Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)

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4. Lully and Corelli (1650–1715).

Jean-Baptiste Lully's rise to power at the French court had profound musical implications, not just in France but for all of Europe. In 1653, at the age of 20, Lully was appointed compositeur de la musique instrumentale, which made him leader of his own violin band, the Petite Bande (Petits Violons, Violons du Cabinet). In 1664 he was made head of the Grande Bande (the 24 Violons du Roi). In 1672 he took over the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opéra). The Grande Bande had 24, the Petite Bande perhaps 18 string players; for large-scale court performances Lully occasionally combined the two. He could also call upon woodwind players, trumpets and timpani of the Grande Ecurie (musicians attached to the cavalry). When in 1664 Lully pulled together these and additional forces for a multi-day entertainment at Versailles called Les plaisirs de l'isle enchantée, he used them in typical pre-orchestral fashion: consorts of like instruments, in costume, joined together on an ad hoc basis (Lemaître, 1991). Ten years later, when Lully produced his opera Alceste as well as Molière and Charpentier's comédie-ballet Le malade imaginaire, at a similar entertainment, he organized his instrumental forces very differently. The engravings of the 1674 events show large ensembles of bowed and plucked strings placed in two boxes in front of the stage, not in costume but in livery (fig.3). At the stage apron a man with a short baton, perhaps Lully himself, beats time for the singers and instrumentalists. Much as this looks like an orchestra, it is likely that the bowed strings played only for the overture, entr'actes and dances, while the plucked strings accompanied just the vocal music. Lully's ‘orchestra’ was famous for its unanimous attack (the premier coup d'archet), for using short bowstrokes, for bowing up and down in unison, and for the tastefulness of the ornamentation that the players added to the notes on the page (Zaslaw, 1990, 1993; Kolneder, 1970).

These innovations in instrumental ensembles and ensemble playing made a brilliant impression on visitors to the French court. Princes in neighbouring lands, especially Germany, sought to create Lully-style ensembles at their own courts. They engaged French violinists and oboists for their own Kapellen; they sent German musicians to Paris to learn the new style and bring it back home. In consequence, Lully's orchestral style is best documented in the prefaces to publications by German composers: the Florilegium I and II by Georg Muffat (Augsburg, 1695; Passau, 1698), J.C.F. Fischer's Journal de printems (Stuttgart, 1695) and J.A. Schmierer's Zodiaci musici(Augsburg, 1698). The German Lullistes for the most part worked at small courts with limited instrumental resources; only Schmierer discussed string doubling. Lully's ensemble with doubled strings, oboes and bassoon provided an important model of orchestral scoring to several generations of French, English and German composers.

The fashion for large violin bands reached Italy as early as the 1660s. In a Serenata by M.A. Cesti, performed at the Florentine court in 1664, the sinfonias were played ‘with the instruments doubled following the practice of concerts in France, that is, with six violins, four alto violas, four tenor violas, four bass violas, a contrabass, a high-pitched spinet and a large spinet, one theorbo and one archlute’ (Wellesz, 1913–14). In Rome there was no single large-scale employer of musicians comparable to the courts of France or Florence; instead, cardinals, foreign ambassadors, Roman nobles, churches and other institutions each employed a handful of musicians, mainly keyboardists and string players. For important occasions these musicians could be called together to play in a large ensemble under unified leadership. From about 1680 until 1712, the leader of almost all such ensembles was Arcangelo Corelli, who acted as contractor, artistic director, leader (concertmaster) and, not infrequently, composer. In 1687, for instance, Corelli led two public concerts in specially constructed ‘theatres’ in the Piazza di Spagna, one sponsored by the French ambassador, the other by the Spanish ambassador. Of the first, celebrating the recovery of Louis XIV from an illness, a commentator wrote:

There was a large platform for the singers and instrumentalists, who started out with a beautiful sinfonia of concerted instruments by the famous Arcangelo [Corelli] Bolognese, who had assembled together all the best string players in Rome. Then two vocalists accompanied by the orchestra sang a poem in praise of the King. The audience listened in profound silence.

For the nameday of the Queen of Spain, the Spanish ambassador put on a specially commissioned Applauso musicale by Bernardo Pasquini. An engraving of the performance shows an ensemble of over 60 string players, plus a continuo group of two harpsichords and a pair of archlutes (fig.4). The ensemble is led by two violinists standing on a raised platform at the far left, presumably Corelli and his assistant, Matteo Fornari (Marx, 1988; Spitzer, 1991). Payrolls for similar occasions confirm that this picture does not exaggerate: Corelli's orchestra often exceeded 40 players, and for oratorios it could grow to more than 70 (Marx, 1968, 1983). Corelli, like Lully, cultivated a high level of orchestral discipline in his ensemble. According to the testimony of Geminiani, ‘Corelli regarded it as essential to the ensemble of a band, that their bows should all move exactly together, all up, or all down; so that at his rehearsals, which constantly preceded every public performance of his concertos, he would immediately stop the band if he discovered one irregular bow’ (BurneyH). The repertory of Corelli's orchestra, like Lully's dance music, was printed, disseminated and imitated throughout Europe. His op.6 concerti grossi, in which a large ensemble of massed strings alternated with a small concertino of two violins and cello, became another model of orchestral scoring for the next generation of composers.

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