French composer of Italian origin. He was court composer to Louis XIV of France. He composed music for the ballet and for Molière's plays, and established French opera with such works as Alceste (1674) and Armide et Rénaud (1686). He was also a ballet dancer.
The son of a miller, he had little education and learnt to play the guitar and violin without much guidance. At first he joined a group of strolling players, but in 1646 was discovered by the Chevalier de Guise and taken to France. There he entered the household of Mlle de Montpensier, the king's cousin, as a scullion. When she found that he was musical she made him a personal servant and leader of her string band. In 1652 he passed into the service of Louis XIV, who was then 14. Lully became a ballet dancer, a violinist in the king's ‘24 violins’, and a composer. In 1658 he began to compose ballets of his own, having contributed to some since 1653 in which the king himself danced. In 1661 he became a French citizen and Composer to the King's Chamber Music and in 1662 Music Master to the royal family. He continued to enjoy royal protection, in spite of his open homosexual activity, which at that time was punishable by death.
His first opera, Cadmus et Hermione, appeared in 1673, when he obtained a royal patent granting him the monopoly of operatic production and annulling a previous patent given to Pierre Perrin and Robert Cambert. The Académie Royale de Musique, as the Opéra was first called, was opened in 1672, with a pastiche from earlier works of his, Les Festes de l'Amour et de Bacchus. Most of his operas were written in collaboration with Philippe Quinault, and most of the ballets with Molière. His last complete opera was Acis et Galatée (1686); by this time he had transformed French operatic style, developing the formal French overture and introducing a more expressive and melodic recitative accompanied by the orchestra, which replaced the former recitative with harpsichord accompaniment. In 1687 he injured his foot with the staff with which he conducted a Te Deum to celebrate the king's recovery, and died of blood poisoning. His opera Achille et Polyxène, left unfinished, was completed by Pascal Colasse.
WorksOperaAlceste (1674), Thésée (1675), Atys (1676), Isis (1677), Psyché (1678), Persée (1682), Amadis de Gaule (1684), Armide et Rénaud (1686).
Comedy-ballets all with Molière, including Le Sicilien (1667), Les Amants magnifiques (1670), and Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (1670).
Ballets (some possibly by Boësset and others) Ballet de Xerxès (for Pier Francesco Cavalli's opera, 1660), Ballet des saisons (1661), Ballet des Muses (1666), Ballet de Flore (1669), Le Triomphe de l'amour (1681), Le Temple de la paix (1685).
Church musicMiserere (1644), Plaude laetare (1668), Te Deum (1677), De profundis (1683), motets for double chorus.
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