PostHeaderIcon The interweaving of music and politics at the court of Louis XIV

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In the French court of King Louis XIV, music and the arts were used to portray the king as a brilliant god-like figure of absolute importance to the state. Throughout the course of his life, Louis XIV developed in to an accomplished performer and a generous patron of the arts. With the help of his ministers and court composers, he used art as a tool for political gain.

Louis XIV was born at Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 5 September 1648 and was the oldest son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria. When Louis XIV was four years old, his father passed away, leaving him to reign as King of France and his mother to serve as regent until the King was of Age. Anne’s chief minister, Jules Mazarin, had much to do with the young king in his formative years and guided Louis XIV’s interest to the arts of dance and music.1

Mazarin was Italian-born and had seen demonstrations of musical patronage and Italian opera during his upbringing. He wanted to see Italian opera spread to France and organised a visit by Italian performers to the French court in order to display the aristocratic merits of this form of entertainment. 2

Even though the French court was aware of the manner of the dominant Italian operatic style, the French ways that developed in the late 17th century under the patronage of Louis XIV were considerably different. The art of castrati did not prevail in France at the time and there was an emphasis on vocal and instrumental technique, rather than the virtuosic and vocally acrobatic performances seen in Italy.3 French opera was primarily influenced by the court ballet and "the classical French tragedy".4

"Throughout his lengthy reign (1661–1715) Louis XIV systematically exploited cultural events as a means of focusing attention on the French court."5 With help from Mazarin, Louis XIV used music and dance performances in the court as entertainment for the local aristocracy and visiting nobles in an effort to "impress Europe and the whole world with the splendour and brilliance of French culture."6 This idea proved very successful for the king and left his guests envious of the refined French forms of entertainment. "Foreign royalty and diplomats who attended these performances took back glowing reports of French culture and the state of the monarchy." 7

One of the most interesting aspects of Louis XIV’s interaction with the arts was his involvement as a skilful performing dancer. "In under twenty years, Louis XIV danced around eighty roles in forty major ballets."8 He was primarily portrayed as the noblest character of the performance and deserving of the most attention. The king was frequently displayed as a god-like figure and "whatever humble or eccentric role Louis XIV performed, his distinguished and noble persona was always discernible."9 Louis XIV’s most well known role was in the 1653 performance of Ballet Royal de la Nuit where he played the part of the Rising Sun.10 This was also the ballet where Italian-born composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, first danced alongside the king.11

"The climax of the ballet was Louis’s grand entrance and solo as the Rising Sun, symbolizing the return of happiness, honor, grace, love, victory, fame and peace to France and the rest of the world."12

In 1661, Louis XIV created the Royal Academy of Dance and in 1671, the Academy of Music.13 By establishing state-sponsored Academies, Louis XIV expected that he would be a model and source of inspiration. Compositions were frequently dedicated to the king and royal permission had to be granted before works could be based on royal subjects.14

"Through membership in the Academies, created and sanctioned by royal authority, and through the patronage of pensions, he accomplished much toward producing uniformity and compliance with the royal ideas of excellence in art and letters."15

Impressed by his encounters with Lully, Louis XIV bestowed various musical positions on him such as ‘Music Master to the Royal Family’ and ultimately put him in charge of the Royal Academy of Music. It was here that Lully worked with librettist, Philippe Quinault and created works with clear links to the political successes of Louis XIV.16

"From the late 1680s an unprecedented flowering of treatises and avertissements attached to collections, addressing matters of interpretation and performing practice, often in contrast with the prevailing Italian style, resulted in the codification of a French style associated with the court of Louis XIV."17

The work of Jean-Baptiste Lully helped create and shape the French styles of opera and ballet. "Lully’s works embodied a French manner distinct in compositional style and performance practice from the Italian."18 The promotions and positions that Lully gained elevated him to "as absolute a sovereign in music as Louis XIV was in state affairs."19 However, there was still a clear link to the dominance of the King over music and when compared to him, Lully was simply a highly paid servant of the court.

"... all Lully’s operas included preludes praising the monarchy. Louis suggested a number of the plots for the operas to Lully ... In his published scores, Lully always included a preface dedicating the work to his patron."20

Louis XIV ruled with the belief that he was a monarch of absolute power. This was evident with the numerous references of him to figures of gods such as Apollo. From his private ensemble of 24 violins to songs and music of the Royal Chapel, Louis XIV could indulge in the praise of his greatness. References to the Lord or King could have been interpreted by Louis XIV as references to himself.21

"Throughout Versailles, decoration combines images and attributes of Apollo (laurel, lyre, tripod) with the king's portraits and emblems (the double LL, the royal crown, the sceptre and hand of justice)."22

Louis had vowed to make France a European superpower and by politicising and centralising his court and culture he elevated himself to a god-like status.23 Louis XIV was of the belief that he could "centralize and direct the literary and artistic expressions of his subjects."24 The control and power that Louis XIV was able to exercise over the arts stifled sources of creative inspiration and ingrained the Sun King in the French baroque period.25 The national style of music was influenced by politics and Louis XIV’s patronage of the arts made it a prominent part of French culture.

