Voices from the 18th Century: The Mercure de France on Jacques Loeillet’s ‘admirable talent’



During the late-Baroque, the Flemish Loeillet family of musicians had a reputation for producing composers and instrumentalists. The most famous Loeillets were two cousins with the same name, Jean Baptiste. They were distinguished, however, by the city with which they associated themselves, London and ‘Gant.’

And while they were the best known, there was one family member who had a magical talent of his own. Reported by the Mercure de France, Jacques Loeillet made a huge impression as a one-man band in front of the Queen at Versailles (August 1, 1727).

“Monsieur Loeillet … who owns various instruments and who knows how to combine them with an admirable talent, greatly entertained the Queen and her whole court. He began with the bassoon, violin, flute, recorder, [and] voice flute, making two parts, and the oboe.

He then went behind a screen and sang a motet in four parts, accompanied by a violin and two recorders. Afterwards Monsieur Loeillet performed the two recorders and sang the bass, and then a great chorus of music followed. It appeared to be interrupted by a quarrel and a fracas in which it seemed one heard the cries of women and children, the noise that men make with sword in hand, and the tumult that forty people could make, hearing them cry help to the Watch, and the arrival of the Watch on foot and on horseback.

The Queen, not being able to imagine that a single man could make so many different parts, made Monsieur Loeillet enter into her Chamber in the presence of everyone, and Her Majesty greatly praised such an extraordinary talent. The King, to whom the Queen gave the same entertainment the next day, was equally surprised and pleased. Monsieur Loeillet performed a new entertainment the day afterwards in the Cabinet of the King, in the presence of Their Majesties, who were greatly amused.” (Translation: David Lasocki)

(I usually include a portrait of the featured personality on the “Voices from” series, but this time there was none to be had. Instead, the picture is a reference to the Loeillet name, which means “the carnation.” Hence, the image is from a page of carnations—Dianthus caryophyllus—out of the “Gottorfer Codex,” a book of flowers grown at Schloss Gottorf in Germany, compiled by Hans Simon Holtzbecker between 1649 and 1659.)

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