Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687)

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687) was born in Italy, but became composer in the French court of Louis XIV. He was a chief contributor to what became known as the French Baroque style, rejecting his Italian roots. He developed his musical skills by playing the guitar, instructed by a Franciscan Friar in Italy. Someone recognized his musical talents and took him to France to serve Mademoiselle de Montpensier to do various jobs that she requested and to teach the Italian language. While there, he studied music theory.  Ultimately she dismissed him for some indiscreet song he made concerning her. In 1653, he became a dancer in the court of Louis XIV. While there, he composed a ballet, sufficiently impressive that King Louis appointed him the court composer of instrumental music. He is known primarily for his ballets.  One Day, he was directing the court orchestra with a staff by pounding it on the floor (can you imagine the effect of that?), when he accidentally pounded on his toe. It became became abscessed ultimately resulting in gangrene, which took his life.

The behaviors which caused his dismissal by the Mademoiselle continued throughout his life. He was a free spirit and was marked by numerous scandals and relationships with both men and women. It is always remarkable when people of questionable repute, at least in the public eye, produce such beauty. My mother, Xenia Lee Fitz Randolph Wheeler, says that she likes the Bible stories, using as an example, King David, because it tells her that God can use flawed and ordinary people for “His” purposes. I think the same can be said of Lully.
Although he is particularly known for introduction of new instruments to the orchestra, his ballets, many of which he danced him him him him self until advanced age, his operas, and music written for comedies of Molière, he also wrote some beautiful sacred music, such as the following:
Te Deum
De Profundis
Grand Motet – Exaudiat te Dominus
Dies irae

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