Historical background, social and political.
whimsical view of history.

This page is intended as a 'sketch-book' of historical information that may or may not have a bearing on the vielle or the culture that gave birth to it. 

We can perhaps agree that our experience and relationship with the music must be helped if we try to understand the contexts of its creation and performance conditions, and to understand a people and a society who despite being among the most socially astute and sophisticated who have ever lived nonetheless increasingly found themselves threatened by utter financial and social ruin: a ruin that of course eventually consumed them and gave birth to the Napoleonic 'fire-storm' that all but consumed the entire European continent.

1517 31st October. Luther nails 95 theses criticising the Roman Catholic church to the door of Wittenberg castle.

1572 24th August. St Bartholomew Day Massacre of protestants in Paris and elsewhere, perhaps as many as 25,000 in Paris alone. In France the protestant/reformist movement was a dangerous political and military threat.

1630 September. Plague, Italy, 1,000,000 dead.

1637 November, Scotland rejects the new prayer book: one of the first steps towards the coming civil war.

1639 Peasant revolt against high taxes in Normandy.

1642 22 August. Charles I declares war on the English parliament.

1643 Louis XIV reign begins in France.

1649 Charles I beheaded in England.

1650 European plague.

1660 May 26th. Charles II, the English restoration.

1662 Revised prayerbook in England.

1664 Jansenist Nuns, St Augustine, Original sin, irresistible grace.

1665 London plague, 100,000 dead.

1666 Fire of London.

1672 Schutz dies.

1685 After 4 years of 'problems' the Treaty of Nantes granting toleration to Protestantism, i.e. Walloons and Huguenots, is revoked.The infamous practice of dragonades was adopted, whereby rough soldiers were quartered in the homes of Protestant families and allowed to have their way with them. Scores of Protestants fled France, costing the country a great many intellectuals, artisans, and other valuable people. Persecution extended to unorthodox Catholics like the Jansenists, a group that denied free will and had already been condemned by the popes. Louis was no theologian and understood little of the complex doctrines of Jansenism, satisfying himself with the fact that they threatened the unity of the state. An estimated 50,000 (of 200,000-1,000,000 emigres) of them emigrate to England alone, as well as many thousands to other protestant countries. Mostly they are skilled workers, craftsmen and merchants. They were warmly welcomed everywhere as sure to boost the economy. Were any of them Vielle makers? one wonders.

1700 The Enlightenment

1712 Last time a woman was convicted of witchcraft in England.

1715 Louis XIV dies after reigning for 72 years! The time for new beginnings

1715 The French Regency begins,Philippe, Duke of Orleans. His period of office acquired through political intrigue and against the wishes of the late king is one of pleasure and dissipation: signaling a reaction against the austerity of the late king, Louis XIV. The poorer classes are increasingly despised and ground down under the crushing burden of unregulated taxation and arbitrary, even whimsical, injustice and imprisonment.

1716 The Vielle is redesigned and improved in guitar form by Henri Bâton.

1720 The Vielle is redesigned in lute form by Henri Bâton.

1720 The John Law/Duc d'Orleans (i.e.Regent) Financial Scandal (the Mississippi Company) leaves many wealthy Parisians ruined. Duclos writing at the time described it as: "a system which only enriched scoundrels, great and small, ruined the middle class, the most honourable and useful of all, upset conditions, corrupted morals, and changed the national character." If Duclos is correct then the John Law scandal seems certainly to have contributed to the decline towards the revolution.

1721 Watteau dies.

1723 Louis XV comes of age at 13 years, and is crowned king. Philippe the Duke or Orleans dies of apoplexy 9 months later.

1724 Bach's St John Passion.

1725 Louis XV marries Maria Leszczynski, daughter of the deposed King of Poland. She is said to have played the vielle, but not very well. She invited players like Danguy to play at court and would play duets with him afterwards.

1727 Handel's Zadok the Priest for George II coronation Bach's St Matthew Passion.

1728 The Concerts Spirituels begin. The Musette de Cour featured in the first year.

1729 Massacre of up to 300 French troops at Fort Rosalie, Louisiana, USA by native Americans.

1730 Boismortier's Op.27, 6 Suites for 2 vielles etc. Possibly the the first originally composed compositions for the instrument.

1730 Naudot's Op.2, 6 Suites 'Babioles' for 2 vielles etc. They include a Polonaise: is there a reference to the queen involved here? Generally, Naudot was a famous flautist.

1732 Jephte by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair. the opera was first performed at the Academie Royale de Musique, Paris, on the 28th february. It was the first opera in France using a story from the Bible to appear on the public stage. Cardinal de Noailles banned performances of the work for a time as it was felt that interpretation of the Bible was the exclusive preserve of the church. However, Monteclair made revisions for revivals of the work and it was performed again in March and April. By 1737 N.Chedeville writes 2 suites of duets for musettes using themes from Jephte: was this a gesture of support?

1732 Danguy and Charpentier play vielles at the Concert Spirituel: Noels by Corrette.

1733 War of Polish succession.

1733 Baton's Op1 Suites. The first music by a true vielle specialist.

1734 Baton's Op.2. La vielle amusante.

1734 Aubert. Les amuxettes. Op.14

1735 Raneau: Les Indes Galantes. (Humanism ?)

1736 Handel's: Alexander's Feast.

1737 Naudot: Babioles. Op. 10.

1737-1742 Bouin: Les muses. Op.1.

1737-1742 Naudot: Op.14 & Op.17.

1737-1742 Ravet: Op.1.

