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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 10 (2004) No. 1

Lully’s Musical Architecture: Act IV of Persée

Lois Rosow*


Individual acts of Lully’s operas are characterized by musical and dramatic continuity, highlighting the linear unfolding of the dramatic action over unbroken time. At the same time, acts are made up of nested segments, and at all structural levels, moments of articulation simultaneously suggest continuity and change, elision and disruption. Various compositional devices control the pacing of the action within and across scenes. By nesting segments within larger segments, composer and librettist focus successively on actions that by implication occur simultaneously. Act IV of Persée serves as a case study of these devices and their dramatic effect.

1. Introduction

2. Acts and Scenes

3. Large-Scale Sections and Trajectory to Climax

4. Articulation, Continuity, and Linearity

5. Choral Performance Practice

6. Performance Practice and the “Static” Tableau

7. Conclusion


Musical Examples

Audio Examples


1. Introduction

1.1 “Et chaque acte de sa pièce est une pièce entière” (And each act in his play is itself a complete play). The author of that alexandrine, the seventeenth-century poet and satirist Nicolas Boileau, referred to one of the spoken plays of Philippe Quinault, but he could just as well have uttered it in reference to Quinault’s librettos for Lully’s operas.1 An act, according to French literary convention, was expected to have its own theme, so that one could speak, for instance, of “the act of the sacrifice” or “the recognition act.” It was expected to make a crescendo to a climax, and—as we shall see presently—it was isolated temporally from adjacent acts. Boileau’s remark brings to mind a similar one by the eighteenth-century poet and theorist Jean-François Marmontel: ideally, wrote Marmontel, “each rejoinder would be to the scene what the scene is to the act—that is, a new means of creating an entanglement or unraveling one.”2 The idea behind both remarks is apparently a topos of classical French dramaturgy—namely, the notion that segments, each to some degree complete in and of itself, are joined together to make larger segments: rejoinders embedded in scenes, scenes embedded in acts, acts embedded in plays. Lully’s operatic style, featuring miniature closed forms and large-scale symmetries, is clearly compatible with this idea.3 This study concerns the segmentation and trajectory of acts in the tragédie en musique. Its aim is to explore Lully’s and Quinault’s ways of articulating acts by considering a single example, Act IV of Persée, from the point of view of its broadest explicit level of segmentation, its division into scenes. In considering the linking and layering of segments, I hope to suggest ways librettist and composer control the flow and pace of events, and to explore the relationship between rounded forms and the linear unfolding of drama.

1.2 Table 1 briefly outlines the plot and musical surface of Act IV of Persée,4 which presents the ancient myth of Perseus saving Andromeda (as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses), mingled with seventeenth-century love intrigue. Principal key areas, to a large degree coterminous with scenes, are given in the right-hand column.

Table 1

Brief Outline of Act IV of Persée

Setting: the sea and a shore bordered by cliffs


Plot and Music

Key Areas


Groups of Ethiopians (chorus) gather to celebrate the victory of Persée, the son of Jupiter, over the Gorgon Méduse, while Phinée and Mérope (rejected lovers of Andromède and Persée respectively) express their jealousy (Phinée) and misery (Mérope). [chœur en rondeau, with episodes for Phinée and Mérope]



Phinée and Mérope flee the crowd to “deplore their common unhappiness” (i.e., chorus exits). Their complaints are interrupted by a tempest. (The waves will roil through most of the rest of the act.) They moralize, comparing the angry winds to their jealous hearts. [introductory duet; extended recitative, culminating in symphonie and large-scale descriptive duet, followed by moralistic duet]

briefly g, then back to B-flat


The Ethiopians return with bad news: Tritons have seized the princess Andromède and will offer her to be devoured by a sea-monster. After lamenting, the crowd clambers onto the cliffs to observe the sea (giving the principals privacy again). Phinée is unsympathetic, his love for Andromède entirely replaced by jealous rage. Phinée and Mérope exit; chorus remains on cliffs. [large-scale refrain structure, with refrain for trio of Ethiopians and chorus; then short rage air for Phinée (preceded and followed by brief recitatives)]



Céphée and Cassiope (king and queen, parents of Andromède), on the shore, bemoan the fate of their daughter. [rondeau with duet refrain] Tritons rise out of the sea with Andromède and attach her to a rock [apparently during final refrain].



Céphée and Cassiope briefly continue the dialogue, which leads directly into choral supplication to the “gods of the waves” (with episodes for Céphée and Cassiope). [recitative, then chorus]

no change

  Andromède, on the rock, addresses the gods and bemoans the loss of her happiness with Persée. [ternary-form air] f
  Tritons command attention; the voices of the principals tumble over each other in terror; the monster approaches. [recitative with short chorus; then double chorus (Ethiopians/sea-gods)] F


Persée appears, flying in his winged sandals, and battles the monster successfully. [double chorus]

briefly C, then back to F

  Nereides and Tritons prepare to retire into the sea in shame; the waves grow calm. [chorus] d


As the crowd, Céphée, and Cassiope express their joy, Persée unties Andromède; then the Ethiopians come down from the cliffs. Joined by sailors, the crowd celebrates by dancing and singing. [chorus; divertissement]


Like all acts in this genre, this one takes about a half-hour to perform and, thanks in large part to the short-breathed musical style, seems to move quickly. An unusual feature of this particular act is the presence of the chorus almost throughout. Moreover, in part because of the emphasis on the chorus, large-scale refrain structures are unusually prevalent here. At all events, while no two acts by Quinault and Lully are structured identically, various general structural principles and conventional stylistic elements ensure that a common generic code is in play.

