Court music

Court music is music that was written for and performed in the Royal courts.  Court music has been written and performed throughout history, from the medieval period , through the Renaissance , baroque and classical eras.  It includes any kind of music used by a Royal court, whether it be for entertainment, procession, or battle.

In the medieval period , the musicians of the court were known as minstrels .  They probably mainly played as soloists, for entertainment during mealtimes, but by the 14 th century trumpets were beginning to be played in pairs, and by the end of the 15 th century as many as six played together.

One of the most famous centres for court music was Versailles during the time of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715).  Louis was passionately fond of music and dancing, and was known himself as a very skilled dancer.  His enthusiasm for music allowed many famous musicians, like Lully, to write their compositions in financial security.

Music at Louis’ court was organised in to three large groups – Musique de la Chambre, Musique de la Grande Ecuire and Musique de la Chapelle Royale.

The Musique de la Chambre comprised about eight solo singers, a harpsichordist, two lutenists, one theorbist, four flautists, three viol players and four violinists.  These musicians were used primarily for secular (non religious) entertainment.

The Grande Ecuire was a bigger group, of about fourty musicians: twelve trumpets, eight fifes and drums, violins, oboes, sackbuts and cornets, six oboes and musettes, six crumhorns and trumpets marine.   As you might expect from these instruments, this group was used for noisier occasions – outdoor entertainments and processions.  The four best trumpet players preceded the royal coach on horseback.  The musicians of the Grand Ecuire also accompanied the king to parliament and provided what music was necessary on the hunt and in battle.

The instruments in both the Musique de la Chambre and Grande Ecuire were usually not used all together, and were mixed and matched as the occasion dictated.  The orchestra of the Chapelle Royale , however, was more standardized.  It consisted of six violins and violas, four bass violins, two flutes, two oboes, a bassoon, crumhorn and two serpents.  It was mostly used to provide music for the services given in the grand chapel Louis built at Versailles.

During the eighteenth century, many wealthy nobles also kept their own orchestras or groups of musicians.  The size of the group was determined by the wealth of the nobleman.  The wealthiest had whole orchestras, but many could not afford this so settled for smaller groups for which larger works could be adapted.  A very popular combination was small groups of wind instruments, known as Harmonie . Harmonie ensembles are groups of wind instruments with anything from two to thirteen players, but at the end of the eighteenth century the most popular combination was groups of six or eight players.  These would be made up of two each of oboes, bassoons and horns (for a ) or pairs of oboes, bassoons, clarinets and horns (for an ).  These groups often played arrangements from the most popular operas of the day and were used as background music during mealtimes.  Because CDs and radio hadn’t been invented, this was the most convenient way to be able to hear your favourite tunes over and over again in your own home.