The Clignancourt Library, heir to the Institute of Musicology library which was set up in rue Michelet after the First World War, contains several bequests of important documents for musicology, including those of Paul-Marie Masson, the Institute’s first director. In these collections are a few gems of heritage, including two manuscript scores of Lully’s lyrical tragedy Alceste ou Le triomphe d'Alcide, created by Lully in 1674 from a libretto by Philippe Quinault inspired by Euripides’ Alcestis.
Raphaëlle Legrand, professor of musicology at Sorbonne University and member of the Institut de Recherche en Musicologie (IReMus, UMR 8223), underlines its historical significance:
“These are copyist's manuscripts, but they are nevertheless extremely valuable. Indeed, Lully left no autograph manuscript of his operas. He used to dictate his works, as he composed them, to secretaries. Moreover, Alceste is one of Lully's earliest lyrical works, and in this initial phase of the creation of opera in France, lyrical works were not published. The [printed] publication of Alceste is indeed posthumous and of little use for a critical edition. Thus, the earliest versions of Lully's early operas are found in manuscript copies of this type. Produced in workshops close to the composer and probably based on the Opéra’s orchestral material (now lost), they are quite numerous but present variants that need to be confronted in order to establish a critical edition. ”
Rediscovered in 2015 by Herbert Schneider, a specialist in Lully who published a catalogue of the composer's works in 1981, and Jérôme de la Gorce, who co-edited a monumental edition of his complete works, the manuscript scores attracted their attention... and led to the publication in 2018 (by Georg Olms Verlag) of a new critical edition of the orchestral score of Alceste, drawn up by Herbert Schneider according to the versions preserved at Clignancourt! The copies kept at the BSU, which are remarkable for their completeness, have been digitised in partnership with the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and can be freely consulted at Gallica.
By Édith Faure, Head of Collections at the Clignancourt Library (BSU).