The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Lully, Jean Baptiste

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The American Cyclopædia
Lully, Jean Baptiste
Edition of 1879. See also Jean-Baptiste Lully on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LULLY, or Lulli, Jean Baptiste, a French composer, born in Florence in 1633, died in Paris, March 22, 1687. He was of obscure parentage, but having at the age of 10 attracted the attention of the chevalier de Guise, he was taken by him to Paris as a page for Mlle. Montpensier, the cousin of Louis XIV. His appearance not pleasing his mistress, he was placed in the kitchen as a scullion. He possessed a strong taste for music, however, and practised on an old violin until he had become a tolerably skilful performer. The princess, hearing of his proficiency, had him instructed under an able master, and in a few months he was admitted into the king's bande des vingt-quatre, so called from the number of the instruments, which were all violins. He was afterward placed at the head of a new band of 16 violins, called les petits violons, which soon eclipsed the famous twenty-four. To the impulse given by this nucleus of performers French musicians trace their present orchestral proficiency. Lully, continuing to rise in favor with the king, became director of music at the court, and for many years composed airs and accompaniments for the court ballets, a species of dramatic entertainment antedating the opera, and consisting of dances interspersed with singing and recitative. He also furnished music for many of Molière's comedies, in some of which, such as the Bourgeois gentilhomme, he performed with great success. Having obtained in 1672 a patent for opening a theatre for the performance of lyrical pieces, in conjunction with the poet Quinault he devoted himself thenceforth to the composition of operas. His works of this class number 19, and were highly popular with the king and the court. In the height of his reputation Lully met with his death in a singular manner. While conducting the performance of a Te Deum, composed by himself in honor of the king's recovery from sickness, he accidentally struck his foot violently with the cane with which he was beating time. Inflammation having set in, he put himself under the care of a quack, whose treatment he did not long survive. — Lully is generally regarded as the father of French dramatic music. He may be said to have created orchestral music in France by the new combinations of sound and the fuller harmonies he introduced into instrumental composition, as well as by the exactness of execution which he demanded from the performers. His reputation rests chiefly upon his operas, which are animated by a fine dramatic spirit, and frequently show beauty and pathos in the melodies, although the harmonies would contrast but indifferently with the works of modern composers. He is entitled to the credit of having invented the overture, and that spirited movement, the largo, which is the general introduction to the fugue. Handel has acknowledged that he modelled his overtures from those of Lully, and Purcell derived many valuable hints from his works. Most of Lully's biographers describe him as irritable and insolent to his inferiors, jealous of his compeers, selfish, and addicted to gross pleasures. His avarice gained him the name of Lully le ladre, and to the predominance of this trait has been ascribed his quarrel with Molière and La Fontaine. He left a fortune of 600,000 livres, the savings of a life of unusual prosperity.