2. Acts and Scenes

2.1 The temporal isolation of acts in French plays of the time, along with their internal temporal continuity,5 is a feature of the style that confirms the autonomy of the act as a discrete structural unit. To state the matter briefly, the events represented in adjacent acts were separated from each other temporally. Whether the entr’acte represented several hours or only a few minutes, it reflected the passage of time. In opera, moreover, entr’actes represented supernatural changes of geographical location: adjacent acts occurred in different places.6 While acts were temporally separated, scenes—defined by the entrance and exit of characters—were elided: the end of one led without break into the beginning of the next, so that the events of the entire act occurred in “real time.” The simplest way for a playwright or librettist to ensure elision of scenes was to keep one or more characters on stage as others entered and exited. But the elision of scenes did not imply seamlessness: the comings and goings of characters were regarded as dramatic events, to be marked—not as ruptures, perhaps, but as significant transitions. Lully used tonality for this purpose. With some exceptions, each scene, while modulating internally, has a single “home key,” and scene changes are marked by some sort of definitive modulatory gesture to a new home key—most often what eighteenth-century musicians called a “chute”: a brief stepwise descent (or occasionally ascent) in the bass line, connecting the two tonics.7 In addition, Lully usually gave entering characters a brief instrumental introduction, labeled either prélude or ritournelle,8 confirming the new key and setting the emotional tone for the ensuing dialogue or monologue.

2.2 In this act, as elsewhere in Lully’s operas, exceptions to the general rule of tonal unity within the scene have obvious dramatic explanations. (One is acceleration to climax: the end of scene 5 and scene 6 will be discussed from this point of view below.) At the end of scene 1 (Example 1, Figure 1, Audio 1) a chute from B-flat major to G minor leads directly into the introductory duet that opens scene 2; it is not surprising that there is no instrumental prelude since Phinée and Mérope do not make their entrances here. At the end of the duet (Example 2, Figure 2, Audio 2), an upward chute restores the key of B-flat.9 Thus, Lully uses a tonal shift to mark the change of focus away from the celebrating crowd, but quickly returns to the key of scene 1 as Phinée and Mérope resume the dialogue begun there. In addition to the key change, there is contrast between the regular duple meter (with occasional bars of notated hemiola), modest text repetitions, and occasionally imitative texture in the G-minor duet, and the stylistic features of recitative in the ensuing exchange.

2.3 As for scene 5, the appearance of Andromède and her captors in pantomime (described in Table 1 at the end of the description of scene 4) entails no change of key, but Andromède’s musical entrance later in the scene is indeed marked by a definitive tonal shift (a chute from C minor to F minor), and even an introductory ritournelle for a trio of strings. Moreover, Lully and Quinault use the traditional ternary form that they favor elsewhere for monologue laments, an extended passage of recitative encased in a brief opening and closing refrain. In short, the moment of high drama occurs not when Andromède first appears as a captive of the Tritons, technically the moment of scene change, but when the actress turns to the audience to lament her fate. Though her lament is not strictly speaking a monologue, others being present on stage, she addresses her remarks to the gods who have decreed her fate, not to her parents and their subjects who observe her predicament from the shore.

2.4 Within each scene, internal modulation is virtually constant, but internal segmentation confirms the primacy of the principal key. In scene 2, for instance, once the key of B-flat major has been restored, the two jilted lovers present their positions in separate passages of recitative. Mérope is all tears and sighs (twelve lines of poetry that pass through C major and G minor and finally return to B-flat), and Phinée all jealousy and rage (seventeen lines, modulating to G minor and F major before returning to B-flat). An unlabeled symphonie in B-flat, which paints “impetuous winds” and rising ocean waves with a flowing bass line and vigorous melody, overlaps with Phinée’s final cadence, suggesting that the “sudden tempest” interrupts the dialogue (Example 3, Figure 3, Audio 3). This evocative orchestral music also serves as a prelude, musically foreshadowing the ensuing extended duet in B-flat, where the pair confirm the onset of a frightful storm. The duet is in a free ritornello form that modulates through several keys (Example 4, Figure 4, Audio 4). The final ritornello ushers in a contrasting duet—different texture, different meter, and no running bass—also in B-flat major but with a tonicization of G minor as an introductory gesture (Example 5, Figure 5, Audio 5); here Phinée and Mérope moralize, introducing a simile between “angry winds” and “jealous hearts.” In short, modest shifts in rhythm, texture, degree of text repetition, and form articulate the scene into its component parts; a common key unites them.10

3. Large-Scale Sections and Trajectory to Climax

3.1 If the theme of Act IV is Persée’s rescue of Andromède, the first three scenes seem barely relevant: they center around the feelings of the jilted lovers Phinée and Mérope, and primarily lay the groundwork for the action of Act V (where Phinée will unsuccessfully attack Persée, and Mérope will lose her life for wanting to save that of the man who rejects her). Yet Quinault and Lully have taken pains to link this portion to the rest of the act by making scene 3 pivotal: it both completes the Phinée-and-Mérope segment and introduces the Andromède segment. Scenes 2 and 3 are linked to each other by parallel endings: each culminates in a modestly Italianate moment of suspended time, where the emotions of those who have been rejected are crystallized in song: the final moralizing duet that ends scene 2 (Example 5, Figure 5, Audio 5), and the binary-form rage air for Phinée that ends scene 3:

L’Amour meurt dans mon cœur, la rage luy succede. J’aime mieux voir un Monstre affreux Devorer l’ingrate Andromède, Que la voir dans les bras de mon Rival heureux.

