Jean-Baptiste Lully

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Born: Florence, November 28, 1632

Died: Paris, March 22, 1687

    Italian-born French composer, who helped establish opera in France.

    Born in Florence, Italy, on November 28, 1632, and originally named Giovanni Battista Lulli, he went to France at the age of 14, entering the service of Louis XIV in 1652 as a ballet dancer and violinist. He later conducted one of the royal orchestras and in 1662 became music master to the royal family. A shrewd courtier, he retained the king's favour throughout his life and virtually ruled the fortunes of other French composers. Lully composed ballets, such as Alcidiane (1658), for the court, dancing alongside the king in many of them. In collaboration with the French playwright Molière, he composed a series of comedy ballets including Les fâcheux (The Bores, 1661), Le mariage forcé (1665), and Le bourgeois gentilhomme (1670). He acquired a virtual monopoly over the performance of musical entertainment in France, exploiting the grandeur and theatricality of Louis XIV's court.

    In 1672 he intrigued to get for himself the directorship of the Académie Royale de Musique (now the Paris Opéra) and turned to opera. He modelled his operas, which he called tragédies-lyriques, on the classical tragedy of his contemporaries, the French dramatists Pierre Corneille and Jean-Baptiste Racine. Musically, his operas are solemn and stately, emphasizing the clarity of the text and the inflections of the French language. Their elaborate dance spectacles and choruses of massive grandeur have roots in the ballet de cour, or courtly dance-pageant. Lully's operas stand in contrast to the Italian opera of the day, with its emphasis on virtuoso solo singing. They include Persée (1682), Amadis de Gaule (1684), and Acis et Galatée (1686). He died on March 22, 1687, in Paris.