Richelieu, precursor of the King's Music

Richelieu, precursor of the King's Music

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Richelieu is best known for his role as Prime Minister of Louis XIII, but he was also a great lover of art. At his death, he owned more than 20,000 books and the largest collection of ancient works in France with 200 busts and statues. Considered the "patron of the arts and music", he notably created the Académie Française and thanks to him, secular and sacred music have been in the spotlight since 1628.

The Baroque

The Baroque covers the years 1600 to 1750 approximately where the first operas, cantatas, sonatas, concertos appear, then it was neglected for a long time, giving way to classical music from Vienna. This 300-year-old music "easy to listen to and enjoy" reappeared in 1996 thanks to the Baroque Music Center located in the Hôtel des Menus Plaisirs, created to promote music from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Menus Plaisirs had been built in 1739 near the Palace of Versailles to organize the pleasures of the king and the court, the library of Versailles therefore has more than 3,000 scores from the original collection made up by the First Guards of the Louis XIV bookstore. They were responsible for "collecting all that is most beautiful in music, both for the Chapel and for the Chamber". The music of the House of Saint Louis in Saint Cyr was subsequently added, then the motets of Michel de Lalande and in the 19th century the works of Boëly and Holmès.

Note also that the composer of baroque music was not a free artist, but a servant who had to satisfy his master, his king or the Church, by writing music on demand.

Richelieu's music

In the time of Louis XIII, we often listened to the lute, then appeared under Louis XIV the Music of the King. But the real precursor in this area was Cardinal Richelieu. Considered "patron of the arts and music", he gave pride of place to two kinds of music: secular music, that is to say ballets and sacred music made up of motets, Te Deum, De Profundis, and other songs reserved for the church.

Richelieu maintained a large number of musicians, the best known of which are François de Chancy, his lute teacher, and Jean de Cambrefort from 1635. For his pleasure and that of the Court, he had an "Italian-style" room fitted out in its Cardinal Palace, which will become the theater of Molière, then the Royal Academy of Music.

Secular music

It is characterized above all by ballets. To celebrate the victory of France over the Spaniards and the Austrians in 1640, Richelieu ordered events in January and February 1641. Thus he had the ballet de la Prospérité des Armes de France composed by several musicians, the main one being François de Chancy . In this ballet, the author puts the spotlight on oboes, lutes and strings. This ballet traces the victories on land and at sea and the cardinal will even make the Great of the Kingdom dance at each entry into the ballet. But there is no room for buffoonery, only the need to assert the absolute power of the king, since the king is already sick and has suffered many protests against Richelieu. The melodies and the music are imbued with great melancholy and great solemnity. Richelieu triumphed in spite of everything and the ballet was nicknamed the Ballet of M. Le Cardinal de Richelieu.

Sacred music

This appears after the end of the siege of La Rochelle in 1628, celebrating the resounding victory for the Minister. Despite the victory, it is above all the pain and suffering of Protestants and the inhabitants of La Rochelle that are sung. A political victory, but a human tragedy.

Composed by Guillaume Bouzignac for the motets, Nicolas Formé for his Musica simplex and his Domine Salvum fac Regem, reminiscent of the tortured paintings of Caravaggio, Boesset for the De Profundis, this sacred music ensemble represents Catholics and Protestants fighting, until 'to death.

From there, Richelieu gave birth to the Music of the King.

The main composers

Nicolas Formé, 1567-1638, born in Paris, composer at the Chapel until his death, distinguished himself above all by sacred music. Louis XIII had such an attachment to him that after his death, his music was seized and placed in a cupboard of which the king personally kept the key. His main work being the Domine Salvum fac Regem on the occasion of the victory of La Rochelle, he also wrote Masses for two choirs, motets and the Canticle of the Virgin Mary.

Etienne Moulinié, 1599-1676, born in Carcassonne, music master of Gaston d´Orléans, cantor at Saint Just church, joined his brother in Paris. He composed Airs de Cour and Petits Motets.

Antoine Boësset, 1586-1643, born in Blois, master of the children of the King's Chamber Music, then the Queen's Music Master, Superintendent of Music of the King's Chamber in 1623. His stepfather was already superintendent of the music of Henri IV, his son will be superintendent of Music to Louis XIV. He has created Court Airs for voice and lute, ballets, a few masses and motets, but he is best known for his Magnificat.

Ennemond Gaultier, 1575-1651, born in the Dauphiné, first page of the Duchess of Montmorency, he went into the service of Marie de Médicis and became a valet in 1620. He was recognized in music thanks to his function as professor of lute at court. In 1630, he played for Charles I, Henrietta Marie and the Duke of Buckingham at the English Court.

Robert Ballard, 1575-1645, born in Paris, son of publisher Ballard, partners with his cousin / pupil Adrian Le Roy to compose and print the Music of the King. Luthist at the court, he participates in the creation of court ballets, has published dance books for the lute, but his greatest work is the beautiful “Ballet du Dauphin”.

François de Chancy, 1600-1656, born in Paris, is famous for having been master of the Music of Richelieu, master of the Music of the Chamber and of the King's Chapel in 1649. Working on court ballets, he is the principal composer of the famous Ballet de la Prospérité des Armes de France created in 1641 and the Ballet des Fêtes de Bacchus in 1651. We still retain lute pieces, two books of Airs de Cour, as well as collections of Songs for dancing and to drink.

Jean de Cambrefort, 1605-1661, first singer in the private chapel of Richelieu, he went to Mazarin's service in 1642 and obtained the post of Music Master of the King's Chamber in succession to François de Chancy, then the post of composer of this music, finally superintendent of the King's Music. He mainly composed Airs de Cour and participated in ballets.

Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, 1602-1672, born in Paris, receives the survival of his father and becomes a player in the King's Chamber and organist in the Chapel. We see him dancing in the Ballet de la Marine in 1635 as well as later in the Royal Ballet de la nuit with Louis XIV and Lully in 1653. Harpsichordist and teacher, he founded the French harpsichord school and one of the first societies of concerts in 1641 "the assembly of the Honnestes Curieux" intended to promote chamber music. After being disgraced in 1662, he published his first book of pieces for harpsichord in 1670 and was responsible for the rise of the Couperins family.

The music of Louis XIII

We must not forget that Louis XIII was a great fan of dance and music; he wrote the lyrics and the music for the "Ballet de la Merlaison", performed in 1635. But in his music, we find passages whose air is more tormented, well in the spirit of the King and much less cheerful than the music by his son Louis XIV, full of celebration and joy.


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- Nicolas Formé: The Vow of Louis XIII

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