1686)
  • Il faut mourir, pécheur (1687)
  • Gigue
  • Marches dont la Marche des Dragons du Roi, la Marche du Prince d'Orange
  • Aunque prodigoas
  • Soca per tutti
  • A la fin petit Desfarges
  • D'un beau pêcheur, la pêche malheureuse
  • Un tendre coeur
  • Non vi è più bel piacer
  • Le printemps, aimable Sylvie
  • Tous les jours cent bergères
  • Viens, mon aimable bergère
  • Où êtes-vous allées, mes belles amourettes
  • Nous mêlons toute notre gloire
  • Pendant que ces flambeaux
  • J'ai perdu l'appétit
  • Venerabilis barba capucinorum

Reference: some content based on a 1911 encyclopedia

This biography is published under the GNU Licence

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