Wednesday, November 28, 8632

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) - Absolutism

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) - Alceste (1674)

Jean-Baptiste de Lully (Giovanni Battista di Lulli, November 28, 1632 - March 22, 1687), was a French composer of Italian birth, who spent most of his life working in the court of

Louis XIV of France. Lully became a French subject in 1661.

Born in Florence, the son of a miller, Lully had little education, musical or otherwise, but he had a natural talent to play the guitar and violin and to dance. In 1646, he was discovered by the Duke of Guise and taken to France by him, where he entered the services of Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as a scullery-boy. There is some dispute over this, however; it is actually possible that he was employed to teach her Italian. With the help of this lady his musical talents were cultivated. He studied the theory of music under Nicolas Métru. A scurrilous poem on his patroness resulted in his dismissal.

He came into Louis XIV's service in late 1652, early 1653 as a dancer. He composed some music for the Ballet de la Nuit which pleased the king immensely. He was appointed as the composer of instrumental music to the king and conducted the royal string orchestra of the French court, Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (Twenty-four Violins of the King) or the Grande Bande (large band). He tired of the lack of discipline of the Grande Bande, and with the King's permission formed his own Petits Violons.

Lully composed many ballets for the King during the 1650's and 1660's, in which the King and Lully himself danced. He also had tremendous success composing the music for the comedies of Molière, including Le Mariage forcé (1664), L'Amour médecin (1665), and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670). Louis XIV's interest in ballet waned as he aged and his dancing ability declined (his last performance was in 1670) and so Lully pursued opera. He bought the privilege for opera from Pierre Perrin and with the backing of Jean-Baptiste Colbert and the king, created a new privilege which essentially gave Lully complete control of all music performed in France until his death.

He was a notorious libertine. In 1662, he married Madeleine Lambert, daughter of Lully's friend and fellow musician Michel Lambert, and proceeded to have ten children by her. But at the height of his career, in 1685, he felt confident enough to flaunt his relationship with Brunet, his young page from La Chapelle. Although his life is full of meteoric heights, his love affairs with boys and women brought him down in scandal several times to the great displeasure of Louis XIV and led to his renown as a sodomite.

Despite these scandals, he always managed to get back into the good graces of Louis XIV who found Lully essential for his musical entertainments and who thought of Lully as one of his few true friends. In 1681, Lully was appointed as a court secretary to Louis XIV and was ennobled, after which he wrote his name "Jean-Baptiste de Lully" and was addressed as "Monsieur de Lully."

On January 8, 1687, Lully was conducting a Te Deum in honor of Louis XIV's recent recovery from illness. He was beating time by banging a long staff (a precursor to the baton) against the floor, as was the common practice at the time, when he struck his toe, creating an abscess. The wound turned gangrenous, but Lully refused to have his toe amputated and the gangrene spread resulting in his death on March 22. His last opera, Achille et Polyxène, was unfinished.

Lully's music is from the middle Baroque period, 1650 to 1700. Typical is the use of the basso continuo as the driving force behind the music. The pitch standard for the time and place was about 392 Hz for A above Middle C, a whole tone lower than modern practice where A is usually 440 Hz.

Lully's music is known for its power, liveliness in its fast movements and its deep emotional character in its sad movements. Some of his most popular works are his passacaille (passacaglia,) and chaconne which are dance movements found in many of his works such as Armide or Phaëton. His Miserere, written for the funeral of the minister Seguier, is considered a work of genius. Equally acclaimed are his minor sacred compositions.

The influence of Lully's music produced a radical revolution in the style of the dances of the court itself. Instead of the slow and stately movements which had prevailed until then, he introduced lively ballets of rapid rhythm. He affected important improvements in the composition of the orchestra, into which he introduced several new instruments, and Lully enjoyed the friendship of Molière, with whom he created a new music form, the comédie-ballet which combined theater, comedy, and ballet. The instruments in his music were: violins, five sizes/voices: (dessus, haute-contre, taille, quinte, basse), close to one voice of violins, three voices of violas, and cello(violoncello)) basse de viole (viole, viola da gamba) guitar lute archlute theorbo harpsichord organ oboe bassoon recorder flute brass percussion

Lully founded French opera (tragédie en musique or tragédie lyrique), having found Italian-style opera inappropriate for the French language. Having found a congenial poet and librettist in Philippe Quinault, Lully composed many operas and other works, which were received enthusiastically. Lully can be considered the founder of French opera, having foresaken the Italian method of dividing musical numbers into separate recitatives and arias, choosing instead to combine the two for dramatic effect. Lully also opted for quicker story development as was more to the taste of the French public.


