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Thread: Jean-Philippe Rameau

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    Default Jean-Philippe Rameau



    Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the truly multifaceted musicians of his day. Acclaimed for his innovative and popular operas, he was also known as one of the greatest organists in France, and his theoretical writings continue to influence musical thinkers over two centuries later.

    Although his father was a professional organist, Rameau was expected to pursue a career in the law. However, he was musically very precocious, teaching himself several instruments and the basics of harmony and composition. After spending more time on music than on his studies at the Jesuit College in Dijon (1693-1697), Rameau was removed from school; only when he was 18 did his parents give in to his wishes for a musical career. He went to Italy for a few months, and spent some time playing violin in a travelling French opera troupe. Then he took organist posts in Clermont-Ferrand (1702-1705), Paris (1705-1708), Dijon (1709-1714), Lyons (1714-1715), and Clermont again (1715-1722).

    Rameau had begun composing for the harpsichord, publishing his first book of keyboard works in 1706 (subsequent volumes appeared in 1724, 1728, and 1741). He had also written a few motets and secular cantatas, and had started his first book, the Traité de l'harmonie (published 1722), which later made his reputation as an important theorist.

    Hoping for greater fame as a composer, he moved to Paris in late 1722; there he took on some private students and composed numerous keyboard and short stage works. Eventually, he came to the attention of the financier and courtier Le Riche de la Pouplinière, who hired Rameau as conductor of his orchestra (a position he held for some 22 years) and allowed him and his family to live in his mansion. Through La Pouplinière, Rameau also met many of the great writers of his day, including some who later became librettists for his operas.

    Rameau produced his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), at the age of 50. The work wasn't well received initially, but the opera Castor et Pollux (1737) was much more successful, and Rameau gradually became known as one of France's leading composers. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between composing and writing further theoretical works like Nouveau système de musique théorique (1726), Dissertation sur les differents méthodes d'accompagnement pour le clavecin ou pour l'orgue (1732), and Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie (1750). He felt his theoretical works were at least as important as his music, and defended his theories in extensive correspondences and debates with many of the leading musical thinkers in Europe.

    In 1745, he was appointed composer of the King's chamber music. He continued writing operas, both tragic works like Dardanus (1739, rev. 1744) and comedies like Platée (1745) and La Princesse de Navarre (1745). These and his other operas and incidental music (he wrote about 30 stage works in all) were noteworthy for their expanded harmonic palate, their brilliant choruses and ballets, and the prominent role Rameau gave to the orchestra. But not everyone admired his music, and for years a bitter public rivalry existed between the Rameau partisans and the "Lullistes," who preferred the somewhat more conservative works of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Rameau also had to defend his musical style in the "War of the Buffoons" of 1752 against those who preferred the lighter Italian operas of composers like Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Four months before his death, Rameau was granted a patent of nobility by King Louis XV. He died just before his 81st birthday, and was buried at his parish church at St. Eustache.

    [Article taken from All Music Guide]


    Another Baroque composer I heard that I actually was captivated by. He wrote some beautiful music. I especially love his orchestral suites. What do you guys think of Rameau? I know he isn't discussed much around here.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mirror Image View Post
    Another Baroque composer I heard that I actually was captivated by. He wrote some beautiful music. I especially love his orchestral suites. What do you guys think of Rameau? I know he isn't discussed much around here.
    Well, there has been some discussion of Rameau, most notably concerning the wonderful Les Indes Galantes here, and also his In Convertando here.

    If the penny has dropped concerning Rameau, then surely folk like Lully, Charpentier, and Couperin can't be far behind. In which case, you'll find a lot of discussion here.

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    I have an old recording (on tape!) of his "Gavotte and Variations", quite dazzling stuff. I didn't note who the performer was though. These is also available as downloads via wikipedia, but I don't like those interpretations much.

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    I like several of his operas, specially Platée, which is a rare and incredibly funny baroque comic opera. But surely what most captivate me are his four harpsichord suites, incredible music.

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    I have read that he was a bit of an abrasive person, but his music is great fun. I love the Dardanus Suite, complete with sound effects. It's one of the pieces that got me hooked on baroque. It's not played very much for some reason.

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    His five "Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts" are beautiful as well.

    Yes, all of Rameau's operas were absolute masterpieces. I like most the three operas that were unappreciated during his time, "Hippolyte et Aricie", "Les Boreades", and "Platee". Rameau was extremely ahead of his time in these works, just listen to the overture of "Platee". I've also heard and loved "Castor et Pollux", "La princesse de Navarre", "Zoroastre", "Dardanus", and "Zais." They are all revolutionary.

    I heard that Debussy and Berlioz once said: "Rameau is the greatest French composer ever." Is this true?
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Quote Originally Posted by airad2 View Post
    His five "Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts" are beautiful as well.

    Yes, all of Rameau's operas were absolute masterpieces. I like most the three operas that were unappreciated during his time, "Hippolyte et Aricie", "Les Boreades", and "Platee". Rameau was extremely ahead of his time in these works, just listen to the overture of "Platee". I've also heard and loved "Castor et Pollux", "La princesse de Navarre", "Zoroastre", "Dardanus", and "Zais." They are all revolutionary.

    I heard that Debussy and Berlioz once said: "Rameau is the greatest French composer ever." Is this true?
    Yes, and one of the Images is called "Hommage à Rameau" (and is one of my very favorite pieces of Debussy). Berlioz' unbridled admiration was for Gluck, but he recognized the importance and the greatness of Rameau's oeuvre.

    I'm particulary fond of the Suite in A major with "Les Trois Mains", a piece so fun to play, the right hand crosses all the time. And Gavotte with six doubles, which is a perfect set of variations, I like it a lot.
    Last edited by bdelykleon; Jun-11-2009 at 20:25.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Give me any excuse to go partying with Rameau, Christie, and Patricia Petibon - and I'll take it.

    Try this; and this.

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    Les Sauvages was transcribed to Rameau's suite in G. It is very fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Try this; and this.
    Darn! I've side-slipped into a parallel universe again. There's never any warning sensations when that happens.

    Great clips though!

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    Bump. Listening to him now. Basically the highlights of all his suites.

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    I was once an insatiable listener of Rameau's music. I still love it every bit as much as I once did, but I know it all so well that it's difficult to listen to anymore.

    I treasure my collection of Rameau's music, I have every opera that has been recorded, even the rare Zais recording. I dream of a complete recording of the Temple de la Gloire, as well as of his unfinished opera Io. My favorite can be nothing but Les Boreades; Gardiner did the world a great favor by recