Lully, Jean Baptiste
Lully, son of a working-class miller, was born in Florence, Italy. Lully had little education, but he learned basic techniques on the guitar, originally taught by a Franciscan friar of Florence. Later in France, he learned how to play the violin, and to dance. In 1646, he was discovered by Roger de Lorraine, the chevalier de Guise, son of Charles, Duke of Guise, and was taken to France, where he entered the services of Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as a scullery-boy and Italian-language teacher. With the help of this princess, his talent increased. He studied the theory of music under Nicolas Métru. It has been said that a scurrilous song on his patroness (the doggerel he set to music refers to a “sigh” she produced while at stool) resulted in his dismissal. It is far more likely that he did not want to moulder out in the provinces with the exiled princess.
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 placed at the head of the Petits Violons, the kings private violin band. In 1661, the King appointed Lully the Surintendant de la musique de la chambre du roi, which brought the twenty-four violons of the Grand Bande of Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi under Lully’s command.
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 Louis, who found Lully essential for his musical entertainments and who thought of Lully as one of his few true friends.