Paris and Versailles

  • Julie Anne Sadie
Part of the Man & Music book series (MAMU)


Few can have grieved over the early demise of Jean-Baptiste Lully in March 1687; some may be forgiven for thinking it his just reward. For 30 years he had shaped musical taste at the courts of the Regent Anne of Austria and, from 1660, Louis XIV. He used his unprecedented influence with the king for personal gain, creating musical theatre that was the envy of every court in Europe, ruthlessly suppressing talented younger contemporaries and amassing a fortune exceeded by musicians only in modern times. To judge by the reception of Armide in 1686, Lully was at the very height of his powers just as the tide was turning for Louis XIV. His operas were being performed not only in Paris and at Versailles, but also at the courts of the Low Countries, Germany and Italy.


Ancien Regime Chamber Music French Style Court Life Italian Opera 
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Bibliographical Note


  1. To approach the music of the era 1687–1733 it is necessary first of all to master the life and times of Louis XIV, who reigned from 1660 until his death in 1715, as well as that of his maître de musique extraordinaire Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose death in 1687 marks the starting-point of this essay. In F. Bluche’s Louis XIV (trans. M. Greengrass, Oxford, 1990) we have an important and eminently human biography of the king; in P. Burke’s The Fabrication of Louis XIV (New Haven and London, 1992) we learn how his public image was crafted; but a balanced, in-depth study of Lully has yet to appear. For two decades our view of this era has been emphatically influenced by the historian R. Isherwood’s brilliantly conceived Music in the Service of the King: France in the Seventeenth Century (Ithaca, 1973), which effectively bridges the chasm between monarch and first musician; the chapter on ‘The End of the Reign’ is particularly apposite here. The court diaries of the Marquis de Dangeau (Journal de la cour de Louis XIV) and Marquis de Sourches (Mémoires sur la régne de Louis XIV) and reports in the Mercure all greatly add to our knowledge of music-making in Paris and at the court at Versailles.Google Scholar
  2. Important perspectives on the interregnum between Louis XIV and Louis XV, a historical period too often glossed over, may be acquired from J. H. Shennan’s monograph Philippe, Duke of Orléans: Regent of France 1715–1723 (London, 1979), J. C. Petitfils’s Le Régent (Paris, 1986)Google Scholar
  3. L. Norton, ed. and trans., Historical Memoirs of the Duke of Saint-Simon (London, 1967; in three vols., covering the period 1691 to 1723). A. Tessier’s edition of the correspondence between Destouches and the Prince of Monaco (1709–31; ReM, viii, 1926–7) addresses musical matters almost exclusively, while the more general memoirs of Mathieu Marais (ed. M. de Lescure, 1863), covering 1715 to 1737, and Edmond-Jean-François Barbier (pubd 1866), which take up where Saint-Simon’s leave off, are also well worth consulting. The unprecedented biographical detail and rich anecdotage contained in E. Titon du Tillet’s Le Parnasse François (Paris, 1732)Google Scholar
  4. L. D’Aquin de Château-Lyon’s Siécle littéraire de Louis XV, ou Lettres sur les hommes célèbres (Amsterdam, 1753) underscore the soaring status of musicians during the era. A historical overview may usefully be gleaned from A. Cobban’s A History of Modern France, i: 1715–1799 (Harmondsworth, 3/1984), while A New History of French Literature, ed. D. Hollier (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1989) provides valuable, up-to-date summaries of the literary issues and documents that often affected composers and inspired parallels in the musical literature.Google Scholar
  5. No musically minded student of the post-Lullian era will want to be without J. R. Anthony’s pioneering survey French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau (London, 1974, 2/1978; enlarged Fr. trans., 1981), nor indeed the trusty New Grove French Baroque Masters (London, 1986), to which Professor Anthony generously contributed. The work of an older generation of French scholars — Brenet (Marie Bobiller), Borrel, Cucuel, Ecorcheville, Lajarte, La Laurencie, Masson, Pincherle, Pruniéres, Quittard, Tessier and, more recently, Barthélemy, Dufourcq, Launay, Lesure and Viollier — continue to reward study. Details of the lives of the musicians, their librettists and patrons are to be found in the long-awaited Dictionnaire de la musique en France aux xviie et xviiie siécles (Paris, 1992), edited by Marcelle Benoit, in Grove 6 and in J. A. Sadie’s more concise, gazetteer-style Companion to Baroque Music (London, 1990). A. P. de Mirimonde’s L’iconographie musicale sous les rois Bourbons (2 vols., Paris, 1975–7) elegantly dresses their profiles, and to his commentary may be added the broader views of A. Blunt’s Art and Architecture in France (Harmondsworth, 1953)Google Scholar
  6. M. Levey’s Rococo to Revolution: Major Trends in Eighteenth-Century Painting (London, 1966). The continuing, luxuriant flowering of recordings by period specialists has greatly increased our familiarity with their music.Google Scholar

