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Jean-Baptiste Lully

Jean-Baptiste Lully, originally Giovanni Battista Lulli (November 28, 1632 - March 22, 1687), was an Italian born composer, who spent most of his life working in the court of Louis XIV of France. He took French citizenship in 1661.

Born in Florence, the son of a miller, Lully had very little education, musical or otherwise, but learnt the guitar and violin. In 1646 he was discovered by the Duc de Guise and taken to France by him, where he entered the services of Mademoiselle de Montpensier (la Grande Mademoiselle) as scullery-boy. With the help of this lady his musical talents were cultivated. A scurrilous poem on his patroness resulted in his dismissal.

He then studied the theory of music under Métra and entered the orchestra of the French court, being subsequently appointed director of music to Louis XIV and director of the Paris opera. The influence of his 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.

In 1662 he was appointed music master to the royal family. In 1681 he was made a court secretary to the king and ennobled.

While directing a Te Deum on January 8, 1687 with a rather long baton he injured his foot so seriously that (so it is said) it turned gangrenous, resulting in his death on the 22nd of March.

Having found a congenial poet in Quinault, Lully composed twenty operas, which met with a most enthusiastic reception. Indeed he has good claim to be considered the founder of French opera, forsaking the Italian method of separate recitativo and aria for a dramatic consolidation of the two and a quickened action of the story such as was more congenial to the taste of the French public.

He effected important improvements in the composition of the orchestra, into which he introduced several new instrumentss.

Lully enjoyed the friendship of Molière, for some of whose best plays he composed illustrative music.

His Miserere, written for the funeral of the minister Sequier, is a work of genius; and very remarkable are also his minor sacred compositions.

On his death-bed he wrote Bisogna morire, peccatore.

Lully's Operas