My words, thoughts and photos from a Swedish perspective

What I am listening to right now

Cover with detail of "La famille de Louis XIV" (Jean Nocret 1670)

Cover with detail of "La famille de Louis XIV" (Jean Nocret 1670)

Here at last – I tried to get a copy of this recording last summer but it seemed impossible then. Anyhow, I got a pleasant surprise a couple of weeks ago when I found an e-mail from Amazon saying that this recording was available again. They could offer a number of copies at different prices from various suppliers. I managed to get a new one for $ 16 and I got it by mail a couple of days ago.

I have been listening to it since then – not only for the joy of it, but also to discover the different harmonies hidden in the music. Some people think that baroque music is just baroque music and sounds about the same no matter who the composer is. They are wrong. It was the same thing then as today: different styles of music lived side by side. There is, for example, German baroque music, Italian baroque music – and French baroque music.

French baroque music is often the same as music composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the French King’s court composer. Louis XIV was the ruler of France, but Jean-Baptiste Lully was the ruler of its music. With time he more or less became the dictator of French music, given the sole right of music performances by the king. This meant for example that everyone who wanted to perform music in a theatre had to write to Lully himself and ask him to grant permission for this. Those who dared to overstep him could expect a fine of 10,000 livres and confiscation of the theatre and its machinery. Probably needless to say that this made Lully a wealthy man.

Naturally, this monopoly had its disadvantages as it no doubt affected the development of French music; “the Lully way” was the only path allowed for new talents and his influence on French music remained strong long after his death. The Paris Opera House had one of his operas as a standard work for generations before it was finally removed from the repertoire a little over a hundred years after his death.

What is so special about his music then? The 17th century people knew that life could be short and was in many ways a struggle, but also a matter of living it to its full extent and surprises were something that was truly appreciated. One can often here these things in Lully’s music. The music can be pompous, happy, sad, vivacious, elegant or surprising depending on what occasion it was written for and is always very expressive. That is what makes me love his music. See what you can find on YouTube for example and listen (before you go to your record store and spend your money). I am sure you will agree with me.

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