[Love dies in my heart, rage overtakes it. I would rather see a frightful monster devour ungrateful Andromède than see her in the arms of my happy rival.]

But while scene 3 is linked to scene 2 by its ending, it is linked to scene 4 by its beginning and predominant formal scaffolding: scenes 3 and 4 both open with couplets of lamentation regarding Andromède’s fate, invoking the gods—“O Ciel inexorable! / O malheur déplorable!” (scene 3); “Ah! quel effroyable suplice! / Dieux! ô Dieux! quel cruauté!” (scene 4)—and both then use these couplets as recurring refrains that give large-scale shape to extended passages.

3.2 Moreover, the abandonment of one topic for another is mitigated by smooth overlap at the moment of scene change. Example 6 (Figure 6, Audio 6) shows the end of Phinée’s jealous rage air (in “doubled-continuo” texture) and the ensuing transitional passage. (The beginning of the air may be seen in Example 8.) While I have just referred to Phinée’s short air as “a modestly Italianate moment of suspended time” and a “culmination,” it is certainly not an exit aria, which would be foreign to the style. Rather, it is exactly the sort of piece Lecerf de la Viéville had in mind when he wrote of a character who, feeling a sudden surge of passion, departs from ordinary recitative, adopts a fast tempo and regular beat, and expresses his feelings to the accompaniment of two violins, before calming himself and returning once more to recitative.11 In the recitative that follows the air, Phinée suggests to Mérope that they observe Andromède’s encounter with the monster from a distance—an excuse to get them out of the way and turn the act over to the king and queen (Céphée and Cassiope) and their unfortunate daughter Andromède. Quinault clearly indicates an overlap here, for he uses rhyme to link Phinée’s closing recitative to the duet of Céphée and Cassiope: “finisse” and “escarté” ending Phinée’s poetic lines, “suplice” and “cruauté” ending the lines for the royal pair. Lully in turn ends Phinée’s air on a Picardy third, in order to make a transition from G minor to C minor, and then has Phinée end his participation in this scene (and act) on a half-cadence in the new key, with immediate resolution by the entering characters—who, moreover, enter singing, without instrumental prelude. As mentioned above, this introductory passage for Céphée and Cassiope turns out to be a rondeau refrain giving large-scale shape to an extended passage, twenty-two lines of poetry that never depart from those same two rhyme-endings. Here, at this major shift in the plot where the focus changes definitively from one set of characters to another, both poetry and music mitigate against any break in the action. (It might be added that modest stage-machinery, some sort of device for giving the illusion of rolling waves, also elides the large sections of the act: the waves rise in scene 2 and never stop until Persée’s successful rescue of Andromède in scene 6.)

3.3 Scenes 4–6 contain the principal action of the act: Andromède is bound to a rock by Tritons, as an intended sacrifice to a sea monster, and then saved by her beloved Persée. Quinault and Lully observe the convention of increasing momentum as the climax of the act is approached: the first several scenes, with their long speeches and large-scale refrain structures, are relatively static; only after Andromède’s ternary-form lament in scene 5, at the change to F major, do extended closed structures and long speeches give way to a relatively short chorus and solo voices tumbling over each other in quick succession. The last-named feature is illustrated by the following excerpt (essentially a quatrain, as shown by the rhyme scheme in the right-hand column). Here an octosyllable is divided among three characters, and the normal elision of “Fil-le” and “O” is broken by the change of speaker:


Ah! quelle vangeance inhumaine!






    Ma Fille?



        O Cieux!



Que les Dieux sont cruels! qu’ils sont ingenieux



A faire ressentir leur haine!


[Cassiope: Ah, what unfeeling vengeance! Céphée: Andromède? Cassiope: My daughter? Andromède: Oh, Heavens! Cassiope: How cruel the gods are, how ingenious they are at making us feel their hatred!]

3.4 The key, which has previously descended further and further toward the flat-side with each successive lament (from G minor to C minor to F minor; see Table 1), moves back toward the sharp-side and into major mode as the climax approaches.12 Example 7 (Figure 7, Audio 7) shows where all this is leading: the vengeful sea gods make one last cadence to F major; Andromède bewails Persée’s absence in brief recitative; but as the populace shouts, “See that glorious hero fly!” the key moves rapidly through G major to peak at C major as Persée appears; and without break the airborne battle of Persée and the monster unfolds (in F major once again) over a fast-moving double chorus of Tritons trying to stop Persée, and Ethiopians cheering him on.13 Once Persée saves Andromède, after a parenthesis in D minor for the departure of the villains, there remains only the final move in a sharpward direction, all the way to D major for the peroration in scene 7 (an extended celebration by the populace, expressing joy after the dramatic rescue). Both the sheer pace of activity, poetic and musical, and the tonal structure push the story forward to climax.

4. Articulation, Continuity, and Linearity

4.1 Much of the preceding discussion has focused on moments of articulation that simultaneously suggest continuity and change, elision and disruption. The chute, by its very nature, fits this description. Perhaps the most telling stylistic detail from this point of view is the treatment of the continuo in Lully’s operatic scores, as illustrated in Example 8 (Figure 8, Audio 8). This excerpt from scene 3 shows the end of the large-scale refrain structure, the ensuing recitative, and the beginning of the air that follows (Phinée’s rage air, discussed above). These items, two of them solidly closed forms, are linked by a continuo that is “continuous” in the truest sense of the word, the cadential bass notes tied across formal boundaries. In short, overlap is a central feature of the style.

