Jean-Baptiste Lully

Armide, opera, LWV 71

    Description by Rita Laurance

    Armide was the final collaboration between Phillipe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully. After a rift in 1669 between Lully and Moliere over the ownership of the Academie, Lully and Quinault had collaborated on a tragedie-lyrique each year. They took as their model the ancient classical tragedy, and turned these tragedies into successful operas by wedding them to existing French genres. Lully invented a new art form to aid this marriage; a type of declamatory recitative that came as close to tragic recitation as possible. He wrote the recitatif with changing meters and speech rhythms that helped the actors and actresses dramatize their roles. Quinault provided poetic libretti that was plastic enough, and Lully made sure that the music that he wrote left the dramatic recitation in relief. Much of the libretto of Armide is taken right out of the Tasso original, but Quinault, as usual, supplied Lully with a happy resolution of classical demands and baroque sumptuousness. The many diversions and magical scenes are woven right into the plot. He creates no break in dramatic continuity, but only a state of heightened poetics. His verse is well-modulated, and he has added such important elements as La Haine and La Haine's consort to give Lully an opportunity to compose magnificent and awesome scenes. Quinault has also given us one of his most complete psychological portraits of his heroine, Armide. Her character develops gradually throughout the opera, in airs, recitatifs , and most importantly in soliloquy. The final scene in which her palace is destroyed and she flies away is culminating. This last of Lully's operas is adventurous in many ways. There is much orchestral accompaniment to the many varieties of recitative. Lully was famous for his orchestra. He used a lot of asses and violins, as well as "Petit choeurs" of instruments such as recorders and oboes. He drilled his orchestra members in rhythmic precision, and was able to demand an excellence of playing not found in other orchestras. Accompanied recitative was relatively new, but in this opera Lully used his orchestra in many kinds of dramatic capacities with his recit. The orchestra plays an important role in the delineation of character. Hidraoth and Armide, magicians, both have extended amounts of accompanied recitative, which describes their magical powers. La Haine is accompanied by a pounding, driving orchestral accompaniment full of demonic rhythm that suggests his connection to evil and the infernal powers. In the sommeil scene of Act II, the orchestra describes the bucolic surroundings with muted strings, creating a magical effervescent mood as Renaud falls asleep. There are also quite a few orchestral ballet pieces that border on the symphonic. In this opera Lully leaves behind one of his many important legacies; he has elevated dance music to an independent orchestral art form. Lully was originally a dancer, and he would have choreographed his dances. He took part in every aspect of his operatic productions. The recitative was written the way it was to aid the actors and actresses in the deliverance of the poetic lines of the tragedy. As the composer, he took control of the presentation of the drama. He also was in control of his dancers, and he invented some exacting choreographed moves as well as dramatic pantomime. He oversaw this aspect of the production as well. An important element in this drama is magic. La Haine and his consort are supernatural powers, and La Haine has an Oracle at the end of one scene. Armide and Hidraoth are both magicians, so there are many invocations and incantations and magical happenings throughout that give this tragedy a mysteriousness. The music Lully writes is sometimes demonic, and sometimes ephemeral, but always spell-binding. The opening symphony is heavily rhythmic with a bouncing feel to the dotted rhythm opening. The entire symphony vacillates back and forth between slower sections and quicker, and finally closes with a slow section that grandly introduces the prologue. The prologue is an interesting dialogue between Glory and Wisdom. It is a continuous interplay between orchestra, chorus, and solo airs in which the orchestra predominates. Lully uses the choir to unify the scene as usual, but the orchestral textures dominate throughout. Glory has the first air and Wisdom follows with a rhythmically complex answer. Glory and Wisdom also have a duet which arises naturally out of the flow of the music of their conversation. This is one of the movements in which there is extended orchestral music to accompany the ballet. Lully uses a petit choeur of recorders to answer the strings and help create a brilliant effect. The dances he writes are a minuet, gavotte, and rondeau. Glory and Wisdom have final lyrical statements, and the orchestra again plays two minuets. The chorus's homophonous and harmonious sound closes the Prologue sumptuously. Prologues were an important section to Lully's operas. When this opera was written, it is possible that Lully was falling