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Louis XIV invites Molière to share his supper – an unfounded Romantic anecdote, illustrated in an 1863 painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(please click on the picture to enlarge it)

Rameau’s Les Indes galantes

There are a few points I should discuss before we leave behind Jean-Philippe Rameau‘s  Les Indes galantes.

Les Nations

As you know, Jean-Philippe Rameau was inspired to write Les Indes galantes after watching Amerindians dance.  However, after the Prologue, Rameau’s Indes galantes features

  • a gracious Turk, “un Turc généreux”
  • Incas from Peru, and
  • Persians ((Flowers – Persian Feast), “Les Fleurs – Fête persane”

In fact, only the final of the four acts is linked directly to Amerindians.  Moreover, that fourth entrée was composed later than the first three acts.  It is called

  • New Act – Les Sauvages (written [Louis Fuzelier] and composed [Rameau] a little later)

Needless to say, this piqued my curiosity.  I also noticed the frequent use of the word “nations” in the music literature of the time, beginning with the reign of Louis XIV or as of Jean-Baptiste Lully.  The final ballet constituting the Bourgeois gentilhomme is named “Ballets des Nations.”  Rameau was Lully’s successor.

For instance, Marin Marais wrote a Suitte [sic] d’un goût [taste] étranger [foreign] in 1717, performed by Jorgi Savall who has been restoring music of the 17th and 18th century.  Jorgi Savall provided the music for the film Tous les matins du monde (Every morning in the world).  Why say du monde (of the world)?

Savall’s ensemble, called the Concert des nations, has also recorded music by Rameau.   It could be that the word had a slightly different connotation, that it simply meant “d’un goût étranger” as in Marin Marais‘s Suitte d’un goût étranger. For six months Marin Marais was a student of Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe whose story is told in Tous les matins du monde.

Sifting through the music of François Couperin (10 November 1668 – 11 September 1733), I noted that François Couperin[i] wrote a piece entitled Les NationsI doubt that in the 17th- and 18th century France, the word nation had the same meaning as it does today.  It may have encompassed a wider territory that our current nations.  Moreover, Amerindians consisted of nations.

A Woman in Turkish Dress, pastel on parchment, by Jean-Étienne Liotard  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Orientalism or “Turquerie”

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the Byzantine Empire had fallen into the hands of Ottoman Turks in the middle of the fifteenth century (1453).  As a result, Byzantine scholars (Greek culture) fled to Western Europe prompting a Renaissance, the Renaissance.  However, if, on the one hand, the fall of the Byzantine Empire had a great impact on Western Europe, the revival of Greek culture, on the other hand, citizens of the now huge Ottoman Empire travelled north creating a taste for all things oriental, but also threatening European cities.

The Orient was not new to Europeans but Orientalism reached an apex in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Orientalism in fashion became known as “turquerie” and, in its early days, “turquerie” included Persia, which may confer a degree of unity to Les Indes galantes’ various entrées.  Matters did not change until the publication, in 1721, of Montesquieu‘s Persian Letters (Lettres persanes).

Persian Ambassadors at the Court of Louis XIV, studio of Antoine Coypel, c. 1715 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(please click on the picture to enlarge it)

Montesquieu‘s[i] Persian Letters were written after the visit, at the court of France, of ambassador Mohammed Reza Beg or Mehemet Riza Beg.  In 1715, the year Louis XIV died, he was visited by Persian ambassador Mohammed Riza Beg who established an embassy in Marseilles.  Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes were written and published after the ambassador and his entourage spent several months at the court of Louis XIV.

Turqueries à la Molière and Lully

However, the word “turquerie” has two meanings.  The first, as we have seen, is orientalism.  However, in Molière’s Bourgeois gentilhomme, a “turquerie”  is a play-within-a-play that fools Monsieur Jourdain, the senex iratus of the comedy, who is rich but untitled, into thinking he has been conferred a title, that of mamamouchi.  Cléonte, the young man who wishes to marry Lucile, who loves him, then asks for her hand in marriage dressed as the son of the Sultan of Turkey.  She resists until Cléonte succeeds in letting her know that he is wearing a disguise.  (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, Act V, Scene 5)

Louis XIV was very fond of turqueries. The music was composed by Jean Baptiste Lully (Giovanni Battista Lulli; 28 November 1632 – 22 March 1687). The ballet was choreographed by Pierre Beauchamp. But the comedy was written by Molière (1622- 1673), one of France’s foremost dramatists ever.

« Le roi veut un ballet, et qu’il y ait une turquerie plaisante ; au poète, au musicien, aux danseurs de bâtir là-dessus un divertissement qui plaise au roi… »

“The king wants a ballet, and wants it to have a pleasant turquerie;  the poet, the musician and the dancers must therefore build from this ballet and turquerie entertainment that will please the king…”[ii]

Added to the turquerie, the fifth and final act of the Bourgeois gentilhomme (The Would-be Gentleman), is the Ballets des Nations.  It features Gascons, people from Gascony, Spaniards and Italians as well as a blend of persons from different classes.  So the idea of nation surfaces again.

In short, both the Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670) and Rameau’s Indes galantes are turqueries and illustrate the two kinds of turqueries, Orientalism and a deceitful play-within-a-play.  Each may in fact combine elements of both turqueries.

[i]  Montesquieu’s full name is Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), but he is referred to as Montesquieu.  His most influential book is The Spirit of the Laws, De l’Esprit des Lois, published in Geneva in 1748.
[ii] Charles Mazouer, Trois comédies de Molière (Bordeaux: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2008), p. 17.
Portrait of Molière by Nicolas Mignard

Portrait of Molière by Nicolas Mignard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Molière & Lully: Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, 1670

© Micheline Walker
30 September 2012