4.2 The emphasis on musical and dramatic continuity within any given act of a tragédie en musique serves a clear stylistic purpose: to highlight the linear unfolding of the dramatic action over unbroken time. Other devices, such as the length of individual speeches, the presence or absence of an introductory prelude, or phrase overlap at an important cadence, help control the pacing of that action. The large-scale refrain forms that are so prevalent in this style tend to slow the pace, yet despite their rounded closure, they do not necessarily conflict with linearity. This point may be illustrated by the passage that begins scene 3. (The refrain is sung in alternating phrases by a trio of soloists, comprising the courtier Idas and two unidentified citizens, and the full four-part chorus [see the beginning of Figure 8]. Idas dominates the lengthy first episode; the brief second episode is sung by the trio.) Here successive appearances of the refrain constitute direct commentary on the sentiments of lamentation uttered by some of the same characters in the episodes:


Prelude [prefigures ensuing trio and chorus: phrases for strings a3 and a5 in alternation]

Idas & Ethiopiens:

O Ciel inexorable! / O Malheur déplorable! [full refrain]

Phinée & Mérope:

(aside) Qui pourroit traverser ces trop heureux Amants!


(speaking to the Ethiopians) D’où naissent vos gemissements?


L’implacable Junon cause nostre infortune.…


[plus 16 additional lines, explaining Andromède’s predicament]


The Ethiopians place themselves on the cliffs at the edge of the shore.

Idas & Ethiopiens: O sort inexorable! / O Malheur déplorable! [abbreviated refrain]
Princesse infortunée, helas!
Vous meritiez un sort plus favorable:
Vous ne meritiez pas
Un si cruel trépas.
O sort inexorable! / O Malheur déplorable! [full refrain]

[Idas and the Ethiopians: Oh, unrelenting Heaven! Oh, lamentable unhappiness! Phinée and Mérope: What could have thwarted such happy lovers? What is the cause of your wailing? Idas: Unrelenting Juno causes our misfortunes.… Idas and the Ethiopians: Oh, unrelenting fate! Oh, lamentable unhappiness! Unfortunate princess, alas! You deserve a better fate; you do not deserve such a cruel death. Oh, unrelenting fate! Oh, lamentable unhappiness!]

4.3 On the other hand, Lully and Quinault also use structures based on recurring elements in an entirely different way, one that takes a very different approach to linearity. This device is best exemplified by the divertissements in their operas—in Act IV of Persée, the final scene—but it is also present in certain other symmetrically organized scenes featuring the chorus, such as scene 1 of this act. To fully understand this stylistic element, we must first consider some issues of performance practice.

5. Choral Performance Practice

5.1 Lully’s divertissements involved a troupe of dancers and a chorus, representing different aspects of the same collective characters: the silent dancers represented their bodies, the relatively stationary chorus represented their voices. Anecdotal evidence indicates that around the mid-eighteenth century the chorus at the Paris Opéra was typically quite removed visually from the action: the members stood rigidly in two lines at the sides of the stage, not moving a muscle. (The anecdotes are expressed in a tone of ridicule. The convention was apparently longstanding but no longer taken for granted and starting to break down.)14 Pictorial evidence suggests that Lully’s chorus, though largely stationary and grouped at the sides of the stage, was better integrated into the action than its eighteenth-century counterpart: the members sometimes appear to make modest gestures.15 Occasional remarks in librettos support this observation. One for a production of Cadmus et Hermione at the royal court (Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 1678) includes explicit instructions for sixteen “singing sacrificers” to remain prostrate (demeurent prosternez) while six “dancing sacrificers” perform an entrée, after which the chorus members are to return to their feet (se relevent) and sing. Moreover, the libretto for Lully’s production of Bellérophon at the royal court (Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 1680), which contains a number of unusually detailed stage directions, offers clear evidence that the dancers were visually integrated into the chorus: following a choral piece, “nine Lycians separate from the group and dance an entrée…”16 In Act IV of Persée, we have seen that the crowd of Ethiopians moves from the shore to the cliffs in scene 3. In eighteenth-century revivals it was perhaps dancers who moved from one area of the stage to another, where they presumably made simple gestures in pantomime as the chorus, standing rigidly around the perimeter, sang. Lully’s chorus members (intermingled with silent but visually integrated dancers) perhaps made this move themselves—to be sure, a simple action, and one not attempted while singing.

5.2 Example 9 (Figure 9, Audio 9) shows the end of the D-minor chorus of Tritons that follows Persée’s triumphal rescue, and the beginning of the ensuing chorus of celebration for the Ethiopians. In repeatedly descending melodic lines the Tritons admit defeat and prepare to “descend into the waves.” The waves, according to the libretto, grow calm. The final cadence of the chorus overlaps with an instrumental prelude in D major (marked “gay”), announcing the ensuing chorus for the Ethiopians, who proclaim, “The monster is dead … Persée is invincible.” Presumably the Tritons in Lully’s production quickly made their exit as this prelude began, seeming to disappear into the sea. Lecerf de la Viéville wrote disapprovingly of the Tritons’ chorus, with its modest hint of counterpoint among the voices, that it was “overwrought” (travaillé), a piece displaying “truly Italian science.” In his opinion, the ensuing chorus for the Ethiopians, with its “equality of beauty among the different parts,” was far superior—indeed, so compelling that it immediately obliterated all thought of its predecessor (l’efface de beau coup).17 In any case, the tonal and textural contrast ushers in the final celebration.

