Sources for the music of Le Ballet de la Nuit

When, 350 years ago, Louis XIV was first presented as the Sun-King, and danced the role with which he would henceforth be identified, literature, the visual and decorative arts, music, and spectacle all combined in the Ballet royal de la Nuit – this moment of great political as well as artistic significance. The importance of the occasion has ensured that literary, iconographical and archival evidence has survived, if not always in abundance, then certainly in sufficient quantity and quality for these aspects of the occasion to be easily appreciated today. The surviving musical sources are much less helpful, and the principal document to hand is a score assembled some 37 years after the event as part of a huge copying enterprise in the 1690s to preserve the music of the king’s early years. This score is not only incomplete as to the orchestration of the instrumental music – at best it gives only melody and bass (and frequently only the former) but very little of the vocal music is included. What is present, however, is complete enough to be performed and suggests that the copyist, André Danican Philidor l’aîné, must have had access to a variety of materials.

Lionel Sawkins
Symposium Title: 
Le Ballet de la Nuit - 2004
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