Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme
Selected Sheet Music
“Le Choeur des Trembleurs” from Isis
Transcription of opening chorus from Act IV
Chaconne de L’Amour
Notes and Commentary
“Since opera had originated, and had first developed, in Italy before penetrating the rest of Europe, it is appropriate to find an Italian and not a Frenchman as the founder of the French opera. He was Jean-Baptiste Lully.”—David Ewen, The Complete Book of Classical Music
Jean-Baptiste Lully (Giovanni Battista Lulli in Italian) was a Florentine-born French composer who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He is considered the chief master of the French baroque style, and became a French subject in 1661. He lived from 1632 to 1687.
Lully’s music was written during the Middle Baroque period, 1650 to 1700. Typical of Baroque music is the use of the basso continuo as the driving force behind the music.
His music is known for its power, liveliness, and deep emotional character. Some of his most popular works are his passacaille (passacaglia) and chaconne, which are dance movements found in many of his works, including Armide or Phaëton.
His music produced a radical revolution in the style of the dances of the court itself. In the place of the slow and stately movements which had prevailed until then, he introduced lively ballets of rapid rhythm, often based on well-known dance types such as gavottes, menuets, rigaudons, and sarabandes.
Through his collaboration with playwright Molière, a new music form emerged during the 1660s: the comédie-ballet, which combined theater, comedy, incidental music, and ballet. The popularity of these plays, with their sometimes lavish special effects, and the success and publication of Lully’s operas and its diffusion beyond the borders of France, played a crucial role in synthesizing, consolidating, and disseminating orchestral organization, scorings, performance practices, and repertory.—Excerpted from Wikipedia
Lully Books and Music
Jean Baptiste Lully: The Founder of French Opera
Peter Owen Publishers, 1973
$201.32 on Amazon
Used copies at $41.01
“Aside from the lack of any insight whatsoever into Lully’s music, this volume has other deficiencies. It glosses over the most crucial years of Lully’s career, the years when he consolidated his remarkable relationship with Louis XIV. . . . R.H.F. Scott, was quite obviously fascinated by Lully’s homosexuality but seemingly had neither knowledge of nor interest in his music.”—Giordano Bruno on Amazon
Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Music of the French Baroque
Essays in Honor of James R. Anthony
Cambridge University Press, 2008
John Hajdu Heyer (ed.)
$52 on Amazon
Used copies from $42.91
From Amazon: “This volume of essays on Jean-Baptiste Lully and his musical legacy honours the distinguished French baroque scholar James R. Anthony. Jean-Baptiste Lully, court composer to Louis XIV, served as the principal architect of what would become known as the French style of music in the baroque era.”
L’Orchestre du Roi Soleil (2003), 1 CD
Psyché, 3-CD set
The Tragedy of Armide, 2-CD set
More Jean-Baptiste Lully music
Excerpted from Wikipedia
Lully’s grand motets were written for the royal chapel, usually for vespers or for the king’s daily low mass. Lully did not invent the genre, he built upon it. Grand motets often were psalm settings, but for a time during the 1660s Lully used texts written by Pierre Perrin, a neo-Latin poet. Lully’s petit motets were probably composed for the nuns at the convent of the Assumption, rue Saint-Honoré.
-  Motets à deux chœurs pour la Chapelle du roi, published 1684
- Miserere, at court, winter 1664
- Plaude laetare, text by Perrin, April 7, 1668
- Te Deum, at Fontainebleau, September 9, 1677
- De profundis, May 1683
- Dies irae, 1683
- Domine salvum fac regem, grand motet
- Exaudiat te Dominus, grand motet, 1687
- Jubilate Deo, grand motet, 1660?
- Notus in Judea Deux, grand motet
- O lacrymae, grand motet, text by Perrin, at Versailles, 1664
- Quare fremuerunt, grand motet, at Versailles, April 19, 1685
- Petits motets: Anima Christi; Ave coeli manus, text by Perrin; Dixit Dominus; Domine salvum; Laudate pueri; O dulcissime Domine; Omnes gentes; O sapientia; Regina coeli; Salve regina
Ballets de cour
When Lully began dancing and composing for court ballets, the genre blossomed and markedly changed in character. At first, as composer of instrumental music for the King’s chamber, Lully wrote overtures, dances, dance-like songs, descriptive instrumental pieces such as combats, and parody-like récits with Italian texts. He was so captivated by the French overture that he wrote four of them for the Ballet d’Alcidiane!