5.3 The D-major chorus, “Le Monstre est mort,” consists of the brief prelude and four choral phrases that twice give way to brief orchestral interludes; an ensuing brief interlude for the principal soloists;18 and a reprise of the final choral phrase. Sometime during the chorus, according to the libretto, “Persée unties [délie] Andromède.” In the libretto the stage directions for the divertissement occur after the chorus:

The Ethiopians descend from the cliffs and show their joy by singing and dancing. Some sailors, with their wives, take part in the public celebration. One of the Ethiopians sings, surrounded by sailors who dance.19

Yet the piece that immediately follows the final choral phrase is not the typical entrance march but a gigue. In fact, as suggested above, the dancers have probably been on stage all along, mingled with the chorus as part of the crowd. Surely the dancers (and choral singers along with them?) would have moved from the cliffs to the seashore sometime during the choral piece—presumably during the orchestral passages, which are in duple meter with march rhythms (see Example 9)—in order to be in place for the gigue immediately after the chorus ends. As we shall see in a moment, they might have danced during the final phrase of the chorus as well.

6. Performance Practice and the “Static” Tableau

6.1 The following outline of the divertissement is based on the score (the order of events being slightly different in the libretto):

Chorus, with danced interludes (entrance march), in D major
Dance in D major (gigue in binary form)
Extended minuet-complex (letters represent phrases of 8 or 10 bars each):

Dance in D major (minuet in binary form): a–a–b–b


Air for “an Ethiopian” in D major: a–a–b–b


Dance in D minor (menuet en rondeau): c–d–c–e–c


First stanza of air in D minor, solo alternating with chorus:


        c–c–d–c–e–c (choral refrain shown in boldface type)

“The instruments complete the minuet.” (reprise of D-major dance?)20
Second stanza of air in D minor, solo alternating with chorus: c–c–d–c–e–c
Reprise of gigue in D major
Air for Céphée (fast triple meter) in D major
Choral setting of preceding air, with danced interludes, in D major

The outline shows a complex and loosely symmetrical structure that is typical of the genre. The poetry in such scenes usually looks different from that throughout the rest of the act. Whereas dialogue and monologue scenes unfold in vers libres—lines most often of six, eight, ten, and twelve syllables freely intermingled and never organized strophically—the poetry in a divertissement is often partially strophic and makes use of short regular line lengths. Thus, the refrain of the D-minor air (phrase c above), sung first by the soloist and then by the chorus, has the following text:

  first stanza (refrain only) second stanza (refrain only)
  Que n’aimez-vous Pour un Amant
  Cœurs insensibles? Tendre et fidelle,
  Que n’aimez-vous? Pour un Amant,
  Rien n’est si doux. Tout est charmant.

[First stanza: Why do you not love, insensitive hearts? Why do you not love? Nothing is sweeter. Second stanza: For a tender and faithful lover, for a lover, all is charming.]21

(The episodes—that is, the phrases labeled here d and e—use longer lines of poetry, organized in couplets instead of quatrains.) As is often the case in divertissements, the two airs here are dance songs, sung versions of minuets that have first been presented by dancers; see Example 10 (a and b), Figure 10, Audio 10; and Example 11, Figure 11, Audio 11.22 The intricate structure of the entire minuet-complex mingles brief segments for solo voice, for chorus, and for dancers. The reprise of the gigue (for dancers alone) rounds out the symmetrical picture.

6.2 The placement of action by dancers during instrumental interludes in an otherwise vocal piece (the chorus “Le Monstre est mort,” discussed above), along with the intermingling of segments for singers and dancers throughout the divertissement, leads us to another important staging procedure in French ballet of this time, and it is here that the connection between these performance-practice issues and the questions of style that are my principal concern will become clearest. According to this principle, the bodies and voices of the collective characters are virtually never in play simultaneously (an exception being the final phrase of a large-scale chorus, where dancers are known to have joined in). The audience is invited to focus now on the singers, now on the dancers, but not on both together.23

6.3 A corollary of this principle of single focus is its implication of continuous behavior that the audience neither sees nor hears. While we watch the dancing Ethiopians, the singing Ethiopians continue to celebrate, but we do not hear them; while we hear the singers, the dancing Ethiopians continue to celebrate, but we do not see them. A similar point has been made by Massimo Ossi with regard to the first act of Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo. That act, a symmetrical arch-form containing recurring songs and dances for different groups of shepherds, mingled with brief recitatives and surrounding a central recitative for Orpheus, is typically described as dramatically static. Ossi, who is primarily interested in the suggestive patterning of poetic forms and musical ritornello structures, proposes instead that Monteverdi “creates the illusion that several actions occur simultaneously by nesting three pieces within one another.” We hear the beginnings and endings of celebrations by different groups of shepherds, artfully patterned to imply that these celebrations go on continuously in the background while Orpheus and Euridice occupy “musical center stage.”24 Monteverdi and his librettist Alessandro Striggio, like Lully and Quinault, want us to understand these activities to occur simultaneously as we focus on them successively. The conventional code for presenting such a structure involved symmetrical patterning: an apparently static tableau.