[Two-Beat Conducting Pattern]




Conducting is the act of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. Orchestras, choirs, concert bands, and other musical ensembles often have conductors.

The principal conductor of an orchestra or opera company is sometimes referred to as a music director or chief conductor, or by the German word, Kapellmeister. Conductors of choirs are sometimes referred to as choral director, chorus master, or choirmaster, particularly for choirs associated with an orchestra. Conductors of military bands and other bands may hold the title of bandmaster. Respected senior conductors are sometimes referred to by the Italian word, maestro ("master").

An early form of conducting is cheironomy, the use of hand gestures to indicate melodic shape.

This has been practiced at least as far back as the Middle Ages. In the Christian church, the person giving these symbols held a staff to signify his role, and it seems that as music became more rhythmically involved, the staff was moved up and down to indicate the beat, acting as an early form of baton.

In the 17th century, other devices to indicate the passing of time came into use. Rolled up sheets of paper, smaller sticks and unadorned hands are all shown in pictures from this period.

The large staff was responsible for the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully, who stabbed his foot with one while conducting a Te Deum for the king's recovery from illness. The wound became gangrenous, and he died two months later, after refusing surgery to remove the infected toe.

In instrumental music, a member of the ensemble usually acted as the conductor. This was sometimes the principal violinist, who could use his bow as a baton, or a lutenist who would move the neck of his instrument in time with the beat. It was common to conduct from the harpsichord in pieces that had a basso continuo part. In opera performances, there were sometimes two conductors -- the keyboard player was in charge of the singers, and the principal violinist was in charge of the orchestra.

By the early 19th century, it became the norm to have a dedicated conductor, who did not also play an instrument during the performance. The size of the usual orchestra expanded during this period, and the use of a baton became more common, as it was easier to see than bare hands or rolled-up paper. Among the earliest notable conductors were Louis Spohr, Carl Maria von Weber, Louis Antoine Jullien and Felix Mendelssohn, all of whom were also composers.

Mendelssohn is claimed to have been the first conductor to utilize a wooden baton to keep time, a practice still generally in use today. Amongst prominent conductors who did not or do not use a baton are Leopold Stokowski, Pierre Boulez, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Kurt Masur, and Mark Alburger.

Hans von Bülow is commonly considered the first professional musician whose principal career was as a conductor.

Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner were also conductors, and they wrote two of the earliest essays dedicated to the subject. Berlioz is considered the first virtuoso conductor. Wagner was largely responsible for shaping the conductor's role as one who imposes his own view of a piece onto the performance rather than one who is simply responsible for ensuring entries are made at the right time and that there is a unified beat.

Conducting is a means of communicating artistic directions to performers during a performance.

There are no absolute rules on how to conduct correctly, and a wide variety of different conducting styles exist. The primary responsibilities of the conductor are to set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble.

An understanding of the basic elements of musical expression (tempo, dynamics, articulation) and the ability to communicate them effectively to an ensemble is necessary in order to conduct.

The ability to communicate nuances of phrasing and expression through gesture is also beneficial. Conducting gestures may be choreographed beforehand by the conductor while studying the score, or may be spontaneous.

A distinction is sometimes made between orchestral conducting and choral conducting. Stereotypically, orchestral conductors use a baton more often than choral conductors (though not always: this is up to the conductor's personal preference), and favor the use of beat patterns over gestural conducting, which concentrates more on musical expression and shape.

The grip of the baton varies from conductor to conductor. Despite a wide variety of styles, a number of standard conventions have developed.

The beat of the music is typically indicated with the conductor's right hand, with or without a baton. The hand traces a shape in the air in every bar (measure) depending on the time signature, indicating each beat with a change from downward to upward motion. The images show the most common beat patterns, as seen from the conductor's point of view.

The downbeat indicates the first beat of the bar, and the upbeat indicates the last beat of the bar.

The instant at which the beat occurs is called the ictus (plural: ictus or ictuses), and is usually indicated by a sudden (though not necessarily large) click of the wrist or change in baton direction. In some instances, "ictus" is also used to refer to a horizontal plane in which all the ictuses are physically located, such as the top of a music stand where a baton is tapped at each ictus. The gesture leading up to the ictus is called the "preparation", and the continuous flow of steady beats is called the "takt."

If the tempo is slow or slowing, or if the time signature is compound, a conductor will sometimes indicate "subdivisions" of the beats. The conductor can do this by adding a smaller movement in the same direction as the movement for the beat that it belongs to.