The development of his instrumental style can be discerned in his chaconnes. He experimented with all types of compositional devices and found new solutions that he later exploited to the full in his operas. For example, the chaconne that ends the Ballet de la Raillerie (1659) has 51 couplets plus an extra free part; in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) he added a vocal line to the chaconne for the Scaramouches.
The first menuets appear in the Ballet de la Raillerie (1659) and the Ballet de l’Impatience (1661). In Lully’s ballets one can also see the emergence of concert music, for example, pieces for voice and instruments that could be excerpted and performed alone and that prefigure his operatic airs: “Bois, ruisseau, aimable verdure” from the Ballet des saisons (1661), the lament “Rochers, vous êtes sourds” and Orpheus’s sarabande “Dieu des Enfers”, from the Ballet de la naissance de Vénus (1665).
- Ballet du Temps, text by Benserade, at Louvre, November 30, 1654
- Ballet des plaisirs, text by Benserade, at Louvre, February 4, 1655
- Le Grand Ballet des Bienvenus, text by Benserade, at Compiègne, May 30, 1655
- Le Ballet de la Revente des habits, text by Benserade, at court, January 6, 1655 (or 1661?)
- Ballet of Psyché ou de la puissance de l’Amour, text by Benserade, at Louvre, January 16, 1656
- La Galanterie du temps, mascarade, anonymous text, February 14, 1656
- L’Amour malade, text by Buti, at Louvre, January 17, 1657
- Ballet royal d’Alcidiane, Benserade, at court, February 14, 1658
- Ballet de la Raillerie, text by Benserade, at court, February 19, 1659
- six ballet entrées serving as intermèdes to Cavalli’s Xerse, at Louvre, November 22, 1660
- Ballet mascarade donné au roi à Toulouse, April 1660
- Ballet royal de l’impatience, text by Buti, at Louvre, February 19, 1661
- Ballet des Saisons, text by Benserade, at Fontainebleau, July 23, 1661
- ballet danced between the acts of Hercule amoureux, text by Buti, at Tuileries, February 7, 1662
- Ballet des Arts, text by Benserade, at Palais-Royal, January 8, 1663
- Les Noces du village, mascarade ridicule, text by Benserade, at Vincennes, October 3, 1663
- Les Amours déguisés, text by Périgny, at Palais-Royal, February 13, 1664
- incidental music between the acts of Oedipe, play by Pierre Corneille, Fontainebleau, August 3, 1664
- Mascarade du Capitaine ou l’Impromptu de Versailles, anonymous text, at Palais-Royal, 1664 or February1665
- Ballet royal de la Naissance de Vénus, text by Benserade, at Palais-Royal, January 26, 1665
- Ballet des Gardes ou des Délices de la campagne, anonymous text, 1665
- Le Triomphe de Bacchus, mascarade, anonymous text, at court, January 9, 1666
- Ballet des Muses, Benserade, at St-Germain-en-Laye, 1666
- Le Carneval, mascarade, text by Benserade, at Louvre, January 18, 1668
- Ballet royal de Flore, text by Benserade, at Tuileries, February 13, 1669
- Le Triomphe de l’Amour, text by Benserade and Quinault, at St-Germain-en-Laye, December 2, 1681
- Le Temple de la Paix, text by Quinault, at Fontainebleau, October 20, 1685
Music for the theater (intermèdes)
The intermède was a new genre in 1661, when Molière described them as the “ornaments that [he and Lully] had intermingled with the comedy”, Les Fâcheux. They must not, he insisted, “break the thread of the play”, and they were careful to “stitch them to the plot as best they could, and make the ballet and the play a single unit.” With Le Mariage forcé and La Princesse d’Élide (1664), intermèdes by Lully began to appear regularly in Molière’s plays: for those performances there were six intermèdes, two at the beginning and two at the end, and one between each of the three acts. Lully’s intermèdes reached their apogee in 1670-1671, with the elaborate incidental music he composed for Le Bourgeois gentilhomme and Psyché. After his break with Molière, Lully turned to opera; but he collaborated with Jean Racine for a fete at Sceaux in 1685, and with Campistron for an entertainment at Anet in 1686.
Most of Molière’s plays were first performed for the royal court.
