Pleasures of the Louvre

Music for the Chamber of Louis XIII


Before Versailes, the epicentre of the French Realm was the Louvre, proper ceremonial theatre where music had to shine by its magnificence. Although less vast, convenient and comfortable at this period than other palaces such as Fontainebleau or Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Louvre had become, since the reign of Henri III, the chief residence of the King, who spent part of every year there, chiefly the winter months. It was a key hub of the monarchy and of royal symbolism, the epicentre of power, where the important events in the life of the court naturally took place: a veritable ceremonial was developed within its walls, which was to reach its apogee under Louis XIV. In this theatre of power, music was an object of entertainment as well as an instrument of magnificence, and was performed in a setting at once public and intimate.

During the first half of the Grand Sicècle, while the Précieuses govern fashion and art, the salons are at the centre of the world: there, we host, we talk, we exchange on the scientific matters of the moment, we recite verses either written or improvised on the spot, we discuss points of view on theatre performances. And we constantly listen to music. This music is not only the doing of duly paid histrions : some great aristocrats give themselves over to it as well, at at time when singing and playing the lute are the sign of a perfect education and refinement. Under Louis XIII, the court and the city have both had an influence on each other, making the aspirations and customs change. If in society one liked to sing the arias of ballets danced by or in front of the King or Queen, the court yielded on its turn to this galant culture which then flooded the Parisian salons.

France’s first nobleman, Louis XIII himself, dances, plays music and even composes. Music surely was one of his main centres of interest (maybe even more than politics). Thus, the French court and the Chamber of Louis XIII are the miror of this artistic life of the salons: around the musican-king, the musicians of the Chamber form a great team of individual talents that shine both by their interpretations and their compositions. If the posterity has remembered the names of Chambonnières, Antoine Boësset, Etienne Moulinié, or Louis Couperin, it is fascintating to think today that all these leading artists have been able to work together on a daily basis !

Night, love, mystery, metamorphosis and mythology are many of the savory ingredients of the air de cour’s poetry.  Among the great masters of court music in 17th-century France, Antoine Boësset probably generated more enthusiasm and passion than any other musician of this era : his songs were widely printed and adapted (for voice and lute or for polyphonic settings), occasionally featuring in the great royal ballets as of the late 1610s until well after his death in 1643.

So let us allow ourselves to be guided by the echoes of these ‘pleasures’, inhabited by sometimes strange and whimsical divinities, allegorical characters or characters from the realm of galanterie, which delighted Louis XIII, Marie de’ Medici, Anne of Austria and their court, in what was, before Versailles, the emblematic residence of the Kings of France.

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