To most music lovers, the name Jean-Baptise Lully calls to mind pompous and courtly music for Louis XIV, the French “Sun King” who was his great patron. The Italian-born Lully is credited with “creating” French opera in the 17th century — and some of these works, usually based on subjects from classical mythology and poetry, are occasionally revived and recorded today.
But that was only one side of Lully’s personality, the, shall we say, “stuffy and serious” side, because Lully was also something of a clown — literally.
For over seven years he worked with the great French comedian and playwright Moliere to create joint stage works. In addition to composing the music, Lully acted, sang and danced in these satirical and slap-stick affairs. The most famous of the Lully-Moliere collaborations debuted on today’s date in 1670, when, to cheer up King Louis after an embarrassing incident involving a bogus ambassador from Turkey, Lully and Moliere concocted a ballet spoof they called “Le Turc ridicule” preceded by a musical play about a wealthy upstart from the middle class, titled “Le bourgeois gentilhomme.”
Lully played the role of the Grand Mufti, and Moliere the middle-class upstart with upper-class aspirations. Think of Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy in powdered wigs, and you get the idea.