Curating Music History: Chaconne from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Lully)

Whilst @recordpool is on hiatus, I am going to continue an occasional recommendation of music from the huge canon of music history!

[Wikimedia Commons](

Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) was principal composer at the court of the Sun King (Louis XIV) of France. He is famed for composing an [incredibly huge range of music] (, but is best remembered today as a prolific composer of Ballets and Theatre in the French Baroque Style. In fact, his name is pretty much synonymous with the French Style of the Middle Baroque Era, which is somewhat interesting given that he was born an Italian, and only naturalised to being French later in his life. At that particular time, the French and Italian styles of music were the two camps that were bitterly pitted against each other.

His Theatre works were a combination of music, singing and dancing completely unlike the opera that we now know. The singing and recitativi were generally interspersed with a ballet (in the Baroque style) or with instrumental pieces.

This particular Chaconne is from the Theatre piece [“Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme”]( which was a comedy written by Moliere, choreographed by Beauchamp and set to music by Lully. A brief description of the play follows:

> Le Bourgeois gentilhomme satirizes attempts at social climbing and the bourgeois personality, poking fun both at the vulgar, pretentious middle-class and the vain, snobbish aristocracy. The title is meant as an oxymoron: in Molière’s France, a “gentleman” was by definition nobly born, and thus there could be no such thing as a bourgeois gentleman.

[Quoted from Wikipedia article](

A Chaconne is a Baroque dance form (based upon a repeating harmonic pattern) that often returns back to it’s opening theme. Unlike other repeating dance forms, it can stray more significantly from the original theme/harmony, but the return of the theme gives one the impression of returning back home after a journey. For me, this is one of the types of forms that draw me to specialise in the Baroque era of music, I find that this dance really speaks to me, the sense of a sad happiness. In this performance, it is especially apt, the sad happiness idea is applied to the fool.


The Performers

The performers are Le Poeme Harmonique at the Utrecht Baroque Festival in 2005, in which they have done a marvellous recreation of the stage and dance (and the music). For this Chaconne, they have taken the liberty to add a great deal of plucked music at the start, to fit with the staging, and the Chaconne begins roughly half way through the video with the entry of the strings. This sort of “hack” of staging was quite common at the time, the strict adherence to the score was a disease of musicians that came from a much more modern era!

> In 2005 Le Poeme Harmonique in collaboration with Benjamin Lazar (stage director) and Cecile Roussat (choreographer) presented Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at the Utrecht Baroque Festival. Informed by the musical and theatrical traditions of 17th century France, the production revived the musical and dance interludes originally scored by Jean-Baptiste Lully and the work was presented in its entirety. The wardrobe was notably bourgeois and ridiculous, evidently the intent of the directors to present Monsieur Jordain as a naive, stunned and yet vulnerable man new to the world of money and privilege “victim and architect of the action”. The use of candlelight as the only lighting source on stage and a frontal performance style even during conversations between characters gave the production a distinctly baroque air and was well received. The 2005 production was the first ever since the play’s first performance to render it in its entirety, as faithful as possible to the original score and script by Molière and Lully.

Performance notes from YouTube description


Previous Curating Music History posts

[Alla Danza Tedesca from Beethoven String Quartet Op.130](

[6 Elizabethan Songs: Argento](

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