Le bourgeois gentilhomee: Ballet des nations a) L'entree des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins represente une nuit.
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 4 Track 49
It is fitting that our symphonic tradition, rising out of the opera pit via the overture, truly begins with Jean-Baptiste. The political structure of the modern orchestra is not unlike the environment in which Lully thrived. As Lully was a specialist who answered to his King, principal players are specialists who answer to the conductor. Also, to many, Lully is the first conductor--though the baton he employed (as tall as himself) would seem ridiculous on stage today. And, I can't resist mentioning, because of his big baton, Lully is the orchestra' first casualty.
One of the compelling features about this brief excerpt is the five-voice texture. It is hard to imagine the orchestra as Lully heard it. Our ears have been so strongly grounded in the sound of our four-voiced string section learned in Bach chorales.
What I like about this piece is what I always like about Lully: rhythm. Scaramuccio, in spite of himself, has a touch of class when he walks with Lully. Because of Lully's proximity to the Sun King, everything that Lully wrote is permanently associated with the regal power of the ruling class once in Versailles. No number of Scaramouches on stage can dull the edge of the French overture rhythm.
For Baroque music performed with great rhythm, try Jordi Savall