The False Step

The False Step

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As if to the manner born, Lully knew just how to maneuver his way through the court hierarchy. Collaborating with Molière, the pair created the comédies-ballets, shows that delighted the king. Lully's talent and his political skill soon won him the appointment as head of the Académie Royale de Musique, giving him the authority over all music composed in France—a power Lully was to exercise with an iron baton.

Lully's own contribution, the tragédie en musique, combined ballet with dance numbers, spoken verse, sung pieces, musical interludes and, most important, a meaningful plotline. These masterful entertainment displays, similar to the modern opera, sometimes included a hundred or more performers, all to please the lavish French tastes of the time.

In a career spanning some 30 years, Lully composed and choreographed hundreds of ballroom dances; movements from his operas were adapted to the ballroom as well. "La Mariée," from Lully's Les nopces de village, would be danced in the royal ballrooms for the next century.

Bitterly abusive in rehearsal and vicious in maintaining his court standing, according to some accounts of his final days, his sudden and rather ironic death could have been met with more than a few unkind snickerings among the courtiers.

It was during a performance in January 1687 that Lully accidentally stabbed his foot with a cane that he'd been using to direct his actors, perhaps in a fit of rage at some unknown contretemps. The wound became gangrenous, and he died a couple of months later on March 22.

Life at court without Lully went on. There were the king's morning dressing ceremonies to attend his afternoon walks about the garden, and his hunts to be ridden (always to the lilt of flutes and the riffs of exuberant horn players).

But in fact the life and vibrancy of court entertainment had forever changed.


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