Source material

  1. We are remarkably, even unprecedentedly, well endowed with source materials for what is often called the French Classical era, thanks in no small part to the efforts of François Lesure, who facilitated the publication by Minkoff and others (notably Slatkine and Pendragon) of superbly produced facsimile editions of manuscript and engraved musical scores, contemporary treatises and commentary — precious among them F. Raguenet’s Paralèle des italiens et des français en ce qui regarde la musique et les opéra (Paris, 1732).Google Scholar
  2. The painstaking archival work inspired by Norbert Dufourcq has yielded a rich harvest of extracts from royal and municipal records, journals and memoirs, many of which were published by the Parisian firm of A. & J. Picard, separately and between the covers of the now sadly discontinued Recherches sur la musique française classique (RMFC). Pre-eminent today among the legion of archivists is Marcelle Benoit, whose monumental companion volumes Musiques de cour: chapelle, chambre, écurie: recueil de documents 1661–1733 and Versailles et les musiciens du roi: étude institutionnelle et sociale 1661–1733 (Paris, 1971) serve as inexhaustible resources about the employment of musicians at court. C. Pierre’s Histoire du Concert Spirituel 1725–1790, published by the Société Française de Musicologie (Paris, 1975), with an index of concert programmes prepared by A. Bloch-Michel, is similarly invaluable to any investigation of this era. A. Devriés’s work on eighteenth-century French publishers documents the proliferation of French music.Google Scholar

Composers and music

  1. The catalogue raisonné of the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, meticulously prepared by H. Wiley Hitchcock, has stimulated great interest which, with the recent commencement of the issue of Charpentier’s complete works in facsimile, should ensure his rightful place alongside Lully. But while Catherine Cessac has provided a substantial monograph on Charpentier (Paris, 1988) and Sylvette Milliot and La Gorce one on Marin Marais (Paris, 1991), we lack similar up-to-date assessments of Lully and Rameau. The 1983 Rameau and 1987 Lully tercentenaries stimulated important new research — much of which has already found its way into conference reports, Festschriften and journals — and prompted exhibitions and festivals which have greatly popularized these composers and their times. Yet their music and that of their contemporaries, such as Michel-Richard de Lalande, to name the most important, still lacks critical collected editions and remains largely the preserve of research libraries, most notably the Bibliothéque Nationale in Paris. J. R. Mongrédien’s Catalogue thématique des sources du grand motet français (1663–1792) (Paris, 1984) is an important landmark in the revival of the noble genre of sacred music in which Lalande excelled. The German scholar Herbert Schneider has produced an excellent catalogue of the works of Lully, and catalogues for Lalande and Rameau are promised by Lionel Sawkins and Sylvie Bouissou. The unprecedented success of the French film Tous les matins du monde ( 1991 ), loosely based on the life and music of Marin Marais, serves to confirm the current widespread interest in French music and manners of this era.Google Scholar
  2. Young American, Antipodean and English scholars continue to turn out pertinent dissertations under the supervision of French specialists such as Albert Cohen, David Fuller, Graham Sadler, David Tunley and Neal Zaslaw. L. Rosow’s Lully’s ‘Armide’ at the Paris Opéra: a Performance History, 1686–1766’ (diss., Brandeis U., 1981)Google Scholar
  3. P. R. Rice’s The Performing Arts at Fontainebleau from Louis XIV to Louis XVI (Ann Arbor, 1989) interpret, expand and greatly enhance our knowledge of the sources. The doctoral research of David Fuller and Bruce Gustafson are usefully joined to form the basis of A Catalogue of French Harpischord Music 1699–1780 (Oxford, 1990). Oxford University Press’s quarterly journal Early Music has devoted whole issues to Lully and Rameau and has been a frequent outlet for a new research in English on French Baroque performing practice.Google Scholar
  4. Increasingly, young French scholars — inspired by the examples of Catherine Massip (François Lesure’s successor at the Bibliothéque Nationale), Jerome de La Gorce (Centre Nationale des Recherches Scientifiques) and Jean R. Mongrédien (Professor at the Sorbonne’s Centre d’Etudes de la Musique Française aux XVIIIe et XIXe Siécles) — are producing substantial biographies (a realm hitherto occupied by writers in English such as Edith Borroff, Cuthbert Girdlestone and Wilfrid Meilers) and surveys, notable among them R. Fajon’s L’Opéra à Paris de Roi Soleil à Louis le Bien-Aimé (Geneva, 1984), C. Kintzler’s Poétique de l’opéra français de Corneille à Rousseau (Paris, 1991)Google Scholar
  5. J. de La Gorce’s L’Opéra à Paris au temps de Louis XIV: histoire d’un théâtre (Paris, 1992). As to the future, the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, founded in 1987, must be seen as a powerful potential benefactor, through its lavish festivals at Versailles — reminiscent of the spectacles of Louis XIV’s day — and the intoxicating prospect of the production of databases on a scale unimaginable to an individual scholar.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Granada Group and Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie Anne Sadie

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