Significant Employees

Château de Versailles, from Chalcographie du Louvre, Vol. 22 by Israel Silvestre (1682)

Between 3,000 and 10,000 people could be present at Louis XIV’s court depending on the day, including members of the royal family, members of the nobility, and a vast number of employees who worked within the King’s many establishments. Musicians and composers accounted for between 100 and 200 members of the workforce, where many musicians were also adequate dancers. Similarly, most dancing masters were also successful violinists. Below are a selected handful of employees who had a notable role in the development of dance music at the French court, and thus the influence of French baroque music on the rest of Europe.


Composers and Musicians




One of the most well-known members of the Couperin family, François Couperin le grand is often considered the most important French composer between Lully and Rameau. Born on 10th November 1668, the church council of St. Gervais agreed that Couperin should inherit his father’s post as organist upon his 18th birthday providing he ‘attained the requisite proficiency,’ after he died when Couperin was just 10 years old. Couperin was appointed Organiste du Roi on 26th December 1693, through which he also taught harpsichord to multiple members of the royal household. He became an active court composer, writing many keyboard works during his lifetime, including suites and sonatas, as well as secular and sacred vocal music and instrumental chamber pieces.[1]




Michel-Richard de la Lande was a notable organist and harpsichordist at the court of Louis VIX. Born on 15th December 1657, the musician and composer is today considered one of the leading writers of the grand motet, having written as many as 75 sacred works over 43 years for performance at the royal chapel.

Delalande was appointed organist at four Parisian churches, where he agreed to remain at the church of St. Gervais until François Couperin could succeed his father’s position as organist upon his 18th birthday. Be it through the King’s appointment or by purchase, Delalande worked his way through a series of positions which brought him increased influence and control over the court music scene. In 1683 Delalande was awarded the position of Sous-maître at the Chapelle for the final quarter (October-December) of the year, whilst the remaining three quarters were awarded to Coupillet, Collasse, and Minoret. It is generally considered that Louis XIV himself ensured that Delalande was awarded at least one quarter, and in 1693 also gave him Coupillet’s quarter upon his early retirement. In 1704, the King gave Collasse’s quarter to Delalande as well, and by 1714 he became the single Sous-maître of the Chapelle after gaining the final quarter previously held by Minoret. After sharing the position of Compositeur de la Musique de la Chambre with two other men, Delalande also gained sole responsibility of this role in 1709. Perhaps his most significant appointment was as Surintendant de la Musique de la Chambre which he shared with Boësset upon Lully’s death in 1687, although Boesset sold his share to Delalande in 1695, making Delalande responsible in the oversight and running of all musical activities associated to the royal chamber.[2]


The Philidor Family


A musical family, the Philidor’s provided many services at the royal court. Jean Danican Philidor (1610-1679) was the first member of the family whose name appears on official documents as an employee of the Grand Écurie. He played in the Cromornes et Trompettes Marines from 1654 alongside his brother Michel, as well as the Fifres et Tambours from around 1659. Jean’s son Jacques (1657-1708) and grandsons Anne (1681-1728), Francois-André (1726-1795) and Pierre (1681-1731) were all court musicians and composers, holding positions in the Douze Grands Hautbois, Fifres et Tambours and the Petits Violons.

Another of Jean’s sons, André (1652-1730), was particularly active at court, and was named in many of Lully’s ballet and opera librettos as a woodwind player and percussionist. He was a drummer in the Fifres et Tambours and in 1681 became a member of the Douze Grands Hautbois du Roi. From 1682 André was titled Ordinaire de la Musique de la Chapelle and in 1690 joined the Petits Violons as a woodwind player. Besides his service as a performer and a composer, André Danican Philidor is best known today for being the King’s librarian, through which he collected and preserved copies of music from not just Louis XIV’s reign, but also music from the royal courts up to King Henry IV (1594-1610).[3] His efforts in music preservation have resulted in musicians and musicologists having a much greater understanding of the compositional and performance activity from the French courts during the baroque period.


The Hotteterre Family


Many members of the Hotteterre family were renowned musicians, composers, and instrument makers employed at the French court. The family’s woodwind instrument workshop was established by Jean Hotteterre (1610-1692) in 1635 after moving to Paris following his marriage to Marguerite Delalande. As well as making flageolets, musettes, and crumhorns, the family are also credited for the redesign of the baroque bassoon, oboe, recorder, and transverse flute. The dynamic ability and chromatic compass of these instruments developed by making them in multiple joints with conical bores. This made the instruments easier to tune which allowed them to be played in ensembles with other instruments.

