Robert de Visée

Robert de Visée (ca. 1655 – 1732/1733) was a lutenist, guitarist, theorbist and viol player at the court of the French kings Louis XIV and Louis XV, as well as a singer and composer for lute, theorbo and guitar.

Robert de Visée’s place and date of birth are unknown. He probably knew Francesco Corbetta and would have been familiar with his music. Fétis (1865, 365–66) claimed that he studied with Corbetta and this information has been repeated uncritically in later sources including Strizich and Ledbetter 2001. It is however unsupported by any documentary evidence (Charnassé, Andia, and Rebours 2001, p.21 ). He is first mentioned (by Le Gallois) in 1680, and at about that time became a chamber musician to Louis XIV, in which capacity he often performed at court. In 1709 he was appointed as a singer in the royal chamber, and in 1719 he was named “Guitar Master of the King” (Maître de Guitare du Roi) Louis XV, the ten-year-old great-grandson of Louis XIV who succeeded to the throne in 1715. Jean Rousseau reported in a letter of 1688 that he was a respected musician at Versailles, and also played the viol (Strizich and Ledbetter 2001). The last payment in his name in state documents is dated 1732. It is to be assumed that he died about that time (Charnassé, Andia, and Rebours 2001, p.25 ).

Visée published two books of guitar music which contain twelve suites between them, as well as a few separate pieces: Livre de guitare dédié au roi (Paris, 1682) and Livre de pièces pour la guitare (Paris 1686). He also published a collection of pieces for the theorbo and lute Pièces de théorbe et de luth (Paris, 1716); these are in staff notation rather than tablature and may also be performed as ensemble pieces. The contents of all three books are tabulated with incipits and concordances in Rebours 2000. He composed many other pieces for theorbo and Baroque lute (the bulk of which are preserved in the Saizenay Ms.)

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