The deployment of large orchestras with a wide range ofand registers is one of the most distinctive elements of 17th and 18th French music. It is characteristic of the French art of music from to via and . These orchestras were unique in Europe at the time and were widely admired. They were one of the most visible manifestations of the Arts used to serve the Monarchy which, after the , had become aware of the potential political role of music and spectacle at national and international level.
Music as an institution
, and especially purposefully developed and institutionalised music at in the 17th century. Later on, the major Paris theatres and the famous society (1725-1791) enjoyed royal largesse and created impressive music ensembles in the wake of Versailles. They developed further during the Regency of (1715-1723) and continued up until the Revolution.
The Kingdom of France became increasingly centralised underand Henri IV, the main musical establishments being located near abbeys and cathedrals and the royal Court. In the 17th century the centres of power in Paris and Versailles facilitated the institutionalisation of the still loosely organised royal music departments, and defined the whole concept of an orchestra - its administrative, logistical, structural, artistic and musical aspects.
The emblematic music of thedu Roi
More than any other musical ensemble at Court, the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (or the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi fascinated Europe and was copied in many foreign Courts. The composite Grande Bande was a must at all solemn religious festivals and royal occasions. The orchestra played at repasts held in the Grand Couvert. composed special suites for these occasions (Symphonies pour le Souper du Roi). In the 17th century the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi also performed at court, at masked or costume balls as well as or .as it was known) embodied royal splendour. It was first part of the Écurie du Roi orchestra, but joined the Chambre orchestra around 1570. made the ensemble officially autonomous around 1620. Its prestige soared when Lully took over as director in 1653. The discipline and rigour he imposed (unusual at the time) earned the orchestra great respect. The
Initially, the distribution of violins was similar to that of the- i.e. 6 , 4 , 4 , 4 and 6 basses. Designed for open-air concerts, this ensemble sounded well without any or continuo: the large numbers in the three intermediary sections provided rich harmonies and marked rhythms. Its role explains the relatively rudimentary repertoire in the 17th century, the homorhythm and simple harmonies.
In the early 18th century practices changed and thedu Roi performed less frequently outdoors. A continuo and were often requested, necessitating a review of the quintes disappeared in the 1700’s and hautes-contre and tailles merged around 1740, while the number of dessus increased, finally splitting into first and second violins. The proportion of basses also increased. By the time the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi was dissolved in 1761, the orchestra had acquired a pre-classical structure, along the lines of the contemporary Mannheim orchestra.
The theorbos and and a comprising , and . By the early 18th century the orchestra numbered around forty musicians. This orchestra (which played , , , and Rameau) changed little until the mid-1760’s, albeit occasional use of or percussion. When Berton and Trial ran the institution in 1767 the numbers increased – violins and were added, and , , and later the featured more regularly. This was the formation found when he arrived in Paris in 1773. His ‘reformed' musique required an even larger orchestra. In 1778, almost eighty musicians were to be found in the orchestra pit, including 28 violins, 6 , 12 and 4 double bass.formation was originally like other Court ensembles. In 1680, the resembled the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (although it had more violins and bass and fewer intermediary instruments), with a formed by
The distinctive feature of the Académie Royale de Musique orchestra was its combination of a large instrumental ensemble and a small solo choir, the former backing the choir at overtures and descriptive pieces, the latter accompanying (4 , double bass and ) and short solo pieces (two violins and solo flute playing the high lines). This orchestral formation ended with the 1799 reform which instituted the use of soloists and super-soloists.
The large unified orchestras during Lully’s time (1710 – 1730) heralded the instrumental art form, with composers such as Campra, Destouches, Rebel and Francœur.
Les Boréades. At the same time violinists like , and broadened the scope of orchestral virtuosity with Italian influence from and Locatelli. This paved the way for the Académie Royale de Musique to accept the international classical style., and conducted the first acoustic experiments, but it was Rameau who revolutionised orchestral composition between 1733 and 1763. He introduced the unexploited timbres of the small flute, horn and clarinet (notably in Acante et Céphise, Zoroastre and
The French orchestra
Arrangement of instruments
Musicians were placed according to the venue. Theatres proved the most problematic, the solution being a semi-circle facing the stage (the opposite of today) to keep singers, conductor and choir close together. This usually meant splitting into petit choeur or soloists, and grand chœur or, along the lines of the récit and plein jeu for the . The arrangement worked vocally and instrumentally, and was used in both the Royal Chapel and theatres.
Number of musicians
French orchestras were particularly large whether the venue was a concert hall, theatre or church: the resources dispensed by their royal patrons and the importance of Paris musically in the 18th century meant that orchestras became permanent structures unlike anywhere else in baroque Europe Their very number encouraged a particular type of orchestral composition allowing for innovative timbres (with the accent on the flute, bassoon and musette) and particularly imposing orchestral sound, solo voices and chorus. This was reflected in overtures, ballets and theatricalas well as choral works. The French musical style was imitated throughout the Europe of Enlightenment.
The organ and theorbo) replaced by extra (hautes-contre, tailles and quintes) to add texture. At Royal Chapel or Concert Spirituel performances, the organ was used as a continuo instrument with loud organ stops, saving the need for many musicians: one instrument per part sufficed to match string section and organ timbres.featured in all baroque orchestral compositions and took very different forms in France. It was absent from open-air ensembles, the instruments (e.g. the harpsichord,
The Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi. Between the reign of and , the five-part arrangement changed: first one-part violin and three intermediary parts (haute-contre, taille & quinte) and a bass, and then two-part violins, two intermediary parts (hautes-contre & tailles ) and one bass (double bass). This shift can be seen in composers like Campra and Destouches in the early 1720’s. Although minor, 5-part was adopted by many foreign composers, including , , J.-S. , , and even .received special treatment for a long time, mainly under the influence of the
In France, voices were treated differently: the focus was on the outer parts, high voices for the melody, and bass for the main accompaniment. The inner parts were not used independently, remaining subservient to the outer parts. Their role was mainly to complete the harmony and enrich the rhythm, only rarely featuringor purely orchestral fugues.
Many wind instruments were used, a mixture of timbres preferred to solo timbres. For tuttis, flutes or oboes played with the dessus violins with bassoons accompanying the bass instruments, increasing the effect of polarisation. Around 1750, during Rameau’s time,were used more frequently, promoted by composers such as and Dauvergne. At the same time, the horn broke free from its hunting connotations, adding texture to the orchestra. It gave French orchestras a distinctive colour, as reflected in Rameau’s last works (1750-1770).
From the early 18th century, autonomous wind instrument compositions tended to be in 3-part harmony, and solo pieces increased. The typically French sinfonia concertante emerged around 1760 and gradually influenced all other musical genres.
Another feature of French composition at the time was the use of novel orchestral instruments like musette to evoke military or folk music, respectively.(often one-part) or
A music academy was established in 1795 benefiting from the top quality tuition given at thede Musique by virtuoso soloists from the Opéra or the conservatoire Société des Concerts.