Q uestion: What did Lully do when he wasn’t writing music?”
Anonymous email to CMT blog.
A nswer #1: He was exerting many and varied efforts to make his living as a composer and insure that he was paid for his works’ performances and publication. He was acting as his own agent and manager and presenter. Such exertions would have been much as any composer would do today, only Lully was more overtly political and power-connected than anybody is today.”
A nswer #2: He was practicing at being an amateur alchemist; dancing the minuet, gavotte, and the bourée; playing the guitar lasciviously when it suited him as a suitor; playing pranks on friends; and generally leading the life of a wealthy rascal, libertine and bon vivant.”
A nswer #3: Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Early in his life, composing was, perhaps, the only thing Lully had within his control. Getting manuscript copies made, and arranging for scores to be printed took lots of his time and attention. As the son of a miller—as a poor kid whose mom died and who was then farmed out to work as a child laborer—he had no reservations about getting personally involved selling manuscript copies of his works at performances of his operas. Whatever it takes, he would do. He had extensive dealings with publishers—troublesome negotiations that took entirely too much time away from more valorous pursuits. “Business, pesky business. Such a bother, even for (especially for!) a spectacularly successful composer! People should just pay handsomely and pay royalties in perpetuity without having to negotiate! People should just pay on-time, as they had promised! Competitors should be banished!”
Well, no. His correspondence does not show any such ‘tude. He was tactically using and manipulating the aristocracy; he was not one of them. Evidence of arrogance in the extant Lully documents is, maybe, more a reflection of the shark-waters he was swimming in, than a narcissistic conviction of his innate superiority.
Lully was born in Florence in 1632 and spent his formative years there, until 1645. Through Roger de Lorraine, the Chevalier de Guise, he became a servant to Mademoiselle de Montpensier as ‘garçon de chamber.’ “Kitchen help”; “pot and bottle-washer”; “teaching the duchess Italian when it pleased her.” (Right. More like “Tutoring Trysts in the Tuileries”?)
When J-B was 13, the then-18 year-old ‘minerva-esque’ Mlle. Montpensier thought his sassiness was cute. She saw to it that he received music lessons … a gambit to enable the two of them to spend more time together playing chamber music? But in his later teens he grew contemptuous of her and wore out his welcome. Jean-Baptiste’s sophomoric poem satirizing his mercurial by then 25 year-old patroness led her to dispatch his impudent, no-longer-so-little then-20 year-old self in 1652. (We suspect there was more to this escapade than some apocryphal doggerel and a fit of pique jeunesse, but, alas, historical evidence thereof is scanty.)
J-B was no slacker, though, and finagled continuing his music studies under the illustrious Nicolas Métru. While there, he kept his prankster tendencies in check; his talents were noteworthy enough to enable him audition and appointment to the orchestra of the French court as a violinist.
When he was 30, Lully was appointed director of music to Louis XIV (in 1662). About the same time, he became a naturalized French citizen (his Italian name had been Giovanni Battista Lulli). In 1662, Lully married Madeleine Lambert, daughter of court musician and co-worker Michel Lambert. Madeleine and Jean-Baptiste had ten children together over the next twenty years. But in 1685, Lully ‘outed’ and revealed his relationship with Brunet, his young page.
Besides his serial affairs with multiple boys, Lully also openly carried on with a number of women, much to the displeasure of Louis XIV and, no doubt, the good Roman Catholic, Madeleine. Curiously, Lully was also interested in alchemy and conducted experiments with de Tarraga, a converted Jew who studied the occult. Popular hobby in the 1680s.
As an artist he was top-flight, but as a human being his ethics were incontinent at best, wholly lacking at worst. Facilitated by his marriage in 1662, he achieved a rapport with Molière, with whom had not previously had dealings but with whom for the next ten years he collaborated on numerous successful ballets. A consummate courtier, he curried Louis XIV’s favor at every opportunity, making himself seemingly indispensable and sowing disparagement of others. In March, 1672, he succeeded in ousting Abbé Perrin from the directorship of the Academy of Music. He did this, in part, by preying upon the Abbé’s penchant for gambling. Perrin founded the Académie Royale de Musique, but he was a distracted/incompetent administrator. He had no patience for financial details, and dishonest collaborators took advantage of him—bullshitted him, got him to commit to ruinous deals, unfavorable terms. Lully was just another opportunist in this destructive saga. Perrin was forced to sell his court privilege to Lully, to settle a debt with Lully. But Perrin nontheless ended up in debtors prison because of his other debts. Lully apparently cast aspersions on Perrin, to prevent Louis XIV from paying off Perrin’s creditors. He thereby sealed Perrin’s fate. All’s fair in love and war. Fight dirty. Do unto others, because you can get away with it.
Poetic justice eventually supervened, though. Lully’s death in 1687 at age 55 resulted from sepsis secondary to gangrene in his toe, a ridiculous complication of blunt trauma he incurred while conducting a ‘Te Deum’, compounded by Lully’s perverse refusal to have the toe amputated. He’d been emphatically beating time with the heavy ‘staff’ or mega-baton, when he smashed his foot accidentally with the thing. Abscess formation ensued and, some days later, sepsis and death. Sweet.
