The earliest known secular stage play with music, Adam de la Halle’s Le jeu de Robin et de Marion, has been touted as the first musical comedy.
Of the two extant sources, the Paris version is by far the rowdier one—three characters that do not appear in the Aix version engage in mooning the audience, playing with sheep dung, and speaking in unimaginable metaphors worthy of Hungarians.
Common to both versions, Robin, Marion, and the seducing knight are more stock characters, but their lines are pithy and suggestive—e.g., from the scene depicted above:
Knight: You surely won’t put up a fight—you’re just a peasant, I’m a knight!
Marion: Money can’t buy love, you know.
Knight: It can buy something like it, though.
This according to “The hows and whys of Adam de la Halle’s Robin & Marion” by Lucy E. Cross (Early music America XVII/1 [Spring 2011] pp. 38–42). Below, a complete family-friendly performance of the work.
According to “Humorous reflections on laughing records” by Abigail Cooke (ARSC journal 32/2 [winter 2001], pp. 232–242, three types of sound recordings involving laughter were produced between 1904 and 1923: (1) laughing songs, in which stylized laughter is integrated into the song; (2) spoken comedy routines with laughing audiences; and (3) laughing records, in which apparently genuine laughter spirals out of control.
The classic model for the latter genre, The Okeh laughing record (Okeh, 1922)—which may have originated in a real situation where the recording engineer continued to record a botched session—begins with a man playing a slow, melancholy cornet solo that is quickly interrupted by a woman’s giggle. He continues to play, but she is unable to control herself, and soon is laughing aloud; this causes him to flub a note and join her in laughing, occasionally attempting to continue playing, until the two are utterly hysterical.
Below, The Okeh laughing record.
Music was commonly introduced into French plays at least by the time of Molière, but after Louis XIV gave Lully a monopoly on opera in 1673 this practice was drastically circumscribed. Actors protested politely at first, but Louis did not take the hint, so dramatists began to turn to their sharpest weapon: satire.
Operagoers were depicted as ridiculous losers, and operas as overblown and barbaric. Opera houses were portrayed as venues for illicit flirtation, and opera singers as people with questionable morals. Operas were said to bay at the moon, to have no new airs, and to employ monkeys instead of poets and musicians. While this derision had no apparent effect on the opera world, it gave French comedy a rich new subject.
This according to “Comedy versus opera in France, 1673–1700” by Henry Carrington Lancaster, an essay included in Essays and studies in honor of Carleton Brown (New York : New York University Press, 1940), which is covered in RILM’s recently-issued Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.
Above, Gabriel Jacques de Saint-Aubin’s depiction of Lully’s Armide as performed at the Palais-Royal in 1761.