The late seventeenth century in France, a time of political stability at home, wars abroad, and great productivity in the arts, was dominated by the overwhelming personality of Louis XIV (1638–1715). Jean-Henry D’Anglebert’s tenure at court from 1662 to 1691 coincided with the height of the grand siècle. When Cardinal Mazarin, the first minister during Louis’s minority, died in 1661, young Louis assumed the reins of government himself, rather than seek a replacement. L’état, c’est moi sums up his approach to government, for the king was supreme by divine and natural right. Louis was determined above all to impose order on a disordered world—witness the symmetry of Versailles. The original chateau, greatly enlarged by the Sun King, became the principal court and the seat of government in 1682. Its construction was directed by the architects Louis Le Vau and Jules Hardouin Mansart, the painter and decorator Charles Le Brun, and the gardener Andre Le Notre. During Louis’s reign, architecture and the arts, like nearly everything else in France, centered around the crown.
Louis sought control in other areas too, and mindful of the Fronde rebellion (1648–1653), he strove to reduce the powers of the nobles and other groups. He waged war almost continuously from 1667 to the end of his reign, attempting to acquire territories to which France at one time had a claim. His wars depleted the treasury, and an overtaxed peasantry and poor grain harvests led to rebellion during his last years. Nevertheless, after the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, Louis still held all the territorial gains he considered essential.
The many years of war did not curtail the extravagance of the divertissements (entertainments, balls, masquerades, and the like) until much later in Louis’s reign. In 1690 the Mercure galant could remark that, unlike other countries during a war, France continued its entertainments and artistic life as before because of Louis’s strong leadership. Even in 1708, the Mercure reported on an ample supply of money, healthy industrial production, and extravagant balls, despite the heavy military losses, as Robert Isherwood notes:
Thus, the divertissements were useful beyond their obvious purpose; they kept the nobility occupied, passive, and even submissive, and they offered a constant show of the affluence of the realm even, and perhaps especially, in time of war. In an age of wars of attrition, the regular presentation of costly divertissements was a useful psychological weapon which could be justified by reason of state.1
In the literary world, Pierre Corneille and Jean Racine were writing superb drama and Molière brilliant, ironic comedy; while Marie de La Fayette published the popular novel La Princesse de Clèves. Other notable works include the letters of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sévigné, Réflexions, ou sentences et maximes morales of François de La Rochefoucauld, and Les Fables of the poet Jean de La Fontaine.
Jean-Baptiste Lully’s operatic successes overshadowed the accomplishments of all other French musicians, but some did have distinguished careers, among them D’Anglebert and the other clavecinistes of this book, the lutenist Denis Gaultier, the gambist Marin Marais, the organists Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers and André Raison, and the composers Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Michel-Richard de Lalande.
Louis XIV developed an interest in music under the influence of his father, Louis XIII, who was an accomplished amateur musician and composer. Young Louis studied the lute with Germain Pinel, the guitar (which became his favorite instrument) with the Spaniard Bernard Jourdan de La Salle, and the harpsichord with Étienne Richard. But more than anything else, Louis loved to dance—particularly branles and courantes—and participated in some of Lully’s ballets in the 1660s, as Jacques Bonnet (1715) describes:
Since the king knew music to perfection and danced better than all the lords of the court, he ordered Lambert and Lully to compose a grand ballet for which Sieur de Benserade furnished the text and Beauchamp the entrées. Together with the most astonishing machines invented by the Marquis de Sourdiac and de la Grille, it was performed at the Louvre in 1663 with a magnificence that surpassed all that one can imagine of the Venetian opera. The king danced masked in several entrées. One can say that, with his grand manner and beautiful grace, he eclipsed all the most famous dancers of the court who appeared in this royal performance.2
Music at court was divided into three main categories: court musicians of the Chapelle provided sacred music; those of the Chambre furnished music for the king’s dinner, coucher, balls, ballets, and various entertainments; and those of the Écurie (stables) supplied pomp and pageantry for outdoor and other ceremonies. Versailles became the center of court life in 1682, but the court frequently moved around, taking its musicians to other locations such as the Louvre, Fontainebleau, St. Germain-en-Laye, Vincennes, Marly, Meudon, the Tuileries, or Compiègne. Scarcely a day passed without some performance or use of music. According to the 1686 État de la France (a yearly chronicle of events and people), the grande bande of 24 violins was paid 365lt to play at the king’s dinner, at ballets, and at comedies. The 21 petits violons received 6oolt for accompanying His Majesty to his country homes and playing for the king’s supper, dances, entertainments, and ballets.3 Music surrounded the king, accompanying daily activities as well as special occasions, and forming an important part of religious services. The musicians of the Chambre were also called upon to assist at grand ceremonies with members of the Chapelle or the Écurie.
