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Lully, Jean Baptiste de

1633-1687

Celebrated composer; born at or near Florence. His talent was discovered at an early age and his first instruction was given him by an old shoemaker monk, who taught him the  rudiments of music and the guitar. When about ten or twelve years old he was discovered by the Chevalier de Guise, who brought him to Paris and turned him over to his niece, Mile, de Montpensier, who desired to learn Italian. His first position was as scullion in the kitchen and he devoted his spare minutes to playing popular airs on an old violin. Being overheard he was raised to a place in the Princess' band where he soon played better than the others. All would have gone well but his mischievous disposition got the better of him and he was caught writing satirical verses about the Princess who promptly dismissed him. However, he had been noticed by Louis XIV., then about fifteen years of age, who had taken a fancy to him and who made him a member of his band of "Twenty-four Violins." Here he did so well that the King established another band especially for him to train. These players were called Les Petits-Violons, and under Lully's management they soon surpassed the older band. In place of the old idea of air and accompaniment, he studied the capacity of each instrument and assigned to each an individual part, thus adding to the novelty and balance of the whole composition. Realizing his own defective education he took lessons on the harpsichord and in composition of Nicholas Mertu; of François Roberdet, who, beside being valet-de-chambre to the queenmother was organist at the church of the Petit-Peres; and of Gigault, organist of several churches and a talented composer. It was by studying the works of the Venetian composer, Cavalli, and observing his method, that Lully laid the foundation of his own individual style. This is evident in his Le Manage force, Pourceaugnac, La Princesse d'filide, and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. He was appointed to compose music for the Court ballets and to write ballet divertissements for Cavalli's operas, then given for the first time in France. In 1661 the King appointed him "Charge of Chamber Music to the King "and the next year," Charge of Music-Master to the Royal Family." In 1661 he was naturalized.

In 1664 he married the daughter of Michel Lambert, a talented musician, and they had three sons and three daughters. About the time of his marriage he became friends with Moliere, who collaborated with him until 1671. From 1658 to 1671 Lully composed about thirty ballets, the last being for Moliere's Psyche. He took part personally in many of them both as dancer and comic actor, thus gaining added favor with the King. Not content with the honors and fortune he already enjoyed, he used his influence with Louis to deprive Abbe Perrin of a grant (1669) which privileged him to create an Academy of Music. Lully obtained this grant himself and became " the founder of the French National Opera." Whether he had a right to this position or not he certainly did good work, giving his personal attention to every detail, being director, stage manager and everything to ensure its success. He formed a partnership with the poet Quenault as collaborator, which lasted fourteen years. Together they composed the first legitimate French  opera, Les Fetes de 1'Amour et de Bacchus. During this time Lully composed twenty operas on a variety of subjects which is surprising. During the fifteen years of his directorship of the Opera Lully carefully guarded his interests, the King restricting other theatres and actors in every way. In 1681 he obtained the position of secretary to the King, though this office had previously been held only by native noblemen. He died in Paris, leaving a large fortune. His family erected to his memory a splendid monument surmounted by his bust in the left-hand chapel of the church of the Petit-Peres.

Lully changed completely the Court ballets from the old slow and stately airs to lively and rapid music. He also wrote sacred music; his motefs for double choirs were published in 1684 and some exist in the libraries of Versailles and of the Conservatory As Louis XIV. detested brilliant passages, Lully was obliged to adhere to the smoothness of Italian melodies. The sameness of his operas, his faulty instrumentation and his occasional incorrectness in harmony must be excused on account of the times. He certainly understood the stage, and the fact that his works are still republished is a proof of his talent.

Louis, his eldest son, born in Paris, 1664, died about 1715. He composed a number of operas and, with Colasse, a four-act ballet, Les Saisons, the memory of which still lives in one of J. B. Rousseau's satires. Jean Baptiste de, second son, born in Paris, 1665, and died in 1701. He was appointed musicmaster in 1695. His principal work was a cantata, Le Triomphe de la Raison. Jean Louis, third son, born 1667 and died 1688, gave promise of becoming a successful musician. His father's Court appointments were given him and upon his death devolved upon his brother.