"Louis XIV had effectively harnessed a style that demonstrated the power of divinity, and applied it to himself, further exemplifying his image as the greatest monarch to ever rule France, and the last true total monarch in the Western world."26

The elegance of the French musical style that Lully helped to develop and the splendour of the French court created a model to be imitated around Europe. Music was used by Louis XIV as a "pliable political tool; rarely in history have the relations between politics and music lain more openly on the surface than during the French absolutism."27 Louis XIV had created a court atmosphere that every noble visitor dreamed of emulating for their own glory and masterfully used music as a form of propaganda for his own political gain.

Footnotes:

  1. Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2001), 217-218.
  2. Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1948), 147.
  3. David Schulenberg, The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000), 77.
  4. Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), 315.
  5. Carl B. Schmidt, Jean-Baptiste Lully and the music of the French baroque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 183.
  6. Chrystelle T. Bond, "Louis XIV," Dance Teacher 27, no. 9 (September 2005): 82 [database on-line]; available from ProQuest Academic Research Library (accessed September 17, 2008) http://www.proquest.com
  7. Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 218.
  8. Julia Prest, "Dancing King: Louis XIV's Roles in Molière's Comédies-ballets, from Court to Town," Seventeenth Century 16, no. 2 (2001): 285 [database on-line]; available from EBSCOhost Historical Abstracts (accessed September 17, 2008) http://www.ebscohost.com
  9. Ibid., 289.
  10. Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 315.
  11. Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 218.
  12. Chrystelle T. Bond, "Louis XIV," 80-81.
  13. Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music, 315.
  14. Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 219.
  15. Laurence B. Packard, The Age of Louis XIV (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963), 98.
  16. Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 218.
  17. Ibid., 219.
  18. David Schulenberg, The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, 77.
  19. Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, 152.
  20. University of North Texas Music Library, UNT Libraries: Music Library, Biography of Louis XIV (accessed October 8, 2008); available from http://www.unt.edu/lully/Reference/LouisXIV.html
  21. Jean-Paul C. Montagnier, "French grands motets and their use at the Chapelle Royale from Louis XIV to Louis XVI," Musical Times 146, no. 1891 (2005): 52 [database on-line]; available from ProQuest Academic Research Library (accessed September 17, 2008) http://www.proquest.com
  22. Château de Versailles, Louis XIV the Sun King (2003, accessed September 20, 2008); available from http://www.chateauversailles.fr/en/210_Louis_XIV_the_Sun_King.php
  23. Meredith E. Little, "Dance under Louis XIV and XV: Some implications for the musician," Early Music 3, No. 4 (1975): 331 [database on-line]; available from Oxford Journals (accessed October 8, 2008) http://em.oxfordjournals.org
  24. Laurence B. Packard, The Age of Louis XIV, 98.
  25. John Roskam, "From the Executive Director," Institute of Public Affairs Review 60, no. 2 (May 2008): 4.
  26. N. K. Phillips, Divine Propaganda: The Baroque (2002, accessed September 20, 2008); available from http://www.discovery.mala.bc.ca/web/phillipsnk/Baroque.htm
  27. Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, 142.

Bibliography:

Bond, Chrystelle T. "Louis XIV." Dance Teacher 27, no. 9 (September 2005): 80-82. Database on-line. Available from ProQuest Academic Research Library, http://www.proquest.com (accessed September 17, 2008).

Bukofzer, Manfred F. Music in the Baroque Era. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1948.

Grout, Donald J., and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. 6th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Little, Meredith E. "Dance under Louis XIV and XV: Some implications for the musician." Early Music 3, no. 4 (1975): 331-340. Database on-line. Available from Oxford Journals, http://em.oxfordjournals.org (accessed October 8, 2008).

Montagnier, Jean-Paul C. "French grands motets and their use at the Chapelle Royale from Louis XIV to Louis XVI." Musical Times 146, no. 1891 (2005): 47-57. Database on-line. Available from ProQuest Academic Research Library, http://www.proquest.com (accessed September 17, 2008).

Packard, Laurence B. The Age of Louis XIV. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1963.

Phillips, N. K. Divine Propaganda: The Baroque. December 5, 2002. http://www.discovery.mala.bc.ca/web/phillipsnk/Baroque.htm (accessed September 20, 2008).

Prest, Julia. "Dancing King: Louis XIV's Roles in Molière's Comédies-ballets, from Court to Town." Seventeenth Century 16, no. 2 (2001): 283-298. Database on-line. Available from EBSCOhost Historical Abstracts, http://www.ebscohost.com (accessed September 17, 2008).

Roskam, John. "From the Executive Director." Institute of Public Affairs Review 60, no. 2 (May 2008): 4.

Sadie, Julie A. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2nd ed. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrell. Vol. 15. 29 vols. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2001.

Schmidt, Carl B. Jean-Baptiste Lully and the music of the French baroque. Edited by John H Heyer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Schulenberg, David. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Edited by Timothy Rice, James Porter and Chris Goertzen. Vol. 8. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000.

University of North Texas Music Library. UNT Libraries: Music Library, Biography of Louis XIV. http://www.unt.edu/lully/Reference/LouisXIV.html (accessed October 8, 2008).

Versailles, Château de. Louis XIV the Sun King. 2003. http://www.chateauversailles.fr/en/210_Louis_XIV_the_Sun_King.php (accessed September 20, 2008).

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