Written accounts from this period describe the accomplishments of those connected with the design, construction, and furnishing of Versailles. Similarly, there are many accounts of those who lived at the grand palace—the royal family, clergy, government officials, army officers, and courtiers. But curiously, musicians are mentioned infrequently; for example, Jean-Baptiste Lully was the only musician listed among 100 leaders from all walks of life in Charles Perrault’s Les Hommes illustres qui ont paru en France pendant ce siècle (1696).
Music at Versailles must have been splendid, as Mme de Sevigne remarks in her letters: “Il y a toujours quelque musique qu’il [the king] écoute et qui fait un tres bon effet”; and “Je reviens de Versailles. Tout est grand, tout est magnifique, et la musique et la danse sont dans leur perfection.”4 Although Mme de Sevigne was a talented singer as well as a gifted writer, her musical observations give few details. One can gain some idea of the court’s musical forces, however, from the payroll accounts for Lully’s splendid ballet Le Triomphe de l’Amour (1680-1681). They list eight soloists, 48 musitiens (probably singers and continuo players), 18 dancers, 25 grands violons du Roy, 22 petits violons, and 21 flutes and oboes.5
Court musicians purchased or inherited their titles, a custom about which Marcelle Benoit provides interesting information.6 The date on which a musician received an appointment (charge) was not a reliable indication of the time he joined the court. Often he had been esteemed long before his nomination (for example, François Couperin, who never did attain the title), so the new position did not necessarily add new duties to the honor. Titles could be sold, subject to the king’s pleasure, so naming a successor was a way of profiting financially from one’s post, with the added advantage of having the new person available to deputize. A simple reversion (survivance) entailed assigning one’s office to another, with the reversion taking effect on the death or voluntary resignation of the incumbent. Other types of reversion could be implemented during the life of the incumbent or allow for the sharing of duties.
Musicians’ titles signified their rank. The musicien ordinaire was second only to the musicien-officier, ordinaire indicating that the individual served at the court regularly and with a frequency determined by the nature of his employment. Musicians of lesser rank, whose services were needed on a more-occasional basis, were termed musiciens extraordinaires and musiciens suivant la Cour.
His Majesty’s singers and instrumentalists provided chamber music and dance music for the social events that took place in the royal apartments three evenings a week during the winter. A valuable first-hand account is given in a letter of 6 December 1682 written by Elizabeth Charlotte (“Liselotte,” wife of the king’s brother, “Monsieur”) to her sister-in-law, Wilhemine Ernestine:
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday is jour d’appartement. All the gentlemen of the Court assemble in the King’s antechamber, and the women meet in the Queen’s rooms at 6 o’clock. Then everyone goes in procession to the drawing-room. Next to it there is a large room, where fiddles play for those who want to dance. Then comes the King’s throne-room, with every kind of music, both played and sung. Next door in the bed-chamber there are three card tables, one for the King, one for the Queen and one for Monsieur. Next comes a large room—it could be called a hall—with more than twenty tables covered in green velvet with golden fringes, where all sorts of games can be played. Then there is the great antechamber where the King’s billiard table stands, and then a room with four long tables with refreshments, all kinds of things—fruit-tarts, sweetmeats, it looks just like the Christmas spread at home. Four more tables, just as long, are set out in the adjoining room, laden with decanters and glasses and every kind of wine and liqueur. People stand while they are eating and drinking in the last two rooms, and then go to the rooms with the tables and disperse to play. It is unbelievable how many games there are: lansquenet, backgammon, piquet, reversi, ombre, chess, Trou Madame, Berlan, summa summarum, everything you can think of. If the King or Queen comes into the room, nobody has to rise. Those who don’t play, like myself and many others, wander from room to room, now to the music, now to the gamblers—you are allowed to go wherever you like. This goes on from six to ten, and is what is called jour d’appartement. If I could describe the splendour with which all these rooms are furnished, and the amount of silver there is everywhere, I should go on for ever. It really is worth seeing.7
