(dibuang sayang) Music at the French Court during Baroque Period

“…ini tugas local culture pas semester lalu di France, daripada ilang begitu aja, Nyo post disini ya.. siapa tau ada yang mau baca2. Kalo pas semester 1 di Edinbra, saya mengulas soal BagPipe sebagai alat musik tradisional-nya, sekarang saya juga mengupas soal musik di france, spesifiknya di masa Baroque…karena saya suka musik2 khas Baroque, gak mendayu-dayu tapi kaya permainan melodi, rythm dan syncopation  😉 ..”


1. Prelude   ~ Baroque Music in Europe

In the periods of European art music, Baroque era approximately extended from 1600 – 1760. Music from Baroque period has many style influences from Italian, French, English and German Baroque [1]. The music has transition characteristics between the Renaissance and Classical era. Most of the music compositions in the Baroque are rich in improvisation of the lead instrument.

Baroque musicians were not concerned with expressing their own feelings and emotions. One of the reason why the Baroque music is to be somewhat cold is because some of the music instruments (two main popular instruments at that time are organ or harpsichord) had not been constructed perfectly, such as no pedal for sustaining and less dynamical (soft and hard) function. To deal with such condition, the Baroque musicians used more elaborate musical ornamentation and complicated melody.

Baroque Ansamble

The lead figure of Baroque music is Johann Sebastian Bach, who was not only the composer but also a teacher for many musicians and administrator. The most well-known typical Baroque song from Bach is ‘Tocatta and Fugue in D minor’. Beside Bach, there are also other Baroque musicians: G.F. Handel with his “Sarabande”, Antonio Vivaldi with his beautiful “Four Seasons”, Jean-Baptiste Lully who had a strong influence in French Baroque (we will discuss later), Claudio Monteverdi, and Henry Purcell.

Baroque composers wrote in wide range of musical genres. For example, the Opera, Ouverture (commonly as the beginning from Baroque suite), Courante (lively French dance), Sarabande (Spanish dance), Gigue (lively Baroque dance music), Gavotte, Bourrée(lively French dance in even meter), and Minuet. Baroque gave special contributions to keyboard practice, such as Tocattas, Partitas, Fugues, and Capricios.

2. French Baroque

The early Baroque music began in Italy with the most leading figure, Claudio Monteverdi at that era. Meanwhile, France contributed more in the middle Baroque music era (1654 – 1707) and late Baroque music (1680 – 1750). Jean-Baptiste Lully, an Italian of noble birth who journeyed to France, is the great court-style composer in middle Baroque. The Lullian French Ouverture influenced most composers of the later Baroque composition. It consists of two contrasting halves repeated twice (AABB) or can be called in binary. The famous French-style Ouverture is also being one of his contributions in Baroque music [2].

Figure 2 French Baroque Music

3. Music in the Reign of Louis XIV

In the French court of King Louis XIV, music is used to portray the king as a brilliant god-like figure of absolute importance to the state. The king used art as a tool for political gain with the help of his ministers and court composers.

Figure 3 Louis XIV

When Louis XIV was four years old, his father passed away, leaving him to reign as King of France. Jules Mazarin, the Italian-born chief minister guided Louis XIV’s interest to the arts of dance and music in the young king’s formative years. Cardinal Mazarin encouraged the prominent role of music in courtly life. Mazarin brought the Italian opera and wanted to see it spread to France. Unfortunately, the French opera has different style with Italian opera; it was primarily influenced by the court ballet and the classical French tragedy [3].

Louis XIV used music 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 splendor and brilliance of French culture.” [4]. This strategy was very successful to attract the king’s guests as stated in [5]: “Foreign royalty and diplomats who attended these performances took back glowing reports of French culture and the state of the monarchy.”

Figure 4 Le Roi Soleil

Louis XIV was also a skillful performing dancer and gave an important contribution for the ballet. His most well-known was a series of dances in Le Ballet Royal de la Nuit and for his final piece he appeared as Apollo, clad in clothing to make him resemble the god of the sun where in fact, he earned his well-known title, Le Roi Soleil or The Sun King.

