In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Popular Song in the Age of Louis XIV

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works

Music Popular Song in the Age of Louis XIV
John Romey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 June 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0233


Across early modern Europe popular tunes functioned as canvases for new texts and they served thereby as a tool for oral and written communication. Song enabled literate, semiliterate, and illiterate members of the population to participate in the circulation of news, gossip, and rumors and to mock both current events and individuals through satire. When performed, songs also encouraged audience participation when a tune had a refrain. In France in the 17th and 18th centuries, popular songs, often referred to as vaudevilles or pont-neufs, permeated urban and rural soundscapes. Popular tunes played an important social role in the lives of individuals from all social spheres, from singers begging for donations in the streets to members of fashionable Parisian society who gathered at salons and at the court. Mondains, members of fashionable society who frequently had literary pretensions, composed and preserved (in manuscripts, known today as chansonniers, as well as in printed publications) song texts that circulated between friends, acquaintances, and in the streets. Vaudevilles became associated with the Pont-Neuf, a spacious “new” bridge that functioned as a central thoroughfare but also a public space in which Parisians came to shop, hear the latest gossip, and be entertained by charlatans, street singers, and itinerant actors. Popular song also flourished in close connection to theater, and in the late 17th century popular songs began to play an increasingly prominent role in the Parisian theaters, namely the Comédie-Italienne and the Comédie-Française. By the early 18th century, comic opera (opéra-comique) emerged as a flexible satirical genre of popular theater. In this genre, which at first intermingled sung tunes with spoken prose, vaudevilles served as musical and structural building blocks and enabled audience participation in a manner similar to street performances. Besides the use of vaudevilles, early French comic operas continued the tradition developed in street song and in the late-17th-century theaters of parodying operas and opera airs. Some airs from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s ballets and operas, for example, became vaudevilles and survive with many new texts intended to be sung to simplified versions of his melodies. People from all social ranks, including street performers, servants, salonnières, courtiers, playwrights, and actors created and performed these parodic songs. When we discuss a body of popular songs during the reign of Louis XIV, then, we must imagine a constantly changing repertory that absorbed any tune that was, in contemporary parlance, “in the mouths” of the population. The study of French popular song, therefore, requires a broad interdisciplinary approach.

General Overviews

This section addresses general overviews that create a foundation for the study of popular songs during the age of Louis XIV. The subsection Popular Song and Popular Culture presents both studies of French folk song (Tiersot 1889, Coirault 1933, Coirault 1941, and Coirault 1953–1959) and more recent scholarship in the vein of studies of folk song (Laforte 1993), as well as more recent studies of early modern popular culture that have abandoned “folk culture” as an equivalent term for “popular culture” (Burke 2009, Mandrou 1999, Keilhauer 1998, Darnton 2010, and Luc 2006). The subsection Chansonniers presents focused studies on one of the most important sources for the study of French popular song during the reign of Louis XIV (Grasland and Keilhauer 1999, Grasland and Keilhauer 2000, Grasland 1999, Bayreuther 1999, and d’Estrée 1896). These source studies also break from the “folk culture” terminology.

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