- Les Fâcheux, play by Molière, at Vaux-le-Vicomte, August 17, 1661
- Le Mariage forcé, ballet, play by Molière, at Louvre, January 29, 1664
- Les Plaisirs de l’Ile enchantée, play by Molière, at Versailles, May 7-12, 1664
- L’Amour médecin, comedy, play by Molière, at Versailles, September 14, 1667
- La Pastorale comique, play by Molière, at St-Germain-en-Laye, January 5, 1667
- Le Sicilien, play by Molière, at St-Germain-en-Laye, February 14, 1667
- Le Grand Divertissement royal de Versailles (Georges Dandin), play by Molière, at Versailles, August 18, 1668
- La Grotte de Versailles, eclogue in music, play by Quinault, April (?) 1668
- Le Divertissement de Chambord (M. de Pourceaugnac), play by Molière, at Chambord, October 6, 1669
- Le Divertissement royal (Les Amants magifiques), play by Molière, at St-Germain-en-Laye, February 7, 1670
- Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, comedy ballet, play by Molière, at Chambord, October 14, 1670
- Psyché, tragi-comedy, Molière, play by Pierre Corneille and Quinault, at the Tuileries, January 17, 1671
- Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus, pastoral, text by Quinault, Molière and Périgny, at the tennis court (jeu de paume) of Bel-Air, November 15 (?), 1672
- Idylle sur la Paix, text by Racine, at Sceaux, July 16, 1685
- Acis et Galatée, pastoral, text by Campistron, chateau of Anet, September 6, 1686
Operas (tragedies in music)
Lully’s operas were described as “tragedies in music” (tragédies en musique). The point of departure was a verse libretto, in most cases by the verse dramatist Philippe Quinault. For the dance pieces, Lully would hammer out rough chords and a melody on the keyboard, and Quinault would invent words. For the recitative, Lully imitated the speech melodies and dramatic emphasis used by the best actors in the spoken theater. His attentiveness to transferring theatrical recitation to sung music shaped French opera and song for a century.
Unlike Italian opera of the day, which was rapidly moving toward opera seria with its alternating recitative and da capo airs, in Lully’s operas the focus was on drama, expressed by a variety of vocal forms: monologs, airs for two or three voices, rondeaux and French-style da capo airs where the chorus alternates with singers, sung dances, and vaudeville songs for a few secondary characters. In like manner the chorus performed in several combinations: the entire chorus, the chorus singing as duos, trios or quartets, the dramatic chorus, the dancing chorus.
The intrigue of the plot culminated in a vast tableau, for example, the sleep scene in Atys, the village wedding in Roland, or the funeral in Alceste. Soloists, chorus and dancers participated in this display, producing astonishing effects thanks to machinery. In contrast to Italian opera, the various instrumental genres were present to enrich the overall effect: French overture, dance airs, rondeaux, marches, “simphonies” that painted pictures, preludes, ritournelles. Collected into instrumental suites or transformed into trios, these pieces had enormous influence and affected instrumental music across Europe.
The earliest operas were performed in an indoor tennis court at Bel-Air that Lully had converted into a theater. The first performance of later operas either took place at court, or in the theater at the Palais-Royal, which had been made available to Lully’s Academy. Once premiered at court, operas were performed for the public at the Palais-Royal.
- Cadmus et Hermione, tragedy by Quinault, at tennis court (jeu de paume) of Bel-Air, April 27 (?), 1673
- Alceste ou le Triomphe d’Alcide, tragedy by Quinault, at tennis court (jeu de paume) of Bel-Air, January 19, 1675
- Thésée, tragedy by Quinault, at St-Germain-en-Laye, January 11, 1675
- Atys, tragedy by Quinault, at St-Germain-en-Laye, January 10, 1676
- Isis, tragedy by Quinault ornamented by ballet entrées, at St-Germain-en-Laye, January 5, 1677
- Psyché, tragedy by Quinault, Thomas Corneille and Fontanelle, at Palais-Royal, April 19, 1678
- Bellérophon, tragedy by Thomas Corneille, Fontenelle and Boileau, at Palais-Royal, January 31, 1679
- Proserpine, tragedy by Quinault ornamented with ballet entrées, at St-Germain-en-Laye, February 3, 1680
- Persée, tragedy by Quinault, at Palais-Royal, April 18, 1682
- Phaéton, tragedy by Quinault, at Versailles, January 6, 1683
- Amadis, tragedy by Quinault, at Palais-Royal, January 18, 1684
- Roland, tragedy by Quinault, at Versailles (Grande Écurei), Janauary 8, 1685
- Armide, tragedy by Quinault, 1686
- Achille et Polixène, tragedy by Campistron, completed by Colasse, at Palais-Royal, November 7 (or 23), 1687
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Painting of Lully at top of page by Nicolas Mignard. Creative Commons.