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Jean-Baptiste de Lully 1632-1687


Born Giovanni Battista di Lulli 28th Nov. 1632 in Florence, Italy

Italian composer who spent most of his life working inthe court of Louis XIV and became a French subject in 1661.

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Lully had little or no education but was taught to play the guitar by a franciscan friar in Florence and later learned to play the violin and to dance. He was discovered by Roger de Lorraine in 1646 and was taken by him to France where he went into service as a scullery boy for Madame de Montpensier, and Italian language teacher. He studied music theory under Nicolas Metru.

In 1652 he entered the service of Louis XIV and composed some music for the Ballet de La Nuit and was appointed composer to the king, conducting the Grande Bande (24 violins). Tiring of the lack of discipline he formed his own group with the king's permission and called it Petits Violons.

Lully composed many ballets for the King during the 1650s and 1660s, 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). It was when he met Molière that together they created the comédie-ballet. 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 in 1687.

He was known to be a libertine. In 1661, in letters of naturalization and in his marriage contract to Madeleine Lambert, daughter of Lully's friend and fellow musician Michel Lambert, Giovanni Battista Lulli declared himself as "'Jean-Baptiste de Lully, escuyer' son of 'Laurent de Lully, gentilhomme Florentin'".Although his life is full of meteoric heights, his love affairs with men and women also brought him down in scandal several times at the great displeasure of Louis XIV. Despite these scandals, he always managed to get back into the good graces of the king who found Lully essential for his musical entertainments and who thought of Lully as one of his few true friends.

On 8 January 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 22 March. He left his last opera, Achille et Polyxène, unfinished. His two sons Jean Louis Lully and Louis Lully also had musical careers at the French court.


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