Composer. The most famous French musician of his day, he was Italian by birth and his real name was Giovanni Battista Lulli. He was brought to Paris from his native Florence at 14 and became a French citizen in 1661. Lully's gifts as a composer, and his skills at political intrigue, won him the steadfast support of King Louis XIV. The "Sun King" granted him a title of nobility, protected him from the French Catholic Church (which regarded secular music as sacreligious), and turned a blind eye to his homosexuality, though Lully ultimately felt compelled to enter into a sham marriage. His greatest contributions were for the theatre, beginning with a group of comedy-ballets he created in collaboration with Moliere. Today Moliere's texts are usually staged without the music, but Lully's score for "Le bourgeois gentilhomme" (1670) is probably his best-known. After 1674 Lully devoted himself to a series of what he called "tragedie-lyriques", among them "Isis" (1676), "Amadis" (1984), "Armide" (1686), and "Acis et Galatee" (1686); with their radical departures from the prevailing Italian style they laid the foundations of French Opera and their influence was felt well into the 1800s. Lully's manner of death has become a favorite bit of music trivia. During the mid-baroque era - long before the introduction of the baton - conductors literally "beat" time on the floor with a heavy wooden staff. On January 6, 1687, while conducting his "Te Deum", Lully accidentally brought his staff down so hard on his right foot that he crushed his big toe. He refused to have the toe amputated and the infection turned fatally gangrenous. Remembering that his friend Moliere had been denied a Catholic burial because of his unrepentant involvement with the theatre, Lully avoided a similar fate by agreeing to destroy, in the presence of a priest, all of his theatre scores. He sneakily burned copies instead, thus preserving his important musical legacy for future generations.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards