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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 4 (1998) No. 1

The Livrets of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Tragédies Lyriques: A Catalogue Raisonné. Compiled by Carl B. Schmidt. New York: Performers’ Editions [Broude Brothers], 1995. [xliv, 633 pp. ISBN 0–943930–50–2.]

Reviewed by Lois Rosow*

1. Overview

2. Commentary


1. Overview

1.1 Scholars interested in the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully owe a particular debt of gratitude to two colleagues who have been willing to spend countless hours compiling basic reference tools: Herbert Schneider, for attempting to account for all known sources, especially the manuscripts, in his thematic catalogue of Lully’s complete works,(note 1) and Carl Schmidt, for providing a comprehensive catalogue of all extant librettos for Lully’s operas.(note 2) Publication of Professor Schmidt’s long-anticipated catalogue, delayed several years through no fault of his own, finally occurred in 1995, and since then those of us who study the operas have had ample opportunity to discover its usefulness in documenting the performance and publication histories of these works. In addition to the fourteen “tragédies lyriques” specified in the title of the book,(note 3) the repertory includes the pastorale héroïque Acis et Galatée; it does not include Lully’s first opera, the pastiche Les Fêtes de l’Amour et de Bacchus, or the two large-scale ballets (often grouped with the operas in seventeenth-century collections) Le Triomphe de l’Amour and Le Temple de la Paix.

1.2 More than 500 publications are described. In the main body of the catalogue, items are grouped according to opera title, rough chronology (Schmidt admits that he cannot always determine relative order of publication when a number of editions and issues appeared during the same year),(note 4) and city of publication. The format of the catalogue number assigned to each item shows whether Schmidt regards it as a separate edition or as one of several issues within an edition.(note 5) Each entry includes a diplomatic title page transcription; a summary of printing format and pagination (but no collation formula or information on signature marks, and no information on paper types); a summary of contents; a description of any engraved illustrations; full transcriptions of any dedications, privileges, censor’s approbations, and the like; a list of performers named (or, if none is named, information on performers taken from other sources); a list of all known exemplars, by collection location and shelf number; and relevant bibliography. Appendices list and describe recueils factices (collections of previously published librettos, gathered together and preceded by a newly printed title page), “collected literary editions” (by which Schmidt means unified published anthologies), and printers’ devices with their dimensions. A variety of indices summarizes the entries according to different criteria and ensure that users will be able to find librettos naming particular performers, published in particular cities, and so on. An introduction to the volume briefly surveys relevant practices of the publishers involved.

1.3 Finally, a comment on something this catalogue does not do, in the words of the compiler (p. xx): “The description provided by each entry is that of a specific copy. No attempt has been made to describe an ideal copy or, in general, to cite ways in which other copies differ from the copy described.” Schmidt is careful to indicate which copies he has actually seen and which one is the subject of the catalogue description.

2. Commentary

2.1 The listings in this catalogue reflect a fascinating slice of cultural history. One can see, leafing through these pages, that Lully’s operas were performed in Paris well into the second half of the eighteenth century, and performed in a wide variety of other European locations starting in the seventeenth century. The king and others are praised in a variety of dedicatory letters and verses. The busy publishing industry in Amsterdam, evidently serving a vast market for these texts, churned out copies of the originals, often identifying them as such (“suivant la copie imprimée à Paris”). As the royal privilège to produce operas in Paris passed from hand to hand after Lully’s death, its various versions were printed in various librettos; and similar privilèges, granted for productions in other cities, were also printed. Similarly, the rights to publish these texts, first granted to Lully in 1672, were published several times (and shared with a variety of printers). All of these aspects of the history of French opera, so colorfully suggested on these pages, have been discussed elsewhere; Professor Schmidt does not discuss them here but cites relevant secondary literature.

2.2 The librettos also allow us to trace the careers of many performers, in Paris and elsewhere. (Despite Schmidt’s statement to the contrary [p. xvii], those published for Lully’s own Paris productions do not name performers, though those for his productions at the royal court do.) It is unfortunate that lists of chorus members and dancers have been reordered alphabetically; at least in the case of eighteenth-century Paris productions, the original formats contain information that has been obscured. It is clear from voice-types (known from other sources) that the chorus members are often listed in the librettos in the order in which they stood around the perimeter of the stage (women, then basses-tailles on each side; hautes-contre and tailles at the back). As for the dancers, surely the singling out of individuals and couples implies the use of soloists.

2.3 Specialists will be particularly interested in the history of the publications themselves, the publishers involved, and their changing practices.(note 6) In his introduction Schmidt mentions such matters as the physical form in which the librettos were sold (with or without binding or wrappers, sewn or unsewn); the retention of printed sheets over a period of many years; the possibility that librettos were kept in standing type for a while;(note 7) and the use of changing printers’ marks on title pages to signal a change of content within. It is unfortunate that paper types are given no attention at all here. For instance, watermarks might help establish whether the modest corrections on the title page of LLC 2-1.2 represent a reissue, as Schmidt postulates, or merely a variant state resulting from stop-press correction. More importantly, watermarks would probably support Schmidt’s hypothesis that the unique exemplars brought together in RF 23-25, despite the early dates on their title pages, were all published in 1703 expressly for this set of recueils factices. Confirming this hypothesis would allow one to remove the “editions” found in RF 23-25 from the main body of the catalogue, thereby providing a more accurate picture of the Paris publication history of each libretto during the year of the première. For instance, without the “red herring” of RF 23-25, one can see that all surviving first-year title pages for Thésée, Atys, Isis, and Proserpine reflect court performances; apparently none was printed expressly for the productions at Lully’s Académie in Paris.(note 8)

2.4 In short, this catalogue deals with printed books that have very complex publication histories. As Professor Schmidt clearly realizes, future analysis of all extant exemplars and compilation of what bibliographers refer to as “ideal copies” will undoubtedly lead to revisions of chronology and reassignment of categories (“edition,” “issue,” “impression,” “state”). But in view of the immensity of the project and the vast amount of useful information provided, it would be churlish to conclude by complaining about what has not yet been done. I, for one, have already made good use of this catalogue and will continue to do so; it is a large and valuable contribution to Lully scholarship.


*Lois Rosow (rosow.1@osu.edu) is Associate Professor of Music at the Ohio State University. Her research interests center around seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French opera. Return to beginning of article


1. Herbert Schneider, Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis sämtlicher Werke von Jean-Baptiste Lully (LWV) (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1981). Return to text

2. Schmidt does not explain his decision to adopt the French word “livret” (which is printed in roman type) into English. Return to text

3. As these librettos show, the seventeenth-century name for the genre was “tragédie en musique.” It was replaced by “tragédie-lyrique” towards the middle of the eighteenth century. Return to text

4. Where chronology is unclear, language should be chronologically neutral. For instance, if Schmidt has some way of knowing the chronological relationship of LLC 3-2.1, 3-2.2, and 3-2.3, he should have spelled it out; if not, he should have avoided language like (for instance) “Magny replaced by Pecourt.” Return to text

5. The system occasionally breaks down. Thus, Schmidt correctly identifies LLC 13-34 as a reissue of LLC 13-32 but does not number them 13-32.1 and 13-32.2, presumably because the unrelated 13.33 intervenes chronologically. Return to text

6. One would find it easier to peruse the catalogue entries if the running headlines identified the operas by name as well as catalogue number, and if the boldface heading for each catalogue entry gave information other than publisher and date e.g., performance location and date, or (for instance) “copy unique to a recueil factice.” Return to text

7. Eventual determination, through analysis of the printed books themselves, of the number of pieces of type available for each character in Ballard’s fonts, might provide insight here. Return to text

8. In general, librettos for court productions during Lully’s lifetime gave particular dates and places of performance, were published “by express commandment” of the king, and lack sale information; whereas those for Lully’s Paris productions do not give particular performance dates (those for Persée being exceptional), were published “with privilege” of the king, and were “sold at the door of the Académie royale de musique.” As mentioned above, performers are not named in the latter. Two title pages are slightly anomalous: see LLC 10-1 (and its variant in LLC 10- 3) and LLC 12-1 (pp. 312-13, 373). Return to text

Other Linked Material

For instance, the following is a diplomatic transcription of the list of dancers for Act I of Armide (“Troupe de Peuples De Damas”) found in LLC 13-33:

Mr. Pitro; Mrs. Caillez, Feuillade, F-Dumoulin, Levoir, Monservin[,] Gherardy; Mlle. Lyonnois; Mlles Rabon, Rosalie, Thiery, Beaufort, Puvignée, Carville.

The same data, as presented by Schmidt (p. 440):

Mlles Beaufort, Carville, Lyonnois, Puvignée, Rabon, Rosalie, Thiery; Messrs Caillez, F. Dumoulin, Feuillade, Gherardy, Levoir, Monservin, Pitro.

Return to text

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