6.4 The point seems equally relevant to the first scene of Act IV, even though dancing is not involved. Scene 1 is a chœur en rondeau. The chorus, divided into three groups, sings the rondeau refrain three times. Between the statements of the refrain, Phinée and Mérope each sing an episode in recitative. While the two will address each other directly at the beginning of scene 2 (“Nous ressentons mêmes douleurs …”), here they seem barely aware of each other, each lost in his or her own thoughts:


Troupe d’Ethiopiens:

     Courons, courons tous admirer / Le Vainqueur de Meduse.



  Persée est de retour, chacun court l’honnorer;


  Et le bonheur public va me desesperer.


  Non, non, il n’est plus temps qu’un vain espoir m’abuse.


2me Troupe d’Ethiopiens:

  Courons, courons tous admirer / Le Vainqueur de Meduse.



  Allons en secret soûpirer:


  Non, je ne puis plus me montrer,


  Triste comme je suis, interdite, et confuse.


3me Troupe d’Ethiopiens:

  Courons, courons tous admirer / Le Vainqueur de Meduse.

[Troupe: Let us all run to admire the conqueror of Medusa. Phinée: Persée is back, everyone goes to honor him, and the public happiness will drive me to despair. No, the time for me to be deluded by false hope has passed. Second troupe: Let us all run … Mérope: Let us (i.e., let me) go sigh in secret. No, I cannot show myself, sad as I am, abashed and embarassed. Third troupe: Let us all run …]

While it is certainly possible for three separate crowds of Ethiopians to arrive at precisely these intervals, allowing time between their arrivals for each of the principals to ruminate, it seems much more likely that the three statements of the refrain represent a continuous gathering of the populace. According to this interpretation, Phinée broods continuously in his corner, Mérope pines continuously in hers, the crowd gathers continuously—and we focus on them alternately. The texture of such scenes, including all divertissements, is very different from that of typical dialogue scenes, even dialogue involving recurring choral commentary when that commentary is integrated with recitative as part of a unified conversation (as in scene 3, described above). Paradoxically, we experience scenes like scene 1 and scene 7 as they unfold in time, but our experience is hardly linear.

7. Conclusion

7.1 This discussion of Act IV of Persée, a case study of act structure in the tragédie en musique, has considered questions of momentum, of continuity and articulation, of layered segments, and of varied dramatic texture related in part to conventions of performance practice. To some extent these issues are universal for the performing arts, for they involve the ever-present tension between experiencing a work as it unfolds in time, and using memory to experience relationships between events that we encounter only successively. To be sure, the particulars of the discussion belong specifically to this genre.

7.2 In his study of some of Lully’s ways of constructing symmetrical forms, Herbert Schneider reminds us that these poetic and musical structures reflect the general aesthetic sensibilities of France in the grand siècle: structures based on recurring statements of a refrain meet the desire for economy, moderation, and balance in the arts; moreover, symmetry in music, like that in the architectural plan of a palace, can be seen as a symbol of the absolute monarchy—ideally an orderly, balanced society with the king at its center by divine right.25 Yet even as stable a structure as the château at Versailles can be experienced as a performance that unfolds over time (as millions of tourists who wander its halls can attest). The point might be made more clearly with a slightly different but related analogy: walking through the gardens of Versailles is one way of experiencing their beauty; seeing their complex patterns from an upstairs window of the château is another. Quinault’s poetry and Lully’s music invite a similar duality of experience.


* Lois Rosow (rosow.1@osu.edu), Professor at the Ohio State University, writes on the Paris Opéra in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her critical edition of Lully’s Armide was recently published by Olms (Œuvres complètes, ser. 3, vol. 14). She is a member of the Editorial Board of JSCM and of the Comité Scientifique for the Œuvres complètes of Lully.

1 Nicolas Boileau, Satire III, verse 198 (regarding Quinault’s Astrate), quoted in Jacques Scherer, La Dramaturgie classique en France (Paris: A. G. Nizet, n.d.), 202. For a full discussion of the conventions regarding acts, see Scherer, 196–213. Scherer’s book first appeared in 1950; there have been several undated reissues.

2 “Chaque réplique serait à la scène ce que la scène est à l’acte, c’est-à-dire un nouveau moyen de nouer ou de dénouer.” Jean-François Marmontel, Poétique française (Paris: Lesclapart, 1763), 2:94.

3 I have written about this idea as it applies to individual dialogue scenes in Lully’s operas in “The Articulation of Lully’s Dramatic Dialogue,” in Lully Studies, ed. John Hajdu Heyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 72–99. Gregory Proctor expands upon my model in “A Schenkerian Look at Lully.” Regarding large-scale symmetries in Lully’s operas, see Herbert Schneider, “Strukturen der Szenen und Akte in Lullys Opern,” in Jean-Baptiste Lully: Actes du colloque / Kongressbericht Saint-Germain-en-Laye–Heidelberg 1987, ed. Jérôme de La Gorce and Herbert Schneider, Neue Heidelberger Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 18 (Laaber: Laaber Verlag, 1990), 77–98. See also James Anthony, “Jean-Baptiste Lully,” in The New Grove French Baroque Masters: Lully, Charpentier, Lalande, Couperin, Rameau (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), 31–40; Raphaëlle Legrand, “Persée de Lully et Quinault: orientations pour l’analyse dramaturgique d’une tragédie en musique,” Analyse musicale 27 (1992): 9–14; and Jean Duron, “L’Instinct de M. de Lully,” in La Tragédie lyrique (Paris: Cicero Editeurs and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 1991), 65–119. For a fine survey of the stylistic elements in Lully’s operas, see Caroline Wood, Music and Drama in the Tragédie en musique, 1673–1715: Jean-Baptiste Lully and His Successors (New York: Garland, 1996).

