THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

21 March 2017

An Amsterdam edition of Lully’s Persée

This week sees the 330th anniversary of the death of naturalised French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). Born Giovanni Battista Lulli to Tuscan parents, Lully moved to Paris in 1646, marking the beginning of a spectacular rise in his career and fortunes. His accession to the office of Surintendant de la Musique de le Chambre du Roi in 1661 heralded twenty-six years of dominance over music-making at Louis XIV’s court, ended only by his death from a famously self-inflicted wound sustained when conducting his own Te Deum.

This anniversary coincides nicely with a recent development in the British Library’s own Lully collection, relating to his tragédie (or opera) Persée. The premiere of this work in 1682 was promptly followed by two corresponding publications of the same year: the first was a particularly imposing score by Christophe Ballard in Paris, sole music printer to Louis XIV; the second was a curious set of string parts for the overture and airs of Persée, printed by Jean Philip Heus in Amsterdam.

Ballard Title PageTitle-page of Ballard’s score of Persée (Paris, 1682).  British Library Hirsch II.542, folio 1r

As well as holding three copies of Ballard’s score (Music Collections I.302, Hirsch II.542 and R.M.12.a.5), since 1924, the British Library has been in possession of an incomplete set of Heus’s string parts (K.7.c.2.). The only known surviving copy of Heus’s edition, this had lacked a Haute-contre de violon part since its acquisition some ninety-three years earlier. Remarkably, however, a copy of the missing part recently came to light and was acquired by the British Library.

Frontispiece new part Lully K-7-c-2Title-page of the newly-acquired Haute-contre part, British Library K.7.c.2.

The engraved frontispiece shows Persée, armed with the head of Mèduse, rescuing Andromède from the sea monster (Act IV)

In addition to being satisfying from a bibliographic perspective, the completion of this set facilitates comparison with the Ballard score published the same year. Ballard’s edition is the ‘authorised’ text in both senses: it was produced in cooperation with the composer, who provided an extensive letter of dedication to the King, while the title-page declares that it was printed ‘AVEC PRIVELEGE DE SA MAJESTIE’. Heus’s publication, on the other hand, demonstrates a printer freely plundering the tragédie for its instrumental highlights, clearly unperturbed by the ‘privilege’ given to Ballard as the sole printer of Lully’s works.

The two editions also demonstrate quite different practical and economic approaches to music printing. Ballard’s rather grand and lavish offering is unlikely to have been constructed for performance, and was probably aimed at libraries of wealthy individuals or institutions. By contrast, Heus’s publication is very much a performing edition, possibly aimed at a growing middle-class market. Unlike Ballard’s edition, which was printed with movable type, it was produced using the considerably more fashionable technique of engraving. The result is a more florid and seemingly handwritten style, which would have appealed to this customer base.

Ballard edition movable type

Heus edition engraved
Ballard’s large score, printed using movable type (folio 3r) (upper image), and Heus’s  smaller engraved edition (folio 2r) (lower image)

Heus’s edition of the overture and airs of Persée constitutes an interesting example of cultural transfer between France and the Netherlands. In this case, highly-formalised music from the heart of the French royal musical establishment has been translated into a more ‘popular’ and commercialised form for recreation among the Dutch middle classes. To a degree, these different musical and publishing outlooks might even be said to reflect the greater societal ideals and attitudes of the absolutist French state and the commerce-driven Dutch Republic.

James Ritzema, Collaborative PhD student, Royal Holloway, University of London, and British Library