Marin Marais was a French composer and virtuoso viol player of the Baroque period. Marais was renowned as a remarkably refined viol player who wished to raise the level of viol performance in the French opera orchestras.
Marais was the son of a shoemaker, and although his exact birth date is unknown, he was baptized on 31 May 1656. His uncle, Louis Marais, was the vicar of the Church of St Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris, under royal patronage. It was there in the choir school that Marais received his earliest musical training. Marais remained with the choir school, under the direction of François Chaperon, until 1672. Among his fellow students was Michel-Richard de Lalande. It is also likely that Marais began learning the viol while there.
Marais continued his studies with the famous bass violist Sainte-Colombe and is rumoured to have surpassed his teacher’s skills within a mere six months. By 1675, Marais had already begun performing with the Paris Opéra orchestra, which was under the direction of Lully. While with the Opéra, Marais received the opportunity to perform in the premiere of Atys in 1676 for the court.
Marais married Catherine Damicourt in 1676 and continued to perform with the Opéra, where he became an ordinaire of the musique de la chambre du roi (a regular of the music from the king’s chamber) in 1679. During this time, Jean Baptiste Lully also provided Marais with lessons in composition. This led him to successfully compose his first set of works for viol and an Idylle dramatique, which was performed for the court in Versailles.
Marais was known as an incredibly refined viol player who wished to raise the level of performance in the French opera orchestras. He was also eager to use solo instruments to create a variety of timbre, as were his contemporaries Collasse and Campra.