Changes to the tempo are indicated by changing the speed of the beat. To carry out and to control a rallentando, a conductor may introduce beat subdivisions.

Some conductors use both hands to indicate the beat, with the left hand mirroring the right, though others view this as redundant and therefore to be avoided. This is also seen as improper practice by many. The second hand may be used for cueing the entrances of individual players or sections, and to aid indications of dynamics, phrasing, expression, and other elements.

Dynamics are indicated in various ways. The dynamic may be communicated by the size of the conducting movements, larger shapes representing louder sounds. Changes in dynamic may be signaled with the hand that is not being used to indicate the beat: an upward motion (usually palm-up) indicates a crescendo; a downward motion (usually palm-down) indicates a diminuendo. Changing the size of conducting movements may result in unintended tempo changes because larger movements require the beat to traverse more space in the same amount of time.

Dynamics can be fine-tuned using various gestures: showing one's palm to the performers or leaning away from them may demonstrate a decrease in volume. In order to adjust the overall balance of the various instruments or voices, these signals can be combined or directed towards a particular section or performer.

The indication of entries, when a performer or section should begin playing (perhaps after a long period of silence), is called "cueing". A cue must forecast with certainty the exact moment of the coming ictus, so that all the players or singers affected by the cue can begin playing simultaneously. Cueing is achieved by engaging the players before their entry and executing a clear preparation, often directed towards the specific players. An inhalation, which may or may not be a semi-audible "sniff" from the conductor, is a common element in the cueing technique of many conductors. Mere eye contact or a look in the general direction of the players may be sufficient in many instances, as when more than one section of the ensemble enters at the same time. Larger musical events may warrant the use of a larger or more emphatic cue designed to encourage emotion and energy.

Articulation may be indicated by the character of the ictus, ranging from short and sharp for staccato, to long and fluid for legato. Many conductors change the tension of the hands: strained muscles and rigid movements may correspond to marcato, while relaxed hands and soft movements may correspond to legato or espressivo.

Phrasing may be indicated by wide overhead arcs or by a smooth hand motion either forwards or side-to-side. A held note is often indicated by a hand held flat with palm up. The end of a note, called a "cutoff" or "release", may be indicated by a circular motion, the closing of the palm, or the pinching of finger and thumb. A release is usually preceded by a preparation and concluded with a complete stillness.

Conductors aim to maintain eye contact with the ensemble as much as possible, encouraging eye contact in return and increasing the dialogue between players/singers and conductor.

Facial expressions may also be important to demonstrate the character of the music or to encourage the players.


Absolutism is a historiographical term used to describe a form of monarchical power that is unrestrained by any other institutions, such as churches, legislatures, or social elites.

Absolutism is typically used in conjunction with some European monarchs during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and monarchs described as "absolute" can especially be found in the 17th century through the 19th century. Absolutism is characterized by the ending of feudal partitioning, consolidation of power with the monarch, rise of state power, unification of the state, and a decrease in the influence of nobility.

Absolute monarchs are also associated with the rise of professional standing armies, professional bureaucracies, the codification of state laws, and the rise of ideologies that justify the absolutist monarchy. Absolutist monarchs typically were considered to have the divine right of kings as a cornerstone of the philosophy that justified their power.

Monarchs often depicted as absolute rulers include Ivan III (1440-1505), Ivan IV ("The Terrible") (1530-1584),

Peter I (1672-1725), and

Catherine II (1729-1796) (both the latter characterized as "the Great") of Russia;

Louis XIII (1601-1643) and Louis XIV ("The Sun King") (1638-1715) of France;

Leopold I (1640-1705),

Maria Theresa (1717-1780), and

Joseph II (1741-1790) of Austria;

Charles XI (1655-1697) and

Charles XII (1682-1718) of Sweden; and

Frederick the Great (1712-1786) of Prussia.

Absolute monarchs spent considerable sums on extravagant houses for themselves and their nobles. In an absolutist state, monarchs often required nobles to live in the royal palace, while state officials ruled the noble lands in their absence. This was designed to reduce the effective power of the nobility by causing nobles to become reliant upon the largesse of the monarch for their livelihoods.

There is a considerable variety of opinion by historians on the extent of absolutism among European monarchs.

In general, historians who disagree with the appellation of "absolutism" argue that most monarchs labeled as "absolutist" exerted no greater power over their subjects than any other "non-absolutist" rulers, and these historians tend to emphasize the differences between the absolutist rhetoric of monarchs and the realities of the effective use of power by these absolute monarchs.

[8637 Buxtehude / 8632 Lully / 8620 Greensleeves]