9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


Containing the Italian in Lully’s ‘Dialogue between French and Italian Music’

Rose A. Pruiksma

While Lully’s dialogue between French and Italian music is frequently cited in discussions of French vs. Italian musical debates of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is rarely placed in the context of French and Italian political and cultural relationships, nor in the context of its ballet. Nor do other discussions of this piece note its careful negotiation between the two musical styles and the way each music moves from mockery of the other to adoption of her own style. Although Lully gives French music the last word, La Musique Française does not escape her excursions into the realm of Italian musical style unscathed; even as she asserts her right to languish, she does so with an Italian inflection in her harmonic language and use of text-repetition.

This piece demonstrates the ease with which containment of Italian musical style could lead to contamination and the paradoxical nature of the role of Louis XIV’s court ballets in constructing French identity: to demonstrate French musical style’s distinctiveness, Lully depended upon the foil of Italian musical style. Having made himself into a French composer in the tradition of the king’s violinist-dancers, Lully could only prove his mastery of French musical style by employing his native Italian. This piece also shows that the difference between the two did not turn on Italian music as sensual and passionate and French music as less emotional, restrained and elegant; in both musical styles composers were concerned with projecting appropriate emotional affects, differing more in degree than in kind.

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Last updated on 22 March 2000 by Yo Tomita