3.1   Jean Baptiste Lully and French Baroque Music


Mazarin brought Jean Baptiste Lully, (born in Florence, 28 November 1632), an Italian ballet master, to take up service in 1653 at the Court of Louis XIV. In that year, Lully and Louis XIV danced in the same ballet together for the first time in Le Ballet Royal de la Nuit. Lully’s early career in court music was focused on the genre of ballet. During his tenure in French court at the Tuileries, Lully began studying composition and harpsichord [3].


Lully quickly became one of Louis XIV’s and in less than ten years, Lully gained total control over all of the royal family’s court music. Lully was also aggressive in business, Lully bought up the leading theater venues, and to strengthen his position he even persuaded the king to limit the number of musicians that could perform with other Parisian theater troupes [6].

Lully was careful to create music that he knew the king would enjoy and approve of. Most of his operas texts praised the monarchy and built up the king’s position as absolute ruler. In this way, he could strengthen his position and power throughout France. His operas and sacred works displayed a richness and majesty which would attract the interest admiration of king’s guests [9]. He was also the founder of the French modern orchestra.


During Louis XIV’s reign, dance music shaped what was to be later known as French music. The work of Jean-Baptiste Lully shapes the French styles of opera and ballet. Though Lully was simply a highly paid servant of the court, his strong position elevated him “as absolute a sovereign in music as Louis XIV was in state affairs.”[8]

Figure 6 Jean-Baptiste Lully

Tragically, he died after suffering a fatal injury while conducting his Te Deum in 1687 which was performed for the celebration of the King’s recovery from an illness. However, his music did not die that day; Lully also has greatly influence music in England. Charles-I sent his own musicians to France to learn how to emulate the style that was so typical from one of the greatest French composers ever [3].


4. French Court Music after Baroque Period (Brief Overview)

After Lully [9], Jean-Philippe Rameau was the important French opera composer in late Baroque music period. The music in after Baroque, which is called Rococo period (1725 – 1775) was the reaction against the Baroque style. Rococo era was characterized by the desire to systematize all knowledge, and it was also very presents in the music scene.

Figure 7 Performance of Mozart Family in the French Court

Figure 8 Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau tried to establish a rational foundation for the harmonic practice of this time and his Treatise on Harmony (1722) set the point of departure for modern music theory. Rococo music style is different from Baroque; it would be simple, expressive and natural feeling. Traces of Rococo are present in the early works of Haydn and Mozart [2].

In classical music period, the French court invited famous musicians. In 18 November 1783, Mozart family reached Paris and was invited to the king’s palace at Versailles. Wolfgang A. Mozart and sister Nannerl as the child prodigy performed to the society Parisienne for the nobility of the city [5].



5. Music in Versailles

The major influence of France in the Baroque age was one of courtly opulence. In 1669 Louis XIV decided to convert an old hunting lodge at Versailles into a palace of unprecedented magnificence and the court moved there in 1683. There was not a European court could match Versailles for the opulence of its luxury interiors, chandeliers, mirrors, or flamboyance court ceremony [7].

In fact, Louis and his country were overburdened by the debts which the costly Versailles imposed on them. Then, during the later years of the 1600s, France suffered famines and disastrous military defeats. Versailles started to lose the splendor and ended as the king died in 1715. In contrast, this was a rebirth of non-Lullyan music in Paris – musical freedom was reborn in Paris, with a boom in sheet-music printing and music lessons [7].

Figure 9 Château de Versailles

After the reign of Louis XIV, the music in Versailles arose during Louis XVI time. Since Marie Antoinette has Austrian heritage, no wonder she adored music. She grew up listening to the works of Viennese masters in a court rich with the arts. At an early age, she learned how to play the harpsichord. Her appreciation for emotionally resonating music grew once she moved to Versailles. She attended operas and threw fabulous parties replete with music and dancing. As shown in this 1774 painting by Jean-Baptiste Gautier Dagoty (Figure 10), she played the harp before the French Court [9].

