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Académie De Musique Et De Poésie

The International Encyclopedia of Dance

Margaret M. McGowan

Académie De Musique Et De Poésie. 

The institution dubbed the Académie de Musique et de Poésie was founded by royal patent in 1570 by Charles IX of France. The king, a poet and a great lover of music, responded eagerly and authoritatively to the joint request by the poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf and the composer Joachim Thibault de Courville that, following the example of Francis I in founding the Collège de France in 1529, Charles should establish in Paris an institution to foster the study of all the arts that could serve to improve the minds and souls of his subjects. Recognizing that the prestige of the crown was at stake, the king consulted his mother, his two brothers, and other members of the royal family before giving his approval to the project. The University of Paris, fearing the erosion of its role and influence, refused to recognize the academy, but the king was determined; he issued a second set of lettres patentes early in 1571, overruling the university.

After Charles's death in 1574, Henri III returned precipitately from Poland to claim his throne. At first it was not clear that he would support his elder brother's foundation, but he not only gave continuing support to the work of the academy but also extended it by founding the Académie du Palais. Discussions on artistic, moral, and intellectual themes took place twice weekly at the latter, located in the Louvre, and Henri expected all members of the court to attend.

To understand the aims of these institutions it is necessary to recall, first, Jean Dorat and his Collège de Coqueret, where he taught the rudiments of Greek to pupils such as Baïf and Pierre de Ronsard and initiated them into the marvels of Greco-Roman civilization; and second, the writings of Pontus de Tyard, especially the Solitaire premier (1552), a discourse on poetry, and the Solitaire second (1552), a dialogue on music in which he set out the mysterious powers of poetry and music and showed how they fitted into the general frame of encyclopedic knowledge. Baïf and Courville, inspired by their early studies, determined that the academy would bring to France the kind of poetry known to the ancient world, as well as its musical systems and choreography.

To achieve these goals, rules regulating the academy's activities were strict and numerous. Composers, singers, and players were obliged to perform in public for two hours every Sunday. Auditor members and their subscriptions were registered. The texts or scores of compositions could not be sold without permission. Musicians had to meet for regular practice, having fully studied their separate parts beforehand. Other rules guaranteed provision for the members' practical needs and ensured that performances were held in the best possible conditions; for example, auditors were not allowed to make noise during a concert or to enter the auditorium while a work was being played. In France at this time, such a degree of professionalism was unique.

The primary purpose of the academy was to create works of art that, like those of ancient Greece and Rome, would improve, refine, and purify the mind, since this process was believed to afford access to the realms of higher knowledge. From reading classical works (especially Plato's Timaeus and Plutarch's De musica), members were persuaded that music and poetry, harmoniously combined, had the power to arouse the mind and soul and cause the listener to feel edifying emotions. The literary and musical models were the mythological Orpheus and Amphion, chosen for their capacity to arouse feelings through the exercise of musical and poetic gifts. Charles IX's lettres patentes clarify these views: “Where music is disordered, there morals are also depraved, and where it is well ordered, there men are well tutored.” Here music represents all the arts fostered by the academy and the general educational role is clear.

The practical means of ensuring such a result are less easy to determine, although the essentials can be found in Marin Mersenne's Harmonie universelle (1636). Sixteenth-century musicians argued for the use of Greek musical modes, each of which had a corresponding ethos: thus the Dorian mode represented sobriety, the Phrygian mode called forth enthusiasm, and the Lydian and Ionian modes suggested sweet sounds and a subdued mood respectively. In addition, Baïf thought that French verse had to be modified so that it would blend more effectively with music, so he tried to substitute vowel quantity (the metrical determiner in Latin verse) for stress accent (the principal metrical feature in French).

The academy's activities were integrated into court festivals, which had multiplied extravagantly during the long regency of Catherine de Médicis (1560–1574). Measured dancing followed from measured poetry and music to recreate what was intended to be a reenactment of Greek drama, with its full choreographic dimensions. Dance had to obey the same principles as music, and it was regulated by the same tunes and timing. Musicians from the academy were involved in the production of Le Balet Comique de la Royne (1581), which was also concerned with the themes of reason, order, and harmony debated in the academy. In the poems that form the preface to the published edition of Le Balet Comique, contemporaries of Balthazar de Beaujoyeulx, its chief composer, stress his attempt to reconstruct composite forms of art, like those of Greek drama—a combination of poetry, music, and dance to create powerful therapeutic effects on the spectators. Frances Yates (1947) has established that Beaujoyeulx was inspired by work that had been going on for several years at the academy. Thus the academy contributed significantly to the introduction in France of a new genre, court ballet, which in turn strongly influenced the beginnings of opera in France.

After Charles IX's death, the academy continued to flourish for a few years, although its activities were transformed. Henri III favored argument over the arts, and until about 1585, when the religious wars put an end to much of the cultural life of Paris, debates on philosophical and moral themes replaced music and poetry. Modern historians recognize this change by renaming the institution of this period the Palace Academy.

See also Balet Comique de la Royne, Le.


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          Margaret M. McGowan