November 28, 1632 - March 22, 1687: Age 54
Giovanni Battista di Lulli was the son of a miller in Florence with no education, but a natural musical talent and good looks. One of these attracted the attention of a French duke, who took him to France at the age of 14 to work for a powerful French princess. Here he frenchified his name and cultivated his musical ability under the princess's patronage — until, that is, she discovered an insulting poem he wrote about her. Then he was fired.
He surfaces again at 20, getting a job as a dancer for Louis XIV. He began composing ballet music and that, combined with his looks and wit, secured him royal favour and an appointment as the composer of instrumental music to the king. Thus was launched a great career as courtier-composer that put all his talents to good use. These included a voracious (bi)sexual appetite as well as the canny wits of a former Italian street kid, who understood perfectly the need to defend his own turf against other rival composers, dancers, and musicians. In other words, much of his considerable energy was expended ensuring that other artists never got an even break. That said, his musical abilities were certainly at least as considerable as his sexual and political talents, and his instrumental music, operas, and ballets are still performed and enjoyed today.
In early January, 1687, he was conducting a Te Deum, beating time on the floor with a long staff. He struck his toe. The wound abscessed and eventually turned gangrenous. He refused to have his toe amputated and, with the spread of the gangrene, he died on March 22.
This entry is dedicated to my cousin George Lloyd, a professional classical musician. Like many of his colleagues, he frequently entertains a not-so-secret desire that all conductors should suffer the same fate.