4 The libretto, published at the time of the première, is Persée, tragedie representée par l’Académie Royale de Musique, le dix-septiéme avril 1682 (Paris: Christophe Ballard, 1682). The score was published by the composer: Jean-Baptiste Lully, Persée, tragédie mise en musique (Paris: Christophe Ballard, 1682; reprint, New York: Broude International Editions, 1998).

5 A full survey of the conventions for acts and scenes summarized briefly here may be found in Scherer, 208–17. The principal seventeenth-century treatise is François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac, La Pratique du Théâtre (Paris: Sommaville, 1657), translated as The Whole Art of the Stage (London: Cadman et al., 1684; reprint, New York: B. Blom, 1968).

6 See my “Making Connections: Thoughts on Lully’s Entr’actes,” Early Music 21 (1993): 231–8. The change of scenery, effected spectacularly with machinery, occurred in full view of the audience. Lully and Quinault did make exceptions to the rule—in particular, Thésée, Acts III and IV, where the changes of scenery, brought about by magic, occur during the acts rather than at their beginnings; and Armide, Act IV, where the setting is the same as that of Act III but undergoes a supernatural change in appearance.

7 See Raphaëlle Legrand, “Ricercar sopra fa la mi: préludes de basse et articulation des scènes dans l’opéra français de Lully à Rameau,” D’un Opéra l’autre: hommage à Jean Mongrédien, ed. Jean Gribenski, Marie-Claire Mussat, and Herbert Schneider (Paris: Presse de l’Université de Paris–Sorbonne, 1996), 211–4. The terms “chute” and “chute de basse” appear occasionally in eighteenth-century musical sources; Legrand suggests “prélude d’articulation.”

8 The distinction is apparently one of texture. Though there are exceptions, Lully generally labeled introductions in trio texture “ritournelle”; he used “prélude” for introductions scored for five-part orchestra or for basso continuo alone.

9 In at least one eighteenth-century part copied for basse de violon players at the Paris Opéra, the annotation “chute” appears next to an ascending modulatory gesture like the one shown here. Thus, despite the literal meaning of the word chute (“fall”), function apparently supersedes direction in this context. André Campra, Télèphe, final cadence of a gigue in D minor, marked “fin”; upward link to recitative that begins in F minor, marked “chute” (F-Po Mat.18. 250 (138); copying date, 1713; scribe, chief copyist: Brice Lallemand).

10 One could carry this analysis to the level of the scene, linking the two passages of recitative on the one hand and the prelude and duets on the other, and thereby introducing an intermediate layer of segmentation.

11 Jean-Laurent Lecerf de la Viéville, Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique françoise, vol. 2 (Brussels, 1705), republished as vol. 3 of Jacques Bonnet and Pierre Bourdelot, Histoire de la musique et de ses effets (Amsterdam: Le Cene, 1725; reprint, Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, 1966), 65. Indeed, Lecerf refers specifically to Phinée in this passage.

12 Rameau cites music by Lully to exemplify this affective approach to fifth-related keys. Jean-Philippe Rameau, Observations sur notre instinct pour la musique (Paris, 1754; reprint, New York: Broude Bros., 1967), 79.

13 Might the “flying Persée” have been a puppet or silhouette suspended over the waves? Or did the actor himself appear airborne? There seems to be a dearth of information on the original machinery for this act, despite some tantalizing remarks made by a Swedish architect, Nicodème Tessin Le Jeune, who made a backstage visit to the Paris Opéra in 1687 while Persée was on the boards. See Caroline Wood and Graham Sadler, French Baroque Opera: A Reader (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), 123–6.

14 On this topic see my “Performing a Choral Dialogue by Lully,” Early Music 15 (1987): 329; Mary Cyr, “The Chorus in French Opera, 1670–1770,” in Opera and the Enlightenment, ed. Thomas Bauman and Marita Petzoldt McClymonds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 106–7, 112; and Antonia L. Banducci, “Staging and Its Dramatic Effect in French Baroque Opera: Evidence from Prompt Notes,” Eighteenth-Century Music 1 (2004): 10–11 and n. 44.

15 Cyr, 108–10. Cyr also shows images of choral singers from the 1760s, 110–12, by which time the pendulum had swung back to a somewhat more naturalistic chorus.

16 Cadmus et Hermione (Paris: Baudry, 1678), Act III, scene 6; cited in Ken Pierce and Jennifer Thorp, “The Dances in Lully’s Persée,” ref. 42. Regarding Bellérophon (for which poetry and stage directions are by Thomas Corneille, not Quinault), see Rebecca Harris-Warrick, “Recovering the Lullian Divertissement,” in Dance and Music in French Baroque Theatre: Sources and Interpretations, ed. Sarah McCleave, Study Texts 3 (King’s College London: Institute of Advanced Musical Studies, 1998), 58.

17 Lecerf in Bonnet and Bourdelot, 2:76–7.

18 Céphée and Cassiope: “Quand l’Amour anime un grand Cœur / Il ne trouve rien d’impossible.” Persée and Andromède: “Ah! que vostre danger me paroissoit terrible!”

19 “Les Ethiopiens descendent des Rochers, & témoignent leur joye en chantant & en dansant. Des Matelots et des Matelottes se meslent dans la réjoüissance publique. Un des Ethiopiens chante au milieu des Matelots qui dansent.”

