Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Scandalous Overtures — Jean-Baptiste Lully: The Gnarly Demise of a Nasty Man

Lists, lists, lists: top tens; the greatest this, the most insignificant that; the best dressed, the worst hair, whatever — we love ‘em all. And thanks to the internet – that great purveyor of useless, bite-sized bits of info — lists have become an omnipresent cultural fetish.

Among the most interesting such lists — for me — are the “most hated person” lists, not because I, myself, am a hater but because of what such lists tell us about contemporary values and culture.

“Most hated.”That’s a powerful combination of words, one loaded with NEGATIVITY AND HOSTILITY, MAN. Personally, my motto has always been (at least for the last few minutes) “don’t hate: masticate ’n refrigerate” (chew it over and chill out). Nevertheless, it behooves us to consider what someone actually has to do in order to be included on such a list.

At the top of pretty much all “most hated” lists are those individuals whose deeds and actions — perpetrated across their lives — smack of irredeemable evil, “lifetime evil-doers” as Bush 43 might call them: leaders of rogue states like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Caligula, Attila the Hun, and Vlad the Impaler; mass murderers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Richard Ramirez; and fitness personalities like Richard Simmons (FYI: I have it on good authority that the punishment in the fifth circle of Hell is eternal viewing of Simmons “Sweatin’ to the Oldies II”).

The next category of “most hated folks” are those who did something really, really bad for which they will never be forgiven: O.J. Simpson, Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff, and Jim Jones all score high, as should the Westboro Baptist Church. (Yes, I added that last one. Yes, I know it’s not a person, but it is so gosh-darn deserving I decided to play the game and toss it in.)

Then there are those people who are not so much “hateful” as they are irksome: folks who acts like arrogant jerks, or who are existentially annoying, or who have squandered their talents, or who are incredibly self-righteous. Don Sterling – former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team – is currently high on such lists, though he will be forgotten soon enough. There’s no reason to name any more names here; every one of us could easily assemble such a list (although I trust that a certain New York real-estate tycoon with a comb-over would make almost everybody’s list).

Then there is the subset with which we are concerned, that of “most hated musicians.” Some have achieved their notoriety because they have not behaved well: Richard Wagner, Justin Bieber, Kathleen Battle, Chris Brown, Courtney Love, Ted Nugent, Arturo Toscanini. Others find their way onto such lists because they are, in the opinion of certain list-makers, over-rated or even no darn good.

(It occurs to me that among those who should appear on “most hated” lists are the actual list makers themselves, whose unsolicited opinions and often cruel rationales qualify them as being, at very least, “hateful”.)

Finally, I can only hope that somewhere out there, I am included on such a list. Really, how can anyone consider his work to be important if it hasn’t ticked somebody off?

Which brings us, at last, to the actual subject of this post: a composer, conductor, dance master, and music administrator who in all likelihood was the single most hated musician of all time, Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687). While Lully was neither a head of state nor a fitness personality, he did some really bad things (including, in all likelihood, murders-for-hire) and his actions as a producer and director qualify him as someone who elevated being a jerk to the level of high art. Virtually every extant account confirms that he was a miserable human being.

For an examination of Lully’s crimes against humanity and the delightful circumstances of his death (which amounted to nothing less than cosmic payback), watch “Lully’s Deathon Ora TV’s “Scandalous Overtures”.

Watch the episode below:


  1. I am totally amazed at Professor Greenberg’s knowledge and enthusiam. I have listened to his “Listen and Understand” Teaching Company series many times. We are very fortunate to have him. This new “TV series” is just is latest vehicle to spread his knowledge to his grateful subscribers.