Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, March 15

King Louis XIII's "Blackbird" Ballet

Synopsis

The thick historical novels of the 19th century French writer Alexandre Dumas, Sr. are packed with some fact and a lot of fiction. Chapter 22 of "The Three Musketeers," for example, set during the 17th century reign of King Louis XIII, begins as follows:

"Nothing was talked of in Paris but the ball which the aldermen were to give to the king and queen in which their Majesties were to dance the famous 'La Merlaison' — the favorite ballet of the king. Eight days had been spent preparing for the important evening. The city carpenters erected risers for the guests; the hall would be lit by two hundred huge candles of white wax, a luxury unheard of; and twenty violins were ordered, the price for them double the usual rate, since they would be playing all night."

In this case, Dumas was referencing a real event.

On today's date in 1635, at Chantilly castle, a gala ballet premiered. It depicted in stylized dance the Louis's favorite activity: hunting the blackbird ("la merlaison" in French). The choreography, the costumes, and music were all created by the King himself—who also danced several of the lead roles.

It got a rave review in the press of the day. If there were any critics, we suspect Cardinal Richelieu, the dreaded power behind the throne in Dumas's novel—and in real life—had them hauled off and "dealt with."

Ah yes, it's good to be King.

Music Played in Today's Program

Louis XIII Roi de France (1601 - 1643) Ballet de la Merlaison Ancient Instrument Ensemble of Paris; Jacques Chailley, cond. Nonesuch LP H-71130

Additional Information

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