article 24:   A Prélude non mesuré by Lully’s daughter?

In a recent article Bruce Gustafson presented a source of 17th-century French keyboard music which, in his own words, “has been overlooked by specialists, including the present author, I am sorry to admit”. It was compiled by members of the noble family of Thurn und Taxis residing in their opulent palace in Brussels, one of their many residences. The book is now kept at the library of the main remaining property, the immense castle inside the walls of the ancient Roman and Imperial city of Regensburg (Ratisbon), on the Danube in northern Bavaria.

It commences with a fine prélude non mesuré, ascribed to a composer-couple which Gustafson reads as "Madame et Monsieur Francise". It precedes a group of miscellaneous pieces in its key of C major. Mr. Gustavson states in his article that he is unable to identify these two personages. I would suggest that “Francise” is either a slip of the pen for “Francine” or a misunderstanding, and that the dual composers were members of the great family of fountain builders of that name (responsible most famously for those at Versailles). They were originally the "Francini", the first of whom was invited by Henri IV to come to France from his native Italy. The surname Francise does not appear in the present Paris telephone directory, whereas there are numerous Francines.

At the time when the book was started – around the last decade of the 17th century – Jean-Nicolas Francine was director of the Paris Opera, a position he held for decades. His wife was Catherine-Madeleine de Lully, the late surintendant's eldest child. Since Nicolas is not known to have been a composer, if my suggestion is correct, we have here a piece by Lully's daughter. The addition of her husband's name could have been a matter of politeness towards a person in a position of considerable power, as well as a protective gesture of modesty from a composing noblewoman; or perhaps the couple did in fact collaborate on the little piece. The first 14 pieces in the MS are all in the same hand, and five of them are transcriptions from stage works by Catherine-Madeleine's father.

I am certainly no expert on the diverse squiggles that appear in old sources, but the two which intervene between "Madame" and "Monsieur" look to me like "L et” (see the accompanying illustration). If so, the ascription reads, or rather should read, “Madame L et Monsieur Francine”. As the daughter of one who had been ennobled by Louis XIV, Catherine-Madeleine would have been entitled to call herself "de Lully", even after marriage.

The position of these works at the beginning of the MS, as well as the very Parisian contents of the rest, suggest to me that it was begun as a souvenir of a visit to the French capital from Brussels by a distinguished member or members of the family which to francophones was known as Tour, Valsassine et Tassis. And a piece by such an eminent lady, protected by her distinguished husband, certainly deserved pride of place.

February 13, 2021

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