Music in Versailles Louis XIV (1638-1715) never had reason to complain about his musical education. He was only a child when he put together his first band; at about the age of ten he was taught the lute and other string instruments and the harpsichord soon followed. Louis also loved to dance as often and much as he could; it is said his legs could dance a regal branle and courante. As an absolute monarch, he did not have to skimp on anything, even music. Of course, there was a degree of ostentation attached to his office. It was essential to receive ambassadors in a suitable manner, it was inconceivable to take the salute without a festive musical accompaniment and nor did he venture out onto hunting grounds or battlefields without drums and trumpets. However, Louis's interest in music transcended the strict demands of protocol. Everyday life - in as much as a Sun King could enjoy it - was imbued with music. When he arose (lever) and went to bed (coucher), in the royal chapel, at meal times, on boat trips or strolls, musicians were always at the ready everywhere. At it's peak, Versailles had no less than 200 musicians on it's staff. Following French tradition, the musical menagerie of the King was organised down to the tiniest details. There was the Musique de la Grande Écurie, with it's drums, trumpets, oboes, cornets, bagpipes and other wind instruments that thrive in the open air. There was the Musique de la Chapelle Royale that offered employment to a handful of singers, violinists, flute and oboe players along with other instrumentalists. In addition, the French court was entertained with orchestral and dance music by the Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (also known as the Grande Bande) and the Petits Violons du Roi (in other words, the Petite Bande). Only the very best musicians ascended to the top of the ladder: they were admitted to the Musique de la Chambre, the elite corps of soloists who performed chamber music in the royal suite almost every evening. Three of the four composers whose music can be heard on this CD were among them. Marin Marais (1656-1728) was appointed in 1679 as Ordinaire de la chambre du Roi pour la viole and was employed as royal gamba player until he retired in 1725. Around 1700, harpsichord player François Couperin (1668-1733) joined the King's court musicians and a few years later, Jacques-Martin Hotteterre (ca. 1680-1761) joined with recorder, transverse flute and oboe. Such a profitable position was not available for violinist and harpsichord player Charles Dieupart. That may be why he departed for London, where he died in 1740 in poverty. Italy versus France A musician employed by the King was allowed to arrange his own succession. At the French court, this privilege led to the rise of various dynasties of musicians, who accumulated craftsmanship, artistry and capital within their own circle. The two most important families who left their mark on the Grand Siècle are the Couperins and the Hotteterres. The Couperin dynasty ensured a constant stream of first-class harpsichord players. After Louis Couperin became organist at the Saint-Gervais in 1653, this post stayed in the family for no less than 173 years. At the age of 18, François followed in the footsteps of uncle Louis and his own father Charles, at the start of a career in which he would grow to become France's most important composer of instrumental music. At a tender age, Couperin was already a fervent admirer of the Italian style of music and of Arcangelo Corelli in particular. That was hardly a safe bet at that time: there was plenty of mud slinging about the pros and cons of the French and Italian ways of composing. According to the priest and writer François Raguenet, it was no wonder that Italians thought French music to be boring, shallow, insipid and even stupid. He was of the opinion that the French aimed for gentle, easy, flowing evergreens. Raguenet penned his essay in 1702 and accused his compatriots of lacking adventure.