In the Hall of Mirrors

Somehow I always manage to go to places at just the wrong time for musical experiences – you’d think as a musical traveller I’d know better. Whether it’s off-season in Vienna or Versailles, I always manage to go when the music stops. It’s like I’m really bad at international musical chairs.

IMG_4745I visited Versailles on a grey, mizzly November Tuesday. Sadly the only vaguely musical sounds I heard were the collapsing of umbrellas, squeaking of soggy shoes and clicking of cameras (cue discussion about what really consistutes music anyway) as I walked through the hallways and rooms of the palace. Louis XIV’s palace has, though, echoed with music through the centuries. Some examples include:

  • Jean-Baptise Lully (he of stupid-conducting-related death fame) was Master of the King’s music, with the royal court at Versailles. He composed songs, ballets, and music for the Royal Chapel.
  • Little Mozart visited Versailles at the age of 7 as part of a European tour. He played for King Louis XV and the royal family.
  • Francois Couperin wrote religious music for the French royal court, which was performed in the Royal Chapel after its completion in 1710. He was also an organist at the Chapel.
  • The Royal Opera Theatre was opened in 1770 with a performance of Lully’s opera Persée

Royal Chapel

If you want to find out more about music at Versailles, there’s an edition of Radio 3’s Composer of the Week just for you!
Composer of the week – Music at Versailles

There are still many shows taking place at Versailles all year round – visit their website to find out what’s on. I wish I could have visited at a time when there was music in the gardens and fountains. (I suspect it might be slightly naff and over-the-top, but it’s sort of expected at a place like this!)

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I can’t say that the music of Lully and Couperin is really my tasse de thé, but I did enjoy following their footsteps around the stunning palace. It’s also interesting to see the difference between an English equivalent, Hampton Court, and this place that had been stripped during the French Revolution, and the difference between the ways the buildings have been treated  depending how long they’ve been royal residencies, and what happen to the royals that resided in them. It was also nice to explore the small town that essentially popped-up around the palace. I had a fantastic croque monsieur from a small bakery on the way back to the train station. I have thought about that sandwich a lot since my visit.

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Versailles is pretty easy to get to from the centre of Paris – I took a train out from Austerlitz to Versailles-Château – Rive Gauche, which took about an hour. Then there was a short walk through the town to get to the palace – around 15 mins. There are plenty of signs though so you shouldn’t get lost. And if you do get lost, there are plenty of places to get yourself a croissant. You know, to maintain strength.

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