When you think of France, what first comes to mind?

The tricolour?

The Eiffel Tower?

The Louvre?

The Palace of Versailles?

Or the magnificent food?

Yum.

What about it’s music? Its historical tunes of centuries past?

Let’s go back to the 1600s, before any of these actually existed, when its flag was thus:

And, back then its music was not brought to greatness by the French, but an Italian!

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687) brought French baroque music to its pinnacle, whilst in the service of Louis XIV, the Sun King. For 30 years he created music unattached to his Florentine origins. Indeed, it can be said that the peak of France’s power waxed with the King and Lully at the helm, militarily and musically.

Lully's bust

Louis XIV as a young man

When one makes music for the King for 30 years, you tend to get good at it. And you tend to compose many. His quick, lively style revolutionized French music, especially since many were originally composed as ballet pieces. He later moved on to opera, and still his style prevailed.

Here’s one from the French movie Tous les matins du monde: Marche pour la ceremonie des Turcs. Note the style of dress from the period.

In 1687, while conducting the following Te Deum to celebrate the King’s recovery from illness, Lully, as he kept rhythm with a sharp baton which hits the ground, accidentally stabbing himself in the foot with it, creating a gangrenous abcess. And because he refused to have it amputated, it spread, killing him slowly for 2 months thereafter.

Here is the piece, meant for celebration, but ironically became Lully’s “death knell”. I don’t think it’s the complete piece though; it cuts off at the end abruptly:

Well, there it is. The finest of French music from 400 years ago. Next time, if you do visit France, think not only of what you see and what has been said about it, but also what you hear in its concert halls and of what a man, long dead, has produced that has survived to this day.

Good night!~

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