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.
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.
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 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
Operas (Tragédies en musique)
Ballets cowritten with Lully
Comedies cowritten with Lully
Reference: some content based on a 1911 encyclopedia
This biography is published under the GNU Licence
Items to buy by J.B. Lully