So far this composer has been essentially representative of melodramatic music, with all the faults and virtues of such a style. In “Aida,” his last work, the world remarked a striking change. The noble orchestration, the power and beauty of the choruses, the sustained dignity of treatment, the seriousness and pathos of the whole work, reveal how deeply new purposes and methods have been fermenting in the composer’s development. Yet in the very prime of his powers, though no longer young, his next work ought to settle the value of the hopes raised by the last.
In France, as in Italy, the regular musical drama was preceded by mysteries, masks, and religious plays, which introduced short musical parts, as also action, mechanical effects, and dancing. The ballet, however, where dancing was the prominent feature, remained for a long time the favorite amusement of the French court until the advent of Jean Baptiste Lulli. The young Florentine, after having served in the king’s band, was promoted to be its chief, and the composer of the music of the court ballets. Lulli, born in 1633, was bought of his parents by Chevalier de Guise, and sent to Paris as a present to Mlle, de Montpensier, the king’s niece. His capricious mistress, after a year or two, deposed the boy of fifteen from the position of page to that of scullion; but Count Nogent, accidentally hearing him sing and struck by his musical talent, influenced the princess to place him under the care of good masters. Lulli made such rapid progress that he soon commenced to compose music of a style superior to that before current in divertissements of the French court.
The name of Philippe Quinault is closely associated with the musical career of Lulli; for to the poet the musician was indebted for his best librettos. Born at Paris in 1636, Quinault’s genius for poetry displayed itself at an early age. Before he was twenty he had written several successful comedies. Though he produced many plays, both tragedies and comedies, well known to readers of French poetry, his operatic poems are those which have rendered his memory illustrious. He died on November 29,1688. It is said that during his last illness he was extremely penitent on account of the voluptuous tendency of his works. All his lyrical dramas are full of beauty, but “Atys,” “Phaeton,” “Isis,” and “Armide” have been ranked the highest. “Armide” was the last of the poet’s efforts, and Lulli was so much in love with the opera, when completed, that he had it performed over and over again for his own pleasure without any other auditor. When “Atys” was performed first in 1676, the eager throng began to pour in the theatre at ten o’clock in the morning, and by noon the building was filled. The King and the Count were charmed with the work in spite of the bitter