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New York Baroque Incorporated: Reflecting Lully

Reflecting the life of Jean-Baptiste Lully, the godfather of French opera, this program is shaped by the style, structure, and spectacle of his music as well as his multicultural upbringing. Pairing French opera overtures and ballet dances with virtuosic Italian sinfonias and concerti grossi, the program balances the two leading musical tastes of the time, with music by Mondonville, Telemann, and expatriates Muffat and Handel.

A native of Florence, Jean-Baptise Lully was discovered during Mardi Gras busking on the violin while dressed as Harlequin by Roger de Lorraine, son of the Duke of Guise. Guise, having found someone to speak Italian with his niece, took the teenager back to Paris where Lully started service as a chamber boy to the La Grande Mademoiselle. It was here he gained formal musical training in the French style. Only five years later, during the Fronde rebellion, La Grande Mademoiselle was exiled because of her political leanings. Lully left her employment to become a ballet dancer and he was soon performing alongside Louis XIV in the epic thirteen-hour Ballet royal de la Nuit, which gave Louis XIV his nickname the Sun King and a month later, Lully, the court appointment of Royal Composer of Instrumental Music. Lully quickly took control over all music at Versailles, and through his collaborations with Molière and Jean-Philippe Quinault, created quintessentially French opera. Lully’s opera Armide (1686) was in the form of a tragédie en musique, which combined ballet, song, and Lully’s distinctive recitative style. The opera was revived over and over for almost 100 years after the premiere, including performances in The Hague, Berlin, and Rome.

Cosmopolitan composer Georg Muffat’s travel inversely mirrored Lully’s. Muffat was born in the south of France and traveled to Paris as a teen, where he claims to have studied with Lully himself. He soon left Paris to study law in Bavaria, but eventually settled in Vienna as an organist. Looking for a better job, he moved to Prague and eventually Salzburg, under the employ of the Archbishop. Muffat was granted leave to travel to Italy in 1681, where he studied organ and composition with Girolamo Frescobaldi, voice with Bernardo Pasquini, and met with Arcangelo Corelli in Rome. The five sonatas of Armonico tributo were published back in Salzburg in 1682 as a tribute to Corelli’s style of composition.

Handel’s Concerto Grosso in D Major, Op. 6, No. 5, first performed in 1739, also reflects his broad view of the genre of concerti. Handel uses the structure of Corelli’s older model of the concerto for his fifth concerto. The piece opens with a dramatic trumpet-like solo for the primo violin solo, quickly answered by the whole orchestra in the French overture style. Throughout the work, Handel reuses music from his Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1739) as well as Muffat’s Componimenti musicali (1739) and Scarlatti’s Essercizi Gravicembalo (1738), connecting his English audience with the most popular tunes that year.

While Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville never left France, his compositions married French and Italian styles he heard from other composers. Inspired by his contemporary, Jean-Phillipe Rameau, he wrote six Pièces de clavecin en sonates (1734) for harpsichord with an Italianate violin solo ad libitum. These pieces were later orchestrated and published as Sonates en symphonies (1749). Georg Phillip Telemann, on the other hand, was well-traveled, spending time in Poland and Paris while establishing himself as a business-savvy composer in Hamburg. He was innovative in his use of Polish dance forms, elevating them to join the more popular styles; in the Ouverture-Suite in A minor, the Lullian-style overture and character pieces like Réjouissance and Les Plaisirs are paired against an Italian air and a Polish polonaise.

Wen Yang, New York Baroque Incorporated