out of favor. The prologues not only introduced the courtly entertainment to the audience, they paid homage to the King. Under the influence of Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV was to become very austere in the remaining years of his life. This was Lully's last opera, for he died before the King, but had he lived, his operas would probably no longer have been performed at court, for they were elaborate, grand and full of pageantry. At the opening of Act I, Armide is singing with her two confidantes Phenice and Sidonia. All three voices are soprano, which gives the resultant conversation a beautiful identity between the vocal parts. Lully alternates between recit, air, and speeches that flow smoothly in continuous song. Phenice and Sidonia sing in dialogue as well as in duet. Armide's free declamatory recitatif is in dramatic contrast and with a change of mode indicates the difference in content of the speech; Armide is distressed. Sidonia's and Phenice's speeches are somewhere between air and metered recitatif as they comfort her. In the second scene, the character of Hidraoth is introduced. His and Armide's special status as magical, otherworldly characters is delineated by the orchestral accompaniment to their dialogue. Hidraoth is the only full bass in the opera as well, so this scene has the added dimension of the polarity automatically created in a duet between soprano and bass voices. The final scene opens up the drama to the rest of the opera. As Armide and Hidraoth learn that the knight Renaud has freed their captives, they have an exclamatory duet of rage that is made rhythmically active by some quick syllabic text setting, and the Act ends. The opening of ACT II introduces Renaud, as he sings a tenor solo. Armide and Hidraoth sing a syllabically lively duet "Esprits de Haine" to call forth evil spirits. Scene three is a particularly famous "sommeil" scene, a genre probably introduced from Italian opera. The orchestra describes the flowing brook with moving, undulating eighth notes play on muted strings. Renaud's lyrical tenor solo compliments the orchestral accompaniment rhythmically, and a feeling of complete contentment is arrived at. The scene is magical, ethereal, and to spell-binding harmonious sounds, Renaud falls into a deep sleep. Lully was the first composer to write for muted strings. Renaud falls to sleep to a gradually descending motif in the bass, that acts as the spell that helps close his eyes in rest. A Naiad sings an air about love's sweetness, and the chorus echoes her in a-capella style. The scene is filled with harmonious, sweet sound. An interlude for the Nymphs and Shepherds intervenes with the a-capella chorus acting as a unifying motif before Armide arrives. Armide has an important dramatic soliloquy framed by instrumental ritornelli here. The instrumental introduction is full of rhythmic flourishes that denote agitation. The entire scene belongs to Armide. This scene is considered to be one of the most perfect examples of recitatif as she struggles in music to resolve her inner conflict between love and hatred. As love seems to win, she ends her scene with the air "venez, secondez mes desires", a magical incantation that has the demons spirit she and Renaud away. In Act III there is another important magical scene in which Armide's incantation brings forth La Haine and all his followers. The heavy rhythmic accompaniment aids La Haine's, a baritone, forceful, grand, powerful solo. The chorus response is demonic and infernal. One of the movements high points is the dance of the followers of Hate. Armide and La Haine engage in dramatic recitatif dialogue, and La Haine responds with an angry, lyrical solo and an oracle. The syllabic rhythmic enunciations that end the scene predict the tragedy. After the diversions of Act IV, Act V is again full of enchantment. Armide and Renaud are accompanied by a chorus of Fortunate Lovers and Pleasures to attend them. Their recitatif dialogue merges into airs and back into recitatif fluidly. Finally they have a beautifully expanding duet in duple, as their voices mingle closely and intimately, and then build with impassioned music. After an instrumental passacaglia, airs, solos and choruses alternate in an imaginative scene full of contrasts. The final moments of the opera are introduced by some recitatif dialogue between Armide and Renaud. When Renaud is freed from the spells binding him, he agrees to quit Armide to a jauntily moving bass in the continuo. Armide's tormented music dominates as she pleads with Renaud. Her lengthy speeches vary in mood her emotions shift and become uncontrolled. Renaud's has a short, moving response that is repeated. Her final soliloquy is backed up by orchestra. After an introductory prelude, the form becomes that of a rondo, with the orchestra intervening between arioso passages, as she finally breaks down. The ending is truly spectacular. She sings an invocation and her magical powers aid her in the destruction of her enchanted palace. Accompanied by rushes of notes in the orchestra, she is whisked away by her demons in a chariot.


