Jean Baptiste Lully
Master of French baroque and the most successful musician of his era, the Italian-born Jean Baptiste Lully (1632 – 1687) was a French court and opera composer, instrumentalist, and dancer who spent most of his career in the court of King Louis XIV of France. From 1662, he completely dominated French court music, and such prominence in the Sun King’s court, Europe’s most splendid, led to widespread imitation of Lully’s style throughout Europe.
Born in Florence as Giovanni Battista Lulli, which he later gallicized upon naturalization as a French subject, a 14-year-old Lully was clowning with a violin on the street when he attracted the attention of a visiting French duke, who took him back with him to France so his niece could have someone to converse within Italian. He honed his musical skills in the lady’s household, and soon gained renown as a violinist, guitarist, and dancer of genius.
In 1653, he attracted the attention of a then 14-year-old King Louis XIV, with whom he danced at a ball, and soon thereafter was appointed royal composer for instrumental music. He became one of the king’s closest lifelong companions and friends and spent the remainder of his career and life at court. There, he earned a reputation as a libertine, with a long trail of romantic and sexual relationships with both men and women.
By 1686, Louis had started souring on Lully and his increasingly dissolute lifestyle and homosexual escapades. On March 22nd, 1687, while conducting a Te Deum to celebrate the king’s recovery from surgery, Lully, perhaps trying too hard to regain Louis’ good graces with a fervent display of happiness at his royal patron’s return to health, got carried away, and while enthusiastically keeping the beat by banging a long staff on the floor, accidentally smashed it hard on his big toe. The toe became infected and turned gangrenous, which spread to his leg. Not wishing to give up on dancing, he refused to have the leg amputated, and the gangrene spread into his body and killed him.