On his death-bed Lully wrote, ‘Bisogna morire, peccatore’ (‘It is necessary to die now, sinner’). ‘Damn,’ said the bon vivant. Game Over.
By the time he died Lully owned four elegant houses—three in France and one in Italy.
But unlike John McCain, Lully remembered how many houses he had, how much he paid for each of them, and where each was located.
If we want to indulge in speculating, then the real question is how rare and fortuitous is the gangrenous toe from one whack with a stick? In a 55 year-old man in the pre-insulin era, you would put your money on Type-II diabetes. Peripheral vascular disease due to diabetes; trauma from the stick; poor perfusion to the modestly injured tissues; abscess formation; gangrene; sepsis; death.
Gangrene of the lower extremities is from 8 to 150 times more frequent in diabetic than in non-diabetic people, most often occurring in those who smoke. But so far as I can tell, there are no scholarly explorations into the matter of whether Lully was a Type-II diabetic. No mention of whether he had intermittent claudication or other chronic pain in his legs. Thorough medical historianship regarding Lully’s clinical condition is conspicuously absent to-date.
Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia or multiple myeloma with fulminant paraproteinemia, Buerger’s disease (thromboangiitis obliterans), Polycythemia vera, atrial fibrillation and atrial thrombus embolizing to foot, ergot poisoning, whatever; Lazy Leukocyte Syndrome and other possible metabolic or inherited conditions that could eventuate in gangrene after a single knock with a stick are “green dragon” diagnosesrare as hens’ teeth. Your better bet would be diabetes.
The most important decision required these days is whether excision of gangrenous toe should be undertaken before or after the attempt to restore peripheral circulation by angioplasty. In many situations, surgeons prefer to attempt angioplasty first because of the possibility of non-healing of wound if excision were undertaken before a peripheral arterial angioplasty. Just saying.
Don’t forget to get a copy of John Hajdu Heyer’s wonderful volume of essays on Lully, originally released in 1989. A new less-expensive paperback edition of this has just this month been published by Cambridge University Press. While this book is predominantly serious, card-carrying musicology of the French Baroque, there is a wealth of colorful detail in there concerning what Lully did do and did not do, as distinct from his composerly deeds and musicianly output. Beautifully edited.
In the years since the book was first published, Hajdu Heyer became Dean of the College of Arts & Communication at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater (UWW). John received his PhD in musicology from the University of Colorado in 1973. He has been on the faculty at UWW since 1997. Prior to that he was at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and UC Santa Cruz. From 1980 to 1997 he was Lecturer and Program Annotator for the Carmel Bach Festival in Carmel, California. Since 1998 Hajdu Heyer has served on the ‘Comité scientifique Jean-Baptiste Lully • Œuvres Completes’, the scholarly editorial board for the multi-volume Lully series published by Olm Verlag, Hildesheim, and by Musica Gallica, Paris. For nearly twenty years he was also a member of the Lully Committee, an international group involved with conserving and publishing Lully’s work, and also a member of its Sub-committee on Resources, which succeeded in getting U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities financial underwriting for an archive of Lully ballets at Stanford University.
Check out Hajdu Heyer’s ‘Lully Studies’ book, too—published by Cambridge University Press in 2000; engagingly written and a treasure-trove of information not available elsewhere. (By the way, in 1973 John married linguist Sandra Heyer and changed his name from the Hungarian ‘Hajdu’ to the hyphenation with her surname: ‘Hajdu Heyer’.)
- Premio Bonporti 2008, Chamber music from the early baroque to the early classical period (1600-1800), Roveretto, Italy, 23-26-OCT-2008
- Benham E. Jean-Baptiste Lully: Musical monopolist. Music & Letters 1928; 9:249-54.
- Goodman E. Minerva revivified: Mademoiselle de Montpensier. Mediterranean Studies 2006; 15:79-116.
- de La Gorce J. Jean-Baptiste Lully. Fayard, 2002.
- Hajdu Heyer J, ed. Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Music of the French Baroque. Cambridge Univ, 2008.
- Hajdu Heyer J, ed. Lully Studies. Cambridge Univ, 2000.
- Schneider H, ed. Quellenstudien zu Jean-baptiste Lully / L'Oeuvre de Lully, Etudes des Sources. Lubrecht & Cramer, 1999.
- Scott R. Jean-Baptiste Lully. Peter Owen, 1973.
- Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF), productions of Thésée, Psyché, and other works by Lully
- Lully Collection, UNT Denton
- J-B Lully page in Catholic Encyclopedia
- J-B Lully scores at IMSLP
- J-B Lully page at Goldberg early music website
- DSM. Psyché: Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Puissance Autoriale. CMT blog, 13-JUN-2007.
- American Diabetes Association website
- Performing Arts Medicine Association (artsmed.org)
- Medical Problems of Performing Artists journal (MPPA)