    1. Ouverture
    2. Tout doit céder dans l'Univers
    3. Chantons, chatons la doucer
    4. D'une esgale tedresse, Nous aimons
    5. Disputons seulement à qui scait mieux
    6. Dès qu'on le voit paroistre
    7. Entrée
    8. Menuet
    9. Rondeau
    10. Suivons nostre heros
    11. Que l'éclat de son nom s'estende
    12. Entrée
    13. Menuet
    14. Menuet
    15. Que dans le temple de memoire
    16. Dans un jour de triomphe au milieu (Ritournelle)
    17. Quel sort a plus d'appas Et qui peut estre heureux
    18. Je ne triomphe pas du plus vaillant de tous
    19. Un songe affreux m'inspire une fureur
    20. Armide que le sang qui m'unit avec vous
    21. La chaîne de l'hymen
    22. Pour vous, quand il vous plaît tout l'Enfer
    23. Bornez-vous vos desirs à la gloire crudele
    24. Air
    25. Armide est encor
    26. Rondeau
    27. Suivons Armide et chantons sa victoire
    28. Sarabande. Rondeau
    29. Que la douceur d'un triomphe
    30. Poursuivons, poursuivons jusqu'au trépas l'ennemy
    31. Invincible Héros, c'est par vostre courage
    32. Fuyez les lieux où regne Artémide
    33. Arrestons-nous icy
    34. Esprits de haine et de rage
    35. Plus j'observe ces lieux
    36. Au temps heureux où l'on sçait plaire
    37. Ah! quelle erreur!
    38. Premier Air, Sourdines
    39. Second Air, Gravement, Sourdines
    40. Enfin il est en ma puissance
    41. Venez, venez, seconder mes desirs
    42. Ah! si la liberté
    43. Venez, venez, Haine implacable
    44. Je respons à tes voeux
    45. Plus on connoit l'Amour
    46. Entrée de la Haine
    47. Amour, sors pour jamais
    48. Air (Air des Démons / Air pour la suite de la Haine)
    49. Sors, sors du sein d'Armide Amour
    50. Nous ne trouvons partout que des gouffres
    51. Air (Les Demons)
    52. Voicy la charmante retraite
    53. Gavotte (Les Habitants Champêtres)
    54. Canaries
    55. Jouissons d'un bonheur extrême
    56. Je tourne en vain les yeux
    57. Ce que l'amour a de charmant
    58. Non, je n'ai point gardé mon coeur
    59. Armide, vous m'allez quitter (Ritournelle)
    60. Aimons-nous, aimons-nous, tout nous y convie
    61. Passacaille
    62. Les plaisirs ont choisi pour azile
    63. C'est l'amour qui reitient (Flûtes)
    64. Allez, allez, éloignez-vous de moy
    65. Il est seul profitons d'un temps
    66. Renaud? Ciel! ô mortelle peine!
    67. Le perifde Renaud me fuit
    68. Traistre, attends, je le tiens
    69. Prélude

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Naxos 8573867
    2017 Aparte AP 135
    2016 Alpha 260
    2015 Harmonia Mundi HMX 290871726
    2008 Naxos 8660209-10
    1993 Harmonia Mundi 901456