Birth: Nov 28, 1632 in Florence, Italy
Death: Mar 22, 1687 in Paris, France
Jean-Baptiste Lully was born in Florence, Italy on November 28, 1632. In 1646, he was brought to Paris by Roger de Lorraine and placed into service at the court of Lorraine's niece, Mlle de Montpensier; the composer's tenure lasted until his patron's exile. In 1653, Lully danced in the same ballet as fourteen-year old king Louis XIV. This coincidental encounter subsequently led to Lully's appointment as compositeur de la musique instrumentale, at the king's court. Lully climbed the ranks of the court, becoming surintedant de la musique as well as compositeur de la musique de la chambre, both in 1661. The next year, the composer was named chief musician to the royal family. As he was promoted to each higher position within the court, Lully reached the pinnacle of musical hierarchy at the king's court. Lully used his influence, along with the king's good favor, to increase further his control of music in France.
Lully began a series of collaborations with French literary giant Moliere in 1664, with whom he produced numerous works classified as comic ballets. The pair's most notable production was Le bourgeois gentilhomme, (1670). Until this point, Lully dismissed the notion of composing operas; it was his opinion that the French language was unsuitable for such large-scale productions. After Pennin's success with Pomone, the composer was imprisoned on charges of unpaid debt. Lully, with the help of the king, took control of the patent Pennin had for operatic composition. In 1672, Lully was named director at Paris' Academie Royale de Musique, a position that gave the composer even more influence over French opera.
When Moliere died in 1673, the king presented Lully with sole proprietorship of the Palais Royal (royal theater). Now focusing his attention on operatic composition, Lully teamed with librettist Phillipe Quinault, with whom he produced eleven operas, referred to as "tradgedie lyrique." Lully composed two additional such works independent of Quinault. In 1681, Lully was received as "secretaire du roi," en extraordinary honor. Two years later, after marrying his second wife Mme de Maintenon, the composer directed his artistic attention to sacred music. This sudden shift of creative interest was possibly an effort to curb his blatant homosexuality, which annoyed Louis XIV, despite the king's unconditional support. Lully died in 1687; gangrene had set in after injuring his foot while keeping time with his cane during a performance, killing him within a few weeks.
Considered a pioneer of the French baroque style, Lully secured his reputation as perhaps the best representative of the French compositional ideal. The entirety of his output was written in glorification of the throne, and with staunch French patriotism. Lully was power-hungry, and held unilateral control over the musical arts in France, exemplified by the king's interruption (at Lully's behest) of a performance by one of his contemporaries as he deemed the work unacceptable for his beloved French audience. The influence Lully had over French composition did not wane after the composer's death; in fact, any deviation from Lully's compositional ideal for a posthumous period of twenty years was deemed completely unacceptable, and consequently rejected. This unprecedented influence reached across French borders as Charles I sent his court musicians to Paris to learn the late composer's style. While his contemporaries resented his status in French musical society, the Parisian audiences adored and revered Lully throughout his career.
- David Brensilver (All Music Guide)