Other writers have remarked about the king’s beneficence and informality at these evening gatherings, where the largesse and conviviality served to keep the nobles occupied in harmless pursuits, while at the same time impressing foreign visitors with the affluence of the French court. The 1687 État de la France reported that the rooms were illuminated by an infinite number of crystal chandeliers, branched candlesticks, and silver torches, and that at the beginning of the Apartemens [sic], “His Majesty’s Singers perform part of an opera, but not in costume.”8
An engraving by Antoine Trouvain depicts a chamber concert—perhaps for one of these jour d’appartements—in the “fourth room” of the king’s appartements, attended by the Due de Bourgogne, Madame, the Duchesse de Chartres, the Due de Chartres (the future regent), Mademoiselle (his sister), the Duchesse du Maine, and the Princesse de Conty. Another engraving by Trouvain portrays a concert in the “fifth room,” also with a gallery. A character in Madeleine de Scudery’s celebrated novel Le Grand Cyrus mentions that the musicians are placed in a gallery to spare the audience the fuss and bother of having them underfoot—moreover, one is obliged to pay them compliments when they are nearby.9
Bonnet gives accounts of some splendid fetes during the Sun King’s reign; e.g., music was prominent in the celebration of his brother’s first marriage:
But it must be acknowledged that nothing approached the magnificence or the pomp of the fetes that the king gave at Versailles in 1665 to honor the marriage of Monsieur with the Princess Henrietta of England. After tilting at the ring, the Comédie, the ballets, and fireworks, a light meal was served, accompanied by récits de Musique, in a place appropriately illuminated. A company of thirty musicians sang as they entered, followed by the four Seasons, who carried the most delicious food to serve before their Majesties and the lords invited to this fete. The Seasons danced a ballet entrée, the most unique that one had yet seen. Spring appeared mounted on a beautiful Spanish horse, with a green costume embroidered with silver and fresh flowers. Summer followed him on an elephant with a richly embroidered cover spread with pearls. Autumn was mounted on a very ornate camel, and Winter wore the coat of a bear. Their entourage was composed of forty-eight persons who carried on their heads large bowls for the meal, which they placed on the steps while they were dancing. . . . The gods Pan and Diane appeared at the end of all this spectacle, accompanied by a large group of musicians [male and female] from the court of these two divinities playing a pleasant piece for flutes and musettes. They appeared forthwith on a boulder shaded by several trees that seemed to be floating in air, although one could not perceive any contrivance. These Seasons and Divinities performed their récits to the Queen and to the wedding couple. . . . This feast was continually accompanied by different concerts, such that it would be difficult to make a fete more superb, more magnificent, or better received. One can also say that never has a court been more elegant or more prosperous than that of France at this time.10
Music was also a part of His Majesty’s elaborate bedtime ceremony. Lully wrote numerous instrumental trios for Louis’s coucher, two of which D’Anglebert transcribed for harpsichord. If one were a courtier at Versailles, it was prudent not only to arise early each morning to attend the king’s lever ceremony but to be present late each evening for his grand coucher. The nobles had to live at Versailles, where Louis could keep an eye on them; to be banished to live on one’s estate in the provinces was a dreaded ignominy. The 1687 État de la France lists the various individuals who attended the lever ceremony. The musician Lully was included in this august list “par une grace particuliere attachée à sa persone.”11 The same men also attended Louis’s grand coucher ceremony, consisting of prayers and an undressing sequence.12 Amazing importance was attached to minutiae—for example, being chosen to hold the candlestick was a signal honor. According to the État de la France, “It is always the highest ranking Prince or Officer who gives the chemise to the King.” Details of who does what and exactly when were orchestrated with utmost precision: “And when His Majesty puts on a night jacket, the Grand Master of the Wardrobe takes this jacket from the hands of a Valet of the Wardrobe, and puts it on the King, who then takes his dressing gown, held up by two Valets of the Chamber who are always behind the armchair of His Majesty.” After Louis bowed and dismissed the courtiers, the Criers called out loudly: “Allons, Messieurs!”
