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Jean-Baptiste Lully (Florence, Italy, November 28, 1632-Paris, March 22, 1687) was an Italian composer, instrumentalist and dancer, creator of the French opera that consisted of a complex staging that incorporated opera with French aesthetics, as well as ballet and deep literary texts that he named “Musical tragedies”.
Born in Florence, Italy, his name, before he naturalized French, was Giovanni Battista Lulli . His parents were Lorenzo Lulli and Caterina. In 1638 his older brother Vergini dies; in October of 1639 his sister Margherita. With seven years Jean-Baptiste remains as the only son of his parents. Jean-Baptiste received his education with a Franciscan monk who gave him the first music lessons. He moved to France with 10 years after calling the attention of the Knight of Guise. There, in March of 1643, he entered as a valet in the service of Mademoiselle de Montpensier, who wished to perfect his knowledge of the Italian language.
At the age of 13, he already showed talent for music and learned to play the violin. Then he revealed himself as an excellent dancer and became part of the Grande Bande des Violons du Roi, composed of twenty-four violins. In 1653, Lully danced with the king in the Ballet de la Nuit.
The young king Louis XIV in the leading role of Apollo in the “Ballet de la Nuit”, 1653. On that occasion, Lully danced with the king.
In 1652, at the age of 20, he entered the service of Louis XIV as a ballet dancer and violinist. Later he directed one of the royal orchestras and in 1662 he was appointed musical director of the royal family. He excelled at the time as a violinist, director and composer.
He quickly obtained the direction of a new orchestra, La Bande des Petits Violons. A perfect courtier and a skilled businessman, he soon became the first composer of the court, and his arias and ballets consecrated his reputation. Supported by Luis XIV, he became a chamber composer and finally Superintendent of Music of His Majesty.
Naturalized French in 1661, at the age of 29 he married a few months later with Madeleine Lambert, with whom he had six children, and whose father was the musical director of Mademoiselle de Montpensier.
From 1664, he worked regularly with Molière, with whom he created a new genre, the ballet comedy, without for that reason renouncing the court ballet in a definitive way.
Clever courtier, he managed to maintain the royal favor throughout his life, which allowed him to handle the fate of other French composers. He composed ballets, like Alcidiane (1658), for the court, which he sometimes played before the king. In collaboration with Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) he composed a series of comic ballets, such as Les fâcheux (1661). In 1672 he managed by intrigue the position of director of the Académie royale de musique and from that moment turned his attention to the opera. The composer had already achieved a title of nobility and had made numerous properties in Paris and its surroundings. His operas (which he called tragédie lyrique) were based on the classic tragedies of his contemporaries, the French playwrights Pierre Corneille and Jean Baptiste Racine. Except in Psyche (1678), Bellerophon (1679) and Acis and Galatea (1686), his librettist was the poet Philippe Quinault. From the musical point of view, his operas are solemn and majestic, with a special emphasis on the clarity of the text and the inflections of the French language. His elaborate dance performances and choirs of great majesty have their roots in ballet de cour (court ballet). Lully’s operas contrast with the Italian opera style of the time, where the singer’s brilliance was given priority. Among his works include Perseus (1682), Amadis de Gaula (1684) and the aforementioned Acis and Galatea.
Bust of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Work by Antoine Coysevox.