Jean-Baptiste Lully, inventor of French opera

Jean-Baptiste Lully, inventor of French opera

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By a joke of history, French opera was born thanks to a composer of Italian origin, Jean-Baptiste Lully whose story inspired the filmmaker Gérard Corbiau for the creation of a famous film '' Le roi danse ''. Lully was one of the first to use the string quintet, the basis of the modern orchestra, reserving a large place for ballet. Like the Florentines, he makes extensive use of the '' recitative '' and his works are imbued with a certain grandeur, like the solemn atmosphere of the century of the Sun King.

Lully's youth and career

Jean-Baptiste Lully was born in Florence into a modest family of millers on November 29, 1632 under the name of Giovanni Battista Lulli, but little is known about his early youth. Very quickly, he was noticed by the knight Roger of Lorraine. Arrived in France in 1646, he was introduced as a maid to the Duchess of Montpensier who wanted to perfect his knowledge of the Italian language.

Endowed with undeniable musical gifts, he studied the violin, the guitar, the harpsichord, the composition, and proved to be an excellent dancer (baladin according to the expression of the time). As early as 1652 he belonged to the great `` band of violins du Roy '' which brought together twenty-four instrumentalists under Louis XIV. In 1653, he danced with the king in "the ballet of the night". Very quickly he obtained the direction of a new group: the '' band of little violins '' numbering sixteen (what the king colloquially called "the little band").

Naturalized French in 1661, Lully was appointed superintendent of music for the King's chamber and married Madeleine Lambert, daughter of musician Michel Lambert (the latter went into exile in England to bring French dramatic musical art there). The couple will have six children, three of whom will in turn be musicians. Despite this prolific descent, Lully was known and criticized for his libertine tastes, in particular for his homosexuality which discredited him following a scandal in 1685 with Louis XIV, who hated what was then called `` the Italian customs ''.

Lully employees

From 1664 to 1671, Lully will partner with the playwright Molière, creating with him the genre of `` comedy-ballet '' while continuing his court ballets. The creations with Molière bring together a combination of comedies, ballets and songs: “L'amour Médecin” in 1665, “Pastorale Comique” in 1667, “Georges Dandin” in 1668, “Monsieur de Pourceaugnac” in 1669, “le bourgeois gentleman and his turquerie ”. But in 1671 a dispute arose, as a result of which the two artists became enemies.

Lully bought Perrin in 1672 the "privilege of the Royal Academy of Music". Great favorite of Louis XIV who offered him the room of the Royal Palace, he then exercised an almost dictatorial power. He then collaborated with the librettist Philippe Quinault, then Thomas Corneille, Campistron and Fontenelle. In 1681 Louis XIV granted him titles of nobility and appointed him "adviser secretary of the King", "filling him with glory and honors.

The musician and his character

An intelligent musician, adored by the court, with an intriguing and passionate character, Lully was not always very scrupulous. However, he showed boundless activity, firmness, great will and remarkable leadership qualities in the administration of the opera. He was innovative in the field of rhythm and discipline in his orchestra, making singers and dancers work himself, carefully regulating every detail. Its influence continued in France where it was played until the revolution of 1789, inspiring other musicians (François Couperin, Marin Marais, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Michel Delalande).

During a rehearsal of a "Te Deum" written by him in honor of the king 's recovery, Lully, carried away by his explosive temperament, seriously injured his foot with the heavy stick of direction which he used to beat. measure and, the wound becoming infected, died shortly after of gangrene, on March 22, 1687.

His work was very important:

Court ballets

The ballet of the seasons (1661), the ballet of the arts (1662) the ballet of the muses (1666) or the ballet of Flore (1669) the ballet of the nations etc ...


In collaboration with Molière: "the annoying", "the forced marriage", "the love doctor", "the magnificent lovers" and the famous "bourgeois gentleman" ...

Lyrical tragedies

The best known are: Gadmus et hermione (1673) Alceste (1674), Thésée (1675) Atys (1677), Phatéon 1683) Amadis (((1684), Armide (1686)

Various works

Instrumental music (trio dances) religious music (motets for the King's Chapel)

Lully's merit lies in having known how to adapt a musical style to the requirements of his time. He gives a great place to the recitative close to spoken language, having studied at the French comedy the declamation of the actors, in particular the great performer of Racine (la Champmeslée). He places great emphasis on the orchestra, brilliantly using flutes, cymbals and trumpets. He likes to divide his orchestra into groups which dialogue with each other or with the voices. Many of Lully's pages still penetrate us with their majestic grace.

More intellectual than sensitive, Lully brings to the opera all the qualities of classicism (balance majesty grandeur), but also all its drawbacks (slowness of the action, certain monotonies) However he knew how to achieve a perfect set of cohesion and balance , so we can say that Lully's opera was the work of the `` great century '' dominated by the king, which can undoubtedly be compared to the beautiful architectural arrangement of Versailles or to the colonnade of the Louvre .


- Jean-Baptiste Lully by Vincent Borel. South Acts, 2008.

- Jean-Baptiste Lully by Jérôme de La Gorce. fayard, 2002.

For further

- The Orchester du Roi Soleil - Symphonies, overtures & airs to play by Jean-Baptiste Lully. Musical CD.

- Lully - Les Divertissements de Versailles / Les Arts Florissants, Christie. Musical CD.

- Le Roi danse, by Gérard Corbiau. DVD.