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  • L’ORCHESTRE DU ROI SOLEIL Jean-Baptiste Lully
  • L’ORCHESTRE DU ROI SOLEIL Jean-Baptiste Lully
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  • Jordi Savall
  • Le Concert Des Nations
  • Manfredo Kraemer

The years from 1670 to 1673 mark one of those crossroads at which history in general, and the history of art in particular, sometimes judiciously brings together just the right combination of people, events and even instruments. In fact, the events of those years were to have major consequences, not only for the future of French music, but also, to a certain extent, for Western music as a whole.

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Symphonies, Ouvertures & Airs à jouer

Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme 1670

Ouverture – Gavotte – Canaries – Marche pour la Cérémonie turque – Premier Air des Espagnols : Sarabande – Deuxième Air des Espagnols : Gigue – L’Entrée des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins – Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins

Le Divertissement Royal 1664-1670

Danse de Neptune – Les suivants de Neptune – Prélude des Trompettes – Les Hommes et Femmes armés – Rondeau du Mariage forcé – Second Air (Le Mariage forcé) – Bourrée du Mariage forcé – Bourrée du Divertissement de Chambord – Symphonie des Plaisirs – Les Esclaves – Menuet pour les Trompettes

Alceste 1674

Marche des Combattans – Menuet – Loure pour les Pêcheurs – Echos – Rondeau de la Gloire – La Pompe Funèbre – Rondeau pour la Fête Marine – Les Vents – La Fête Infernale : Premier Air – Deuxième Air. Les Démons – Marche des Assiégeants

Chaconne de l’Amour médecin 1665


Feb1999 en la Colegiata del Castillo de Cardona (Catalunya)


The years from 1670 to 1673 mark one of those crossroads at which history in general, and the history of art in particular, sometimes judiciously brings together just the right combination of people, events and even instruments. In fact, the events of those years were to have major consequences, not only for the future of French music, but also, to a certain extent, for Western music as a whole.

Firstly, the people; and, chief among them, the king. Louis XIV himself contributed in several ways. There was his thirst for glory, the like of which has rarely been seen in other monarchs. There was also his genuine and discerning love for all the arts, but especially for music and dance. Accordingly, he made the latter two art forms the favourite instruments of his “désir de gloire” and gave artists in these fields virtually unlimited resources with which to create their works. Then there was Lully, the beneficiary of the king’s munificence. Although one might criticise his attitude towards music (like Louis XIV’s own attitude towards the arts) as dictatorial, it is nevertheless a fact that no other musician (not even Wagner, whose royal patron was Ludwig II of Bavaria) ever received from his sovereign such an abundance of material, financial and moral support, and it was this power which would enable Lully to influence the destiny of music in the way that he did.

Secondly, the events. In this respect also, there was an equally extraordinary crossroads, with Lully at the very point at which the paths intersected. Italian by birth, temperament and also training (despite his arrival in Paris at an early age), but French by adoption, and having assimilated the artistic tastes and ideas of his second homeland, he was himself a kind of crossroads.
But that was not all; for one hundred years, court ballet had been one of the essential forms of French music. Lully, the Italian, was to breathe fresh air into it, giving it greater vigour and technical precision and, above all, new horizons. The king would give him both the means and numerous opportunities to bring about this transformation. In exchange, Lully developed the ballet to reflect the evolution of the king himself, endowing it with ever more grandeur, stateliness and brilliance. Yet another crossroads came about when Louis XIV commanded Lully and Molière to work together, a collaboration which gave rise to the mixed genre of the comédie-ballet. The new genre was to be a decisive influence in expanding choreographic art through the dimension of drama. Thus, while Italian opera was born from the addition of music to tragedy, French opera had its origins in the dramatisation of ballet, combined first with comedy and then with tragedy.
In 1670, Louis XIV stopped dancing and court ballet disappeared forthwith. Lully and Molière sought a new outlet for their combined creative talents by expanding on the comédie-ballet., a venture which culminated that same year in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. A year later, they took the project a stage further with the tragédie-ballet Psyché (1671). Then, along the same lines, Lully worked alone to create the even grander opéra à la française., with Cadmus et Hermione (1673) and Alceste (1674).

Finally, the instruments. The constant practice of ballet at the French court had led to the institution of a permanent ensemble known as the king’s Twenty-four Violins. While throughout Europe, instrumental ensembles were more or less “random”, depending on what was available at any given time and place, the French Band of Twenty-four Violins constituted the first orchestra in the modern sense of the word; that is to say, one in which the permanent distribution of instruments precedes and determines the composition of musical works. Its massive structure, impressive for the period, with a hard core of strings flanked by the oboes of the royal Écurie and, if required, by all the instruments of the Chamber, made it an incomparable musical tool, unrivalled by any ensemble in Europe at that time. Transferring as it did the structure of the royal orchestra to the opera, this specifically “French sound” was to dominate all French music after Lully, and also, by a process of imitation at the other European courts (beginning with the English King’s Select Band of Violins), instrumental music as a whole.


The works recorded here are a faithful reflection of the way in which history and art came together. The music was written to be performed by the full range of instruments, in terms of number, quality and diversity, available at the time. Lully had an incredibly rich sound palette to work with: as many strings as he could wish for, virtuoso flautists, the full range of oboes, all manner of percussion instruments, the brass section, keyboard instruments, lutes, theorboes and guitars. Although indications on the scores are rare, the occasional manuscript bearing the inscription “M. Lully joue” (Monsieur Lully performs) provides indirect evidence concerning the diversity of instruments used, indicating that the piece is for solo violin with florid ornamentation, or for guitar ensemble. Stage music of this kind required variety, not only in terms of the instruments used, but also in terms of the tempo, rhythm and means of expression. Diversity, within a context of continuity and development, was also a hallmark of the works themselves,.
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme was the apotheosis of comédie-ballet, and (together with Psyché) marked the high point of Lully’s collaboration with Molière. In this work, the music is not confined to M. Jourdain’s eternal minuet. It has an infinitely rich score, as regards both the comedy itself and the Turkish Ceremony (Cérémonie Turque) and the Dance of the Nations (Ballet des Nations). The Spanish or, in the parlance of the age, Gypsy) Airs (Les Airs pour les espagnols) demand a colourful and brilliant execution, as do the Entrée and the Chaconne des Scaramouches.
Royal Divertissement (Divertissement royal) gave another facet to art at court: great festive music of the kind that King Louis XIV, at the height of his youth, constantly commanded to be composed. Out of such festivities was Versailles born, and indeed it is the sumptuous, heroic and elegant reflection of Versailles in its early days, before 1680, that we find in this music.
The instrumental music in Alceste illustrates how opéra à la française took shape. Choreography, which resulted from the fusion of ballet and tragedy, played a key role in the work, developing the full potential of court ballet: pure dance music (minuet, marches, air des démons), vast choreographic scenes (Rondeau pour la Gloire, Fête infernale), descriptive music for pantomime and dance (Les Vents) and grand, lyrically evocative funeral music (Pompe funèbre).


Translated by Jacqueline Minett