The Hotteterre family were active musicians employed at the court of Louis XIV. In 1651 Jean became a member of the Hautbois et Musettes de Poitou, a post which he passed down to his son Martin (1635-1712). Jean’s eldest son, Jean (1630-1688), also held the position of Hautbois et Violon du Roi within the Grand Écurie. Perhaps the most ‘celebrated’ and well-known member of the Hotteterre family was Jean’s grandson, Jacques-Martin (1973-1763), who was a ‘brilliant’ musician, teacher, and composer.[4] He played oboe and viol in the Douze Grand Hautbois et Violins within the Grand Écurie, and in 1707 received the title of Ordinaire de la Musique du Roi, where he was named Flûte de la Chambre du Roi. Despite his many royal musical appointments, Jacques-Martins Hotteterre ‘le Romain’ is widely recognised by musicians today for his treatise Principes de la Flûte Traversière, which instructs musicians on the physical aspects of flute playing as well as the execution of ornaments, including trills, appoggiaturas, vibrato, and mordents.[5]



Dancing Masters


Pierre Beauchamps



Known as the father of all ballet masters, Pierre Beauchamps was a French dancer, choreographer, composer, and conductor, as well as Louis XIV’s personal dancing master. He is credited for codifying dance choreography into a notation system, which includes the five feet and arm positions still in use today, upon Louis XIV’s request to ‘discover the means of making the art of dance comprehensible of paper.’[6] This was controversially published under Feuillet’s 1700 Chorégraphie, ou l’art de décrire la danse, which he claimed to be his own system of notation. The system is therefore referred to today as Beauchamp-Feuillet Notation, recognising both author’s efforts in making a standardised system of dance notation.

Beauchamps appeared alongside the King in many ballet de cours until Louis XIV’s retirement from public performance in the 1660s, when he appointed Beauchamps as Intendant des Ballets du Roi in 1661. Beauchamps regularly choreographed for staged productions by Lully and Molière, and at times even conducted during performances. He worked as a ballet master at Lully’s Ópera and in 1680 became the director of the Académie Royale de Danse.[7]


Raoul-Auger Feuillet


Recognised for his work as a dancing master, choreographer, and author at the court of Louis XIV, Raoul-Auger Feuillet is best known for his 1700 publication Chorégraphie, ou l’art de décrire la danse which codifies choreography from popular dances performed at balls and staged productions into a system of written notation. A petition was in fact filed by Beauchamps against Feuillet in 1704 for infringement of his work, however this was denied and Beauchamps no longer argued the case.[8]


Besides demonstrating the many variations of steps within the dance vocabulary, Chorégraphie also contains two collections of dances, whereby the first gives 15 choreographies of theatrical solos and duets by Feuillet himself, and the second comprises of 9 ballroom dances choreographed by Louis Pécour.


Pierre Rameau



French dancing master Pierre Rameau is most famous for his 1725 book on dance at the French court, Le Maître à Danser, or The Dancing Master. Not to be confused with the French musician and composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, Pierre Rameau’s book provides some of the most detailed and authoritative descriptions of dance, including the correct way to stand and present oneself, etiquette at court balls, and specific steps used in dance.[9] The book was first translated into English by John Essex in 1728 due to the popularity of French dances in England following Charles II’s restoration of the monarchy in 1660, and subsequently translated and republished many times since.[10]

[1] Higginbottom, E. (1986) The New Grove French Baroque Masters: Couperin

[2] Anthony, J. R. (1986) The New Grove French Baroque Masters: Lalande

[3] Harris-Warrick, R; Rushton, J. (2001) Grove Music Online: Philidor Family

[4] Giannini, T. (2001) Grove Music Online: Hotteterre Family

[5] Hotteterre, J. M. (1968) Principles of the Flute, Recorder and Oboe. [Translated P. M. Douglas]

[6] Harris-Warrick, R; Marsh, C. (1994) Musical Theatre at the Court of Louis XIV

[7] Needham, M. (2001) Grove Music Online: Beauchamps, Pierre

[8] Hilton, W. (1981) Dance of Court and Theatre

[9] Little, M. E. (2001) Grove Music Online: Rameau, Pierre

[10] Hilton, W. (1981) Dance of Court and Theatre