Jean-Baptiste Lully composed one of the most performed songs in history. Nearly everyone in the world has heard it.
The duties of a court composer were, shall we say, varied—particularly when dealing with that most mercurial of monarchs, Louis XIV. In 1686, the Sun King developed a perianal abscess. Court physicians attempted to treat the King’s posterior with a series of bizarre procedures, including the use of a red-hot iron. These efforts predictably failed and, omitting some details, the King developed an anal fistula. Surgeons were called in and the procedure was a success; however, the dance-mad King would not be performing anytime soon. Seeking to improve his patron’s mood, Lully composed a short song to celebrate the King’s recovery from what can only be described as “anal surgery pre-anesthesia”. Regardless of his modest intentions, the song proved to be a hit with successive French courts.
Decades later, George I’s court composer, George Frideric Handel visited Versailles in 1714 and heard the song, which he quickly jotted down and translated into English. Handel brought the short score back to England, where it has remained ever since. I promise you: you will never hear this song—an ode to a French King’s rear end—the same way again:
George Frideric Handel, (aft. Lully), God Save the Queen:
Incidentally, Handel picked the wrong Lully tune. He should have picked this one, an ode to the Sun King’s reign:
Jean-Baptiste Lully, Plaude laetare Gallia: