France Music – From Lulli to Berlioz – Sacred and Chamber Music

By | January 17, 2022

The opera. – Giovan Battista Lulli, born in Florence in 1632, arrived in Paris at the age of 14 found himself in contact with French dance music and soon assimilated the style of violinists which he later perfected and made softer and more melodic. Lulli fused French and Italian stylistics with a very shrewd taste, while retaining an eminently French character to his creations. Possessing to the highest degree the sense of theater, which all the French composers of that time lacked, he created a recitative style exactly suited to the inflections of the French language and of such perfection that it was imitated for at least a century. The Italian works of Luigi Rossi, C. Caproli and PF Cavalli, performed between 1646 and 1662, had suggested to the French musicians the idea of ​​composing too they musical comedies. In 1669 the poet P. Perrin was granted a privilege to open a French opera house in Paris, and in 1672 he had the pastoral Pomone, with music by R. Cambert, a graceful opera composed of court arias and songs, without real intertwining and nothing properly theatrical. Lulli, who took possession of the Académie Royale de Musique, had his first musical tragedy, Cadmus et Hermione, represented there in 1673, and another sixteen he wrote before his death (1687). Characteristic of Lulli is his instinctive return to the form of the Florentine melodrama of the beginning of the century. XVII, then completely forgotten. The recitative is the main element, only interrupted here and there by melodic phrases. To break this monotony, Lulli multiplies the opportunities for entertainment which allow him to introduce songs, arias, trios, choirs, etc. The orchestra not only accompanies the voices almost continuously (especially in the latest works: RolandArmideAcis et Galatéé), but also performs highly developed descriptive symphonies of original form. The so-called symphonies and de sommeil (from their scenic motif) and the nocturnal ones precede the French impressionist style of the end of the century. XIX. Lulli also loves war marches, sacrifices, triumphs, fights, storms and in these cases he draws vast decorative frescoes. At the beginning of his works he places an Ouverture (v.) Of which he first created, in the Ballet d’Alcidiane (1657), the model that will tour Europe.

According to, a period of great decline follows the death of Lulli. The great building erected by him is respected and the architecture of musical tragedy does not change until Gluck, but none of Lulli’s successors, not even J.-Ph. Rameau possesses his dramatic genius, so that the action is no more than a pretext for the entertainments and ballets that are inserted into it. Only with A. Destouches there are works containing live music; however P. Colasse wrote some interesting works in the style of Lulli and Marc Antoine Charpentier imitated him (mediocrely) in the Medée. The form of the opera – ballet is treated by all composers of this time, but the most successful example was given in the Europe Galante (1697), from the Provençal A. Campra (1660-1744), who was influenced by the Italian style already in use in cantatas: the ornaments proscribed by Lulli prevail and harmony became more sought after. Among the most important predecessors and contemporaries of Rameau, we must mention Mathieu Marais, whose work Alcyone (1707) was famous for his symphony La tempête, France Rebel and France Francoeur, who co-wrote countless ballets and operas, later M..lle De la Guerre, JM Leclair, T. Bertin de la Doué, J. Aubert, Salomon, Matho, M. Montéclair, author of the Jephté and beautiful cantatas, Colin de Blamont and the delightful J. Mouret who was with Rameau the best musical representative of the Louis XV style. L.-N. Clérambault in his cantatas was able to remain absolutely French, while dealing with a genre imported from Italy, and at times found pathetic accents of great melodic beauty.

Sacred and chamber music. – In the period between the death of Lulli and the Hippolyte and Aricie Rameau’s (1733) the most interesting musicians are devoted above all to sacred and chamber music and are less influenced by Lulli. Without losing their national character, they nevertheless feel the charm of the marvelous Italian school, while motets by G. Legrenzi, G.-B. are performed in Saint-André-des-Arts. Scarlatti and A. Bononcini. The French masters gladly resort to Talianisms (vocal ornaments, dissonant harmonies) and above all they use the architectural forms invented by the Italian masters, while remaining faithful to the cult of Lulli and like him (also author of motets) introducing recitative and pomp in sacred music proper to the work. Although sometimes under the influence of G. Carissimi, Lulli remained in the tradition of the French school of which Nicolas Formé (1567-1638) can be considered as the leader, which gave the first example in France of two-choir writing. Thomas Gobert, Formé’s successor in the royal chapel, was the first to use a less simple, more dramatic style, and Henri du Mont (1610-1684) definitively established the French style of the two-choir motet. Michel de la Lande’s 40 grand choir motets are one of the most characteristic monuments of French music; harmony, richer than in Lulli, already heralds Rameau; and, in absolute contrast to contemporary German and Italian sacred music, mystical effusions and painful confidences are lacking; it is decorative and triumphal music suited to the magnificence of the royal mass at Versailles. Nicolas Bernier, S. Brossard, L. Bourgeois etc. they also composed numerous motets in the style of La Lande; closest to the Italian manner is A. Campra in his psalms and motets. In the century XVIII there was a very rich flowering of religious music: the motets of Rameau, Gilles, N. Bernier, etc., give us a high idea of ​​the science and skills of the chapel masters of this time; unfortunately their works are scattered and little studied.

In chamber music the Italian influence is very strong. Lulli’s followers protest against this foreign style, and the crowd does not taste the harmonic and rhythmic daring of Scarlatti and Bononcini; but the masters take advantage of it, and on the other hand the strength of the traditions allows French music not to lose its characteristics. French works are written in the forms invented by the Italians: sonatas and cantatas instead of pièces and arias. The violin is influenced by A. Corelli and counts among the most personal composers Du Val, J.-F. Rebel, P. Senaillé and above all JM Leclair, who left four books of sonatas for violin and bass, of sonatas for two violins, concerts, etc., and had among his emulators J. Mondonville, P. Gaviniès, L’Abbé, JB Anet, P.-P. Grinning. The spirit of the ancient suite is still found in the French Sonata, and the pieces in the form of dance predominate. The violin dethrones the ancient stringed instruments and especially the violas for arm and leg, but not without a struggle: still in 1749 Hubert Le Blanc published a burlesque Défense de la Basse de Viole contre les entreprises du vioion et les prétentions du cellelle, and the viola da gamba, before disappearing, still had a few moments of glory thanks to the work of Mathieu Marais, disciple of Lulli, A. Forqueray and Caix d’Herveloix. In the century XVIII, for the flute that was very fashionable, La Barre, M. Blavet, Nandot, Caix d’Herveloix, wrote sonatas that have pages of exquisite beauty.

The French harpsichord school only indirectly and weakly suffered the Italian influence. A whole host of brilliant virtuosos and composers followed Louis Couperin and Chambonnières: Hardelle, Étienne Richard, Melle de la Guerre, J. d’Anglebert. In the second half of the century. XVII harpsichord music definitively freed itself from the influence of the lute and the curious preludes with rhythm ad libitum dear to Louis Couperin were abandoned. Le Bègue, Nivers, Le Roux, Marchand, Louis Daquin, Dandrieu, were strongly influenced by François Couperin the Great, perhaps the most representative genius of French taste at the time of the Regency, the “Watteau of music” and one of the most delicate harpsichord poets. Concerts Royaux, in the Sonatas in trio, he proposes to please, to enchant, to touch the heart, but without too much sentimentality and avoiding the passionate lyrical accents of the Italians. In his works, always of a descriptive nature, he likes to draw characters (especially female): L’EnchanteresseL’IngénueLa PrudeLa Lutine, or is inspired by rural scenes: Les MoisonneursLes Fauvettes plaintivesLes AbeillesLe Rossignol en amour, etc.

France Music - From Lulli to Berlioz - Sacred and Chamber Music