The Sun King

Musica Angelica’s “24 Hours In Versailles” aims to take concert-goers through a typical day of France’s Louis XIV, whose 72-year reign, like his appetites, was so vast he was known as Le Roi Soleil, The Sun King, which, for our money is the best political nickname this side of late Senator Everett Dirksen’s, Wizard of Ooze.

Under the direction of Gonzalo X. Ruiz and featuring soprano Molly Netter, Musica Angelica will take listeners on a tour through Versailles, which was not only spectacular but, as will be explained momentarily, absolutely key to Louis’ power.

If you’re attending the program, or are just interested, here’s our own little tour of not only what will be played but what’s behind the music.

Program: The King Awakes

Symphonie from “Trios pour le coucher du Roy” (Jean Baptiste Lully); Rondeau and Vivement from “Suite de Fanfares” (Jean-Joseph Mouret)

It took a lot to get Louis started on his day. After a visit from both the royal doctor and royal surgeon, Louis began his morning ritual which included being washed, combed, shaved, dressed and having a light breakfast. This is noteworthy since the ritual was attended by scores of the most powerful men in France for reasons that have everything to do with how Louis maintained his power.

Consider Louis’ most quoted, and direct, dictum: I am the state.

He was not being metaphoric. He meant that HE was literally the state and therefore anyone who wanted to advance or hold power in the state would have to do it through HIM. That is why Versailles is so unique. Any ambitious noblemen would have to leave his home and get to Versailles to be around the State. And you wanted to be as close, as physically close as you could to Louis. This is why some of the most powerful influential men in France competed for the privilege of assisting the king with his morning ritual.

Conversely, because noblemen were at Versailles it meant they couldn’t hang around their home regions, perhaps raising an army to challenge the king.

Program: Military Drills

“La Marche Royale” (Andre Philidor)

Louis believed his main duty to the state, by his definition, himself, was to fight a lot of self-glorifying conflicts. He believed so much in the value of war, he even instructed his diplomats that their main purpose was not to be diplomatic but to create tactical and strategic advantages for the French military. Basically, they were well-dressed scouts.

Louis’ France fought three major wars—Franco-Dutch, War of the League of Augsburg and the War of Spanish Succession—and three lesser ones—the War of Devolution and War of the Reunions—which only goes to prove that people used to put in a lot more time and creative effort when it came to naming wars.

Program: The Garden Party

“Menuet de Flore” from “Les Fontaines de Versailles” (Michel-Richard DeLalande)

Imagine a fashionable garden party on the grounds of fashionable Versailles with the upper of France’s upper crust dressed fashionably, though none more fashionably than Le Roi Soleil.

The keyword here? Fashion.

Before Louis, France was not the fashion capital of the world, a title it has held pretty much ever since his reign. In fact, when it came to luxury items, before Louis, the French imported the best stuff from Spain. He set about to change that and, during his reign, about a third of Parisian workers gained employment by way of the clothing and textile industries.

Louis not only decreed that nothing that could be made in France was allowed to be imported, he also didn’t allow it around. He famously ordered his son to burn a coat of his because it was made from foreign cloth.

Program: Afternoon Vespers

“La Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont de Paris” (Marin Marais); Seconde Leçon de Ténèbres” (François Couperin)

Though Louis was the head of the Catholic Church in France, he basically treated religion the way he did diplomacy. He not only persecuted Protestants but, horrifically, took their children away and had them raised as Catholics. He destroyed the Edict of Nantes, taking away the freedoms of French Huguenots, which led to more than 200,000 Huguenots fleeing the country, robbing France of a reliable workforce.

Program: Evening at the Opera

Selections from “Les Indes Galantes” (Jean Phillippe Rameau)

We’re not so much interested in the opera as what came after: The Grand Couvert, or evening meal.

Even though the meal took place late, around 10 p.m., it was huge. Louis had an incredible appetite. You may have heard surgeons found that his stomach was twice as big as a man his size. Still, Louis probably ate 10 times as much as that same man.

Consider what his sister-in-law, Princess Palatine, wrote was a typical meal for the king: “four plates of soup, a whole pheasant, a partridge, a large plate of salad, two slices of ham, mutton au jus with garlic, a plate of pastry, all followed by fruit and hard-boiled eggs.”

Of course, even while eating, combat was never far from his mind. Forks were not allowed at his table. And though he allowed spoons and knives, they had to be ground down so they could not be used as weapons.

Program: The King’s Bedtime

Menuets from “Trios pour le coucher du Roy” (Marais); “Les Voix Humaines” from “Deuxiéme Livre de Pieces” (Marais)

Louis usually hit the hay a little before midnight. In the morning, the Sun rose again.

Musica Angelica’s “24 Hours in Versailles” is Friday, February 7th at 8 p.m. in the Beverly O’Neill Theater, located at 300 E Ocean Blvd. For more information or tickets, click here.