Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi

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Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (in original orthography Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy) were a famous five-part string orchestra at the French royal court, existing from 1626 to 1761.


Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (Engl. "The King's 24 Violins") were founded 1626 under Louis XIII. As part of the Musique de la Chambre they played an important role in the musical accompaniment of festivities and official events at the Versailles court. If needed they were reinforced by the wind instruments of the Grande Ecurie, an ensemble that was primarily responsible for open-air and military occasions, or they performed together with the orchestra of the opera. Members of the Vingt-quatre Violons had to have an impeccable reputation and had to be Roman Catholic. Their privileges included tax exemption and the right to carry a rapier. Among the members of the ensemble were Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Féry Rebel, his son François Rebel and Jacques Aubert.

In 1656, under Louis XIV, the Vingt-quatre Violons were supplemented by an orchestra consisting of 16, later 21 strings. The new ensemble was called La petite bande, the Vingt-quatre Violons were dubbed La grande bande. In 1761, the orchestra was disbanded, mainly for financial reasons, and was merged with the Chapelle Royale, then responsible solely for religious festivities.


The five-part instrumentation of the Vingt-quatre Violons consisted of the following string instruments:

  • 6 premiers violons (first violins, tuning: g - d1 - a1 - e2)
  • 4 hautes-contre (tuning: c – g – d1 - a1)
  • 4 tailles (tuning: c – g – d1 - a1)
  • 4 quintes (tuning: c – g – d1 - a1)
  • 6 basses de violon (tuning: ‚B flat – F – c- g)

The three middle parts were played by violas of identical tuning, but different sizes (body lengths 37.5 cm, 45 cm and 52.5 cm), resulting in different timbres and volumes. The basses de violon were tuned a whole step lower than a modern cello but were roughly the same size and shape. The group could be further augmented by the addition of violones doubling the basses de violon. Sometimes a bass viol could be substituted for a basse de violon; the Petite Bande also included several viol players. The instrumentation of the Vingt-quatre Violons greatly influenced the five-part string writing that prevailed in 17th and 18th century France, especially the early-18th-century French orchestral symphonies of Jean-Féry Rebel, etc.


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