20 ”Les Instruments achevent le reste du Menüet, & l’Ethiopien chante le second couplet, & ensuite on reprend la Gigue …” Persée, tragédie mise en musique, 254. The proposed interpretation takes “the minuet” to mean Minuets I and II plus reprise of Minuet I. I wish to thank Ken Pierce and Jennifer Thorp for their thoughts on this instruction (personal communication).

21 This sort of galant love poetry, having no direct connection to the events of the drama, was a conventional component of divertissements representing pastoral celebrations. The rest of this divertissement is more obviously connected to the particular celebration at hand. The Ethiopian’s first air is based on a simile: he implicitly compares the relief of the populace to coming home to port after a shipwreck. Céphée’s air and the ensuing chorus pay homage to the “glorious Hero who gives us happy peace of mind”—one of several implied comparisons between Persée and Louis XIV found throughout the libretto. Lully explicitly described the hero Persée as “the image of Your Majesty” in his dedication to the king in the 1682 printed score; the dedication is apparently missing from the exemplar used for the facsimile edition but may be read in Herbert Schneider, “Dokumente zur Französischen Oper von 1659 bis 1699,” Quellentexte zur Konzeption der europäischen Oper im 17. Jahrhundert, ed. Heinz Becker (Kassel, 1981), 150. Buford Norman, Touched by the Graces: The Libretti of Philippe Quinault in the Context of French Classicism (Birmingham, Ala.: Summa, 2001), 244; and Benoît Bolduc, "From Marvel to Camp: Medusa for the Twenty-First Century," ref. 22, contain extended quotations.

22 The music would have been written first, and poetry added afterwards. See Herbert Schneider, “‘Canevas’ als Terminus der lyrischen Dichtung,” Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 42 (1985): 87–101, especially 91.

23 Harris-Warrick, 59–61, 77. The give-and-take between singers and dancers is sometimes quite rapid, a succession of brief alternating phrases. Knowledge of this principle leads me to rethink my interpretation of a chorus from the Prologue to Armide (“Performing a Choral Dialogue,” 328–31): despite evidence to the contrary in eighteenth-century choral parts, the labels Lully placed in his printed score evidently mean that he intended this piece to be performed by a double chorus with selective participation by a double dance troupe.

24 Massimo Ossi, “Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Ordine novo, bello et gustevole’: the Canzonetta as Dramatic Module and Formal Archetype,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 45 (1992): 281–6. Orfeo had its premiere in Mantua in 1607.

25 Schneider, “Strukturen,” 95. The arch-forms often found in these operas are even more compelling than rondeau structures from this point of view; see Rosow, “Articulation,” 74–5, and Proctor, “A Schenkerian Look at Lully” regarding arch-forms in individual scenes; see Legrand, “Persée,” 10, regarding the arch-form made by large-scale tonal areas in this opera (tonal motion from Act I to Act III mirrored by that from Act III to Act V).

Musical Examples

Example 1: Lully, Persée, Act IV, chute linking scene 1 to scene 2

Example 2: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, return to recitative after opening duet

Example 3: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, interruption of recitative by tempest

Example 4: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, “Une tempeste soudaine”

Example 5: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, “Mer vaste, mer profonde”

Example 6: Lully, Persée, Act IV, pivotal transition from scene 3 to scene 4

Example 7: Lully, Persée, Act IV, climactic transition from scene 5 to scene 6

Example 8: Lully, Persée, Act IV, continuous bass in an excerpt from scene 3

Example 9: Lully, Persée, Act IV, excerpts from choruses ending scene 6 and beginning scene 7

Example 10: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 7, first strain of D-major minuet, as danced and as sung

Example 11: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 7, refrain of D-minor menuet en rondeau, as danced and as sung

Audio Examples

Audio 1: Lully, Persée, Act IV, chute linking scene 1 to scene 2

Audio 2: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, return to recitative after opening duet

Audio 3: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, interruption of recitative by tempest

Audio 4: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, “Une tempeste soudaine”

Audio 5: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 2, “Mer vaste, mer profonde”

Audio 6: Lully, Persée, Act IV, pivotal transition from scene 3 to scene 4

Audio 7: Lully, Persée, Act IV, climactic transition from scene 5 to scene 6

Audio 8: Lully, Persée, Act IV, continuous bass in an excerpt from scene 3

Audio 9: Lully, Persée, Act IV, excerpts from choruses ending scene 6 and beginning scene 7

Audio 10: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 7, first strain of D-major minuet, as danced and as sung

Audio 11: Lully, Persée, Act IV, scene 7, refrain of D-minor menuet en rondeau, as danced and as sung


Figure 1: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 179–80: Act IV, chute linking scene 1 to scene 2

Figure 2: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 180–1: Act IV, scene 2, return to recitative after opening duet

Figure 3: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 184: Act IV, scene 2, interruption of recitative by tempest

Figure 4: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 188–9: Act IV, scene 2, “Une tempeste soudaine”

Figure 5: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 190: Act IV, scene 2, “Mer vaste, mer profonde”

Figure 6: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 205–7: Act IV, pivotal transition from scene 3 to scene 4

Figure 7: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 224–9: Act IV, climactic transition from scene 5 to scene 6

Figure 8: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 203–5: Act IV, continuous bass in an excerpt from scene 3

Figure 9: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 239–42: Act IV, excerpts from choruses ending scene 6 and beginning scene 7

Figure 10: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 250–1: Act IV, scene 7, first strain of D-major minuet, as danced and as sung

Figure 11: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 251 and 253: Act IV, scene 7, refrain of D-minor menuet en rondeau, as danced and as sung

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