Figure 10 Queen Chamber in Versailles

(Left: Chamber Current Condition, Right: painting of Marie Antoinette)

5.1 Music as Political Tool in Versailles

Lully developed elegance of the French musical style and the splendor of the French court. 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.” [8].The court atmosphere of Louis XIV could make every noble guests emulating for their own glory and used music as a form of propaganda for the political power.

Louis desired that the music would be a reflection of his absolute rule and the throne. He made sure that his own agenda was promoted through the music of the day. Likewise, Lully as a court musician also used his position to promote his own objectives that allowed him to exert his personal musical style in France [6].

Some literatures in France often hide the fact that Louis XIV was a music-loving king. But actually the fact is the salons and galleries of Versailles (as well as the private apartments of the king) were used for music and theatre. The music that came from the French court of this time would not have been possible without the contributions Louis XIV made to support and further French music

6. Coda ~ Contributions of French Baroque Music

6.1 Académie Royale de Musique

Louis XIV obviously played an important part in the early development of ballet, opera, and French Baroque music in general. Académie Royale de Danse, the world’s first ballet school was established by Louis XIV in 1661 in a room of the Louvre. In 1669, Lully’s monopoly was solidified when Louis XIV created the Academie Royale de Musique and appointed Lully to run the Academie. By establishing state-sponsored academies, Louis XIV expected that he would be the main source of inspiration. Music compositions were frequently dedicated to the king and royal permission had to be granted before works could be based on royal subjects. Indeed, Louis XIV bestowed various musical positions on Lully, including ‘Music Master to the Royal Family’. [7]

Figure 11 Academie Royale de Musique in Paris

(Left: Outdoor view. Right:Inside the opera)

The king retired from dancing in 1671, because of his age and in 1672 Lully established a dance academy within the Académie Royale de Musique. In Académie Royale de Musique, Lully worked with librettist, Philippe Quinault and created works with clear links to the political successes of Louis XIV [5].

Nowadays, Académie Royale de Musique still survives as the Paris Opera – the world’s oldest primary opera company. It is used for opera and ballet performances by the “Opéra national de Paris”. Meanwhile, this building was re-named “Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris” in 1978. Then, after the opening of the Opéra Bastille in 1989, it was renamed “Palais Garnier”. Another interesting fact is, in 1896, one of the counterweights for the grand chandelier fell, killing one. This incident and the elements of the opera building were the inspiration for the world famous opera, “The Phantom of the Opera”.

6.2 Bands with French Royal Styles

French royal-court music still influences in modern music trend. In France itself, there are some bands with French ‘opera’ style, such as Roi-Soleil and MozartRock. In Asia, some Japanese bands were inspired by classical baroque French, such as Versailles-Philharmonic Quintet and Malice Mizer. In their performance and stage-act, they show strong French-influenced characteristics. For instances, they always wear the costumes which uniquely design like the costumes used by the people during the France king era in the Versailles.

Figure 12 Japanese Bands in Royal French styles: Versailles (Left) and Malice Mizer (Right)


However, their genres are not the classical Baroque music with full – orchestra or played for the royal dance. Their genres are rock, but with the typical Baroque melodies which rich in improvisation and are somehow cold. Most of their song have some French words and sometimes tell the story of the mystical-lovely French court.


[1]     http://www.baroquemusic.org/ – accessed in 7 October 2010

[2]     http://www.lycos.com/info/baroque–french-baroque.html – accessed in 7 October 2010

[3]     http://www.louis-xiv.de – accessed in 7 October 2010

[4]     Chrystelle T. Bond, “Louis XIV,” Dance Teacher 27, no. 9 (September 2005): 82.

[5]     Julie A. Sadie, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 218.

[6]     http://sinisterfrog.com/writings/louis-xiv– accessed in 14 October 2010

[7]     http://www.suite101.com/content/music-of-the-french-court-under-louis-xiv– accessed in 14 October 2010

[8]     Manfred F. Bukofzer, Music in the Baroque Era, 152.

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

[10]  http://chateauversailles.fr/– accessed in 17October 2010