Now followed the petit coucher du Roy, with the highest ranking individuals and “some others to whom the King gave the grace of being present.” Formerly in Paris on certain days of the week, one could hear the musique du petit-coucher, composed of some voices or at times only of instruments. The king’s toilette included trimming and combing his hair, as well as washing: “To all the Princes of the Blood and Légitimes, the Grand Chamberlain or the First Nobleman of the Chamber yields the honor of giving the King the towel with which he wipes his hands and face.” His Majesty’s nightcap and handkerchiefs were offered to him ceremoniously, after which at times a fortunate courtier might importune the king for a favor. By bestowing great significance on the slightest favors or honors, Louis controlled his nobles and helped ensure that he would never face a rebellion such as the Fronde of his youth.
An inventory of the furniture in the king’s residence in 1673 included two épinettes (small spinets) and four clavecins, of which two were grands (presumably meaning double harpsichords); two theorbos; two guitars; one violin; one lute; and three viols.13 The lute, popular in early seventeenth-century France, declined in importance as the portable epinette and the clavecin came into their own. Only the rich could own clavecins, but a wide variety of people purchased epinettes. Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle (1636) includes an engraving of a single-keyboard clavecin that resembles the Flemish instruments (with a chromatic range of C-c’” and two sets of strings at 8’ and 4’ pitch) and an illustration of an épinette. 14 According to Jean-Baptiste-Charles de La Rousselière (1679), the épinette derived its name from the thorns (épines) that were used for quills in the jacks before feather quills were adopted.15
Most of the few surviving clavecins from seventeenth-century France have two keyboards (double harpsichord),16 but single-key-board instruments also seem to have been common; e.g., D’Anglebert’s posthumous inventory includes only single harpischords, and one with a transposing keyboard. Unlike some of Chambonnières’s and Louis Couperin’s works, none of D’Anglebert’s pieces requires a double harpsichord or the short-octave keyboard that makes it possible to play large intervals in the bass register with ease.17 St.-Lambert (1702) shows a drawing of a harpsichord keyboard with a short-octave compass of GG to c’”. The two lowest accidental keys are split and produce C# and Eߕ when struck at the rear of the keys, but A A and BB when struck in front. The apparent BB key sounds GG.18
The harpsichord joined the other continuo instruments in large ensembles to play music connected with the stage—opera, ballet, and musical comedy—but it also participated in chamber music with voices and/or instruments. Members of the nobility took their cue from the king and made music an important part of their lives, for it was the socially acceptable thing to do. Mme de Sévigné and many others sponsored concerts, as salons in private homes became fashionable, while Molière wittily portrayed the bourgeoisie’s aping of their betters in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme. An eighteenth-century gentleman, Mr Ancelet, gives a less than enthusiastic account of these concerts:
Each house has its favorite musician. There are those, the fashion pacesetters, whose pupils are infatuated with their productions, with which all the music stands are furnished. The head of the house is only busy with bragging about their works, and in getting copies for those good-natured enough to buy them. The concert ends with a worn-out clavecin piece; the audience suffers and boredom prevails as we yawn, we bow, and we leave.19
Perhaps the seventeenth century fared better, as well-known artists inaugurated concerts; e.g., Pierre Chabançeau de La Barre (one of the king’s organists) and some colleagues began the Concerts spirituels in the mid-1600s, and in 1641 Jacques Champion de Chambonnières founded a series of private concerts that later came to be called the Assemblée des honnestes curieux.20
In D’Anglebert’s milieu, the greatest minds in France clustered around one of the most magnificent courts in history. Members of the upper class may have been bored with their endless round of plaisirs, as writers such as Mme de La Fayette indicate: “Toujours les mêmes plaisirs, toujours aux mêmes heures, et toujours avec les mêmes gens,”21 but artists and intellectuals must have found it a wonderfully stimulating time to be alive. They were not always justly rewarded for their efforts—but the company must have been fascinating!