A younger contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Michel-Richard de Lalande taught music to the daughters of Louis XIV. He eventually became master of the king's chamber music and later director of the royal chapel. He composed ballets and other instrumental works, but is best known as the leading composer of the French grand motet.
Lalande was one of 15 children born to Michel Lalande and Claude Dumourtiers. Little is known about his early life, but it is certain that at about the age of nine he became a member of the royal church of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, in Paris; when his voice changed at age 15, he left the group. Lalande played several instruments and auditioned, unsuccessfully, as a violinist for Lully's opera orchestra. He was also an excellent keyboard player and gave harpsichord lessons to the daughter of Maréchal de Noailles, who recommended the young teacher to Louis XIV for his two daughters. As an organist, Lalande found work at four churches in Paris: St. Louis, Petit St. Antoine, St. Gervais, and St. Jean-en-Grève.
In 1683, Lalande became one of four musicians to divide the duties of the royal chapel under Louis XIV. Each of the four (Coupillet, Collasse, Minoret, and Lalande) was responsible for one quarter of the year. It seems the king favored Lalande, and as each of the other three musicians retired, Lalande assumed his duties. By 1714, he was the sole director of music at the royal chapel. In 1685, Lalande had been made compositeur de musique de la chambre, his duties shared with Collasse and Pierre Robert. As these composers died, Lalande garnered more responsibility until 1709, when he was the only composer for the king's chamber. Also, in 1695, after a similar process, Lalande became maître de musique de la chambre. Lalande was paid well and lived a life of relative luxury.
Lalande married singer Anne Rebel in 1684 and their two daughters, Marie-Anne (b. 1686) and Jeanne (b. 1687) enjoyed the patronage of Louis XIV. Both died of smallpox in 1711; the king sponsored a memorial service the next spring in their honor. After Louis XIV died in 1715, Lalande began to transfer his court duties to his students, eventually requesting that his salary be decreased and that the chapel return to the four composer arrangement of previous years. In 1722, Lalande's wife died; in 1723 he married Marie-Louise de Cury (1692-1775), with whom he had one daughter. Lalande died of pneumonia in 1726 and was buried in the church of Notre Dame de Versailles.
Lalande is best known today for his grands motets, composed for the royal chapel. These works resemble the German cantata in style, with alternating solo arias, ensembles, and polyphonic choruses. The motets are composed for three "choirs": a small group with one singer per part, a full chorus, and an orchestra. Lalande's approach to such compositions changed during his tenure at the royal chapel: his earlier works are organized somewhat loosely without clear divisions between sections; these were modified later by the composer into delineated segments of syllabic recitative contrasting with set arias, choruses, smaller ensembles, and instrumental passages. His choruses became more polyphonic, usually in five parts, and his orchestral parts more independent of the vocal lines. The 1729 posthumous version of his De profundis provides an excellent example. Often, a motive established in the opening instrumental symphonie becomes the subject of the ensuing choral fugue, as in "Hostem repellas longius," from Lalande's Veni Creator Spiritus of 1684 (rev. 1722). Striking harmonies in Lalande's Pange lingua reveal him to be as adventurous a composer as any in France.