Abstract

In the 1680s, the kingdoms of France and Siam (the name for Thailand before 1939) sent several embassies to each other. Louis XIV admired the political and social authority of his Siamese counterpart Phra Narai; the two rulers engaged in detailed diplomacy through their intermediaries, and the cross-cultural exchanges that ensued were filled with music for entertainment and ritual. When three Siamese ambassadors visited France in 1686, they met Jean-Baptiste Lully and invited him to dine with them before attending one of his operas. French envoys subsequently carried the music of French operas to Siam, where extracts were performed before Phra Narai. This article examines documentary evidence of European musical commodities and musicians travelling to Siam, considers the role of Jesuits and other missionaries in cultivating and disseminating European music, critiques French ethnographic observations of Siamese music (and vice versa), analyses the role of musical performance in diplomatic ceremonial at the courts of Siam and France, and assesses cross-cultural reactions to musical performances. Finally, it evaluates forms of cultural reflexivity found in writings by Dufresny and Voltaire (with the latter ventriloquizing composer André-Cardinal Destouches, who as a youth travelled to Siam as part of the 1687 French embassy), in which fictional Siamese characters comment on French music and society.

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