1738 Boismortier: Op.72. Six sonates.

1739 Handel: Israel in Egypt.

1740 Marquis de Sade is born.

1741 Vivaldi dies.


1741 Dupuit: Op. 1,2,3,4,& 5 are ALL published in this year.

1742-1751 Michon: Op.1 & Op.2.

1742-1751 Ravet: Op.2

1742 Handel's Messiah: first performance.

1744 Madame Pompadour becomes the favourite of the king. Although she was not the first of the king's high profile mistresses she seems to have been the one who signalled a cultural sea-change, perhaps because as highly cultured, well-educated, and an excellent harpsichordist she perhaps more than previous ladies cast Queen Maria into the shade both in terms of culture and glamour. One cannot help but wonder to what degree a rising public consciousness of Madame pompadour's musical preferences may have influenced musical fashion against the vielle.

1745 Buterne: 6 Sonates Op.2. Op. 1 is lost.

1746 Diderot's book: 'Philosophic Thoughts' is banned by the Paris parliament. Over the next 30 years there will be many such crises involving books challenging the divine right of kings; questioning social inequalities; and introducing for the first time , I believe, the concepts that were to come to underpin Darwin's ideas on evolution. They were perhaps 'cultural accelerants' to coming 'fire' of revolution.

1748 Bouin: Sonates Op.2

1748 Baton. Les amusements d'une heure, op4. If one were to discount the rather poor compositional efforts of Bouin and explain Corrette's single offering as a tactical publication from someone who was also writing methods for many other instruments... then: it seems to me that the only vielle publication after the advent of Madame Pompadour is Buterne's op.2 which was very soon after Madame P appeared, and there was to be no follow up composition from Buterne.

1750 It is thought that the populations of Paris and London both exceed 500,000 at about this date.

1750 Bach JS dies.

1750 Giacomo Casanova comes to Paris although is forced to leave in 1752 after the police become suspicious of his many liaisons.

1753 Baton issues a tirade against the use of the trompette for articulation and in favour of a new kind of instrument that he has recently had made for him by Fleury. He plays at 2 dinners for the queen.

1755 Madame Pompadour begins to lose kindly public opinion due to excesses at court for which she is deemed responsible.

1757 Robert Francis Damiens, January the 5th, attempts to assasinate King Louis XV with a penknife (!).

1757 Scarlatti D dies.

1759 Dupuit dies.

1759 Handel dies. Handel's death is generally regarded as marking the end of the Baroque period which is considered as beginning in 1600: i.e. 159 years and many people feel that this is rather too long a period to be regarded as one single 'musical' period.

1761 Bouin publishes 'The Skilful Hurdy-Gurdy Player'. Op.3. The work seems to be intended as a thorough explanation of all technical and musical matters pertaining to the vielle.

1761 Bouin. Les amusements d'une heure et demie. Op.4.

1765 The future Louis XVI (a grandson) becomes 'dauphin' (the heir) upon the death of Louis XV's son.

1768 Maria Leszczynski the 'vielliste' queen of France dies.

1770 Charles Burney arrives in Paris, June the 12th. He says that is extremely cold (?).

1770 Corpus Christi, June 14th, Burney at Notre Dame says that although the organ is a good one there is so much reverberation that it was 'all confusion'.

1770 At the Concert Spirituel he thought that ...'the French do not like Italian music' (p.26) and he describes a disparity between what the French claim and what the public respond to.

1770 The opera Zaide by Royer. Burney... 'notwithstanding they can both talk and write so well, and so much about it, music in France, with the two great essentials of melody and expression, may still be said to be in its infancy' and 'the music is bad and the singing is worse'.

1770 Burney meets Balbastre and then Couperin at St Gervais, very impressed by Couperin (between 40 and 50 years old). He meets Madame Brillon who is 'one of the greates lady-players of the harpsichord in all Europe'. Of his guide M.Pagin he says: 'He had the 'honour' of being hissed at the Concert Spirituel for daring to play in the Italian style. Music is now no longer his profession and this is the reason for quitting the profession." He also attends a performance of Le Huron by Gretry and speaks very well of it.

1770 The dauphin marries Marie Antoinette of Austria. The marriage fails to be consumated for several years.

1774 Louis XV dies 10th May.

1774 Louis XVI (his grandson) succeeds him.

1778 Louis XVI approves intervention in the American Revolution against the British.

1782 Les liasons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Classed as an example of the libertine or erotic novel.

1783 Corrette: La belle Vielleuse is published, is very popular and is even reprinted in the 19th Century.

1789 Louis XVI is forced to convene the Estates-General on the 5th May.

1790 14th July. They form the National Assembly which forces Louis to accept a constitution that severely limits his powers.

1791 June, Louis and his family attempt to flee from France but are captured and returned.

1792 21st September. The French Monarchy is abolished and a Republic proclaimed.

1793 21st January, Louis XVI is executed.

1793 16th October, Marie Antoinette is executed.

1789-1793 The French Revolution and the 'terror' mark the end of the illusion/fashion of the Arcadian Idyll. This period of violence, anarchy, informing, retribution, revenge and suspicion sweep away the fragile aristocratic environment that provided the possibilities that nurtured the too brief golden years of the vielle.

1814 As a matter of interest: after the abdication of Napoleon on 11th April the Bourbon Dynasty was restored in the person of LOUIS XVIII, brother of XVI: and again after Waterloo. However, the political realities had changed dramatically by this time and this new 'king' and those who followed were either unwilling or unable to properly adapt to the changed world and this folly ultimately caused to become entrenched within the French national psyche a dogged republicanism that even this writer has witnessed remaining potent even to the present day.