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Sunday, May 16, 2004
  Le bourgeois gentilhomme: Ballet des nations b) Chaconne des Scaramouches, Trivelins et Arlequins
Jean-Baptiste Lully
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 4 Track 50

The French knew swing even before the States were anything. Lully's band of string players answered the royal demand for dance tunes with enough elegance and motion to be remembered hundreds of years later. When we think about Jazz we must remember that it is not a simple fusion of African and European traditions. Because of Lully, I suspect the European contribution was not devoid of rhythm and I would not be surprised to learn that the African influence included pitch organization.

Concerning this chaconne, I would argue that Lully accomplished courtly grace by means other than consistent four-measure phrases. The descending bass line, which makes this chaconne a chaconne, is only really present at the beginning and end of the piece. In fact, immediately after the first presentation of this defining line, Lully departs from this pattern just enough to let you know that he is in control, not the pattern. The phrases are wonderfully asymmetrical, oftentimes not starting on beat one. The units that build the phrases are also of varying sizes.

What I like about Lully's dance is that it is put together in a simple, inevitable way. The harmonies are as much a consequence of the line as the line is a result of the harmony. The phrase lengths are as long or as short as needed for a given moment. It is as if Lully had recorded a motion as simple and as varied as a falling leaf.

Also read an account of life with King Louis XIV
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In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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