Monday, May 2, 2016

Louis XIV and the Arts

Look at those dancer's legs!

Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) was one of the most important kings of his or any time. He ruled for 72 years, outliving his own son and grandson, to be succeeded by his great-grandson. 

Much of Louis’ reign was given over to military matters. Strife both internal and external occupied much of his time. But he had a strong interest in the arts, and gave them all the attention he could spare. He founded the Académie Royale de Danse and the Académie d'Opéra, and was himself a keen dancer. He was a patron of painters, sculptors, and architects. The theatre flourished during his reign, reaching new heights with Molière, Racine, and Corneille.

Jean-Baptiste Lully
The 17th century was also a pinnacle for music in France. Louis’ court employed Lully, Marais, and Couperin, which has to be one of the great genius nodes of history. Lully, in particular, was given all manner of rights and responsibilities over the music of the court. He also became the composer of incidental music for Molière’s plays, a collaboration that lasted years.

In other words, Louis wasn't just the richest man in the world in material terms -- he also swam in a sea of intellect and culture.

Now imagine you’re a down-on-your-luck aristocrat named Armand Jean de Vignerot du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, and you'd like to impress such a king. Money? Bling? Believe me, you’ve got nothing Louis hasn’t lost behind the sofa cushions at Versailles. Beautiful women? Outrageous parties? Been there, done that. 

But what if you thought of commissioning something new – new music for a ravenous royal arts appetite?

And what if you knew that Louis was starting to go off his favorite, Lully? What if you had your eye on that guy who had been writing music for years for the king’s cousin Mlle de Guise?

Well, then, you might call Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

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