Robert de Visée
• ca1650 — 1725
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Like many composers of the Baroque era, Robert de Visée was better known as a performer than as a composer. While he played a variety of instruments that included the theorbo, lute, and viola da gamba, it was the guitar with which he is most closely identified and on which he appears to have exhibited his greatest talent. A musician in the French Court of Louis XIV, Visée composed mostly for the guitar, theorbo, and lute, and is arguably the most important French composer of Baroque guitar music.
Robert de Visée was born in France around 1655. Little is known about his early years, but it is likely he came from a well-to-do family who provided him excellent instruction in music. At around the age of 25, he was taken on as a Court musician by the King. In 1682, Visée's first book of guitar works was published in Paris; the second followed in 1686. Together the two volumes contained 12 suites, each of them consisting of sequences of dances popular in Baroque suites of the day, such as courante, allemande, minuet, and bourrée.
By the time that 1686 volume appeared, Visée had become one of the King's favorite musicians, performing regularly for the monarch in the private royal chambers. Visée would also become recognized for his musicianship in Versailles around this time. While he held no official Court post until 1709, the year he was appointed royal chamber singer, Visée appeared regularly in Court concerts from 1694 to 1705. In them, he played with the most important French musicians of the day, including harpsichordist Jean-Baptiste Buterne and viola da gamba player Antoine Forqueray. Visée also began instructing the king on guitar in 1695 but would only be recognized for this duty by royal appointment in 1719. He officially held the post of King's Teacher for only two years, ceding it in 1721 to his son Francois, who was also a talented musician.
A book of Visée's works for theorbo and lute was published in Paris in 1716, and another volume of his compositions appeared there in 1732. Various guitar pieces were published in other parts of Europe in anthologies in the early 1730s. Visée appears to have remained active up to the time of his death, which occurred sometime in 1732-1733.