French Language Blog

The Godfather of l’Opéra français Part 2 Posted by on Feb 4, 2011 in Culture, Music, Vocabulary

Molière and Jean de la Fontaine: Two famous victims of the intrigues devised by le Parrain (the Godfather) of French Opera. As such, they join a long list of hommes de lettreswho were -it’s tempting to say- “lulled by Lully”

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If le cardinal Mazarin were to be regarded as the “Overall Godfather“, the capo de tutti capi, of the “Italian Connection” that has for long dominated the court of “le Roi-Soleil”(“The Sun King”, Louis XIV), then when it comes to the specific area of French Opera, Jean-Baptiste Lully, by all means an underling of Mazarin‘s, would no doubt play the role of a “Music Godfather“—Or, to borrow yet another Sicilian Mafia term, something like a “capodecinaof French Opera

It is therefore not a shocking surprise that, throughout his carrière musicale, Lully was able to earn himself a host of influential enemies within the French kingdom. Some of them even counted names of the “highest caliber” of French literature…

Jean de la Fontaine, whose fable “le corbeau et le renard” (“The Crow and the Fox”) was the subject of a previous post featured here on the French Blog, was actually un ennemi juré (a sworn enemy) of Lully‘s. He devoted a rather scathing satirical work en son honneur(“in his honor”), which he named “le Florentin!

Yet another “Jean-Baptiste” deeply involved in the early developments of French Opera: Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known as “Molière“, author of “le Bourgeois gentilhomme” (“The Middle Class Gentleman”), and for long a collaborateur of Lully, had also experienced a falling out with “le Florentin.

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The year 1686, five years following the death of his patron Mazarin, marked the sudden commencement de la fin(beginning of the end) for Lully’s previously unchallenged position as the court’s composer in chief, when the King ordered his opera “Armide” to be performed outside of Versailles

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Though regarded as a champion of “Baroque“, an “artistic style” which etymologically suggests  (in Portuguese) ideas of “imperfection” or “asymmetry”, one can still perceive in some of Lully’s works “remnants”, or distant “echos”, of an older and more authentic influence going well back into early Renaissance and beyond, as it is the case with his stunningly powerful piece “Marche pour la cérémonie des Turcs” (“March for the Turks Ceremony”)

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  1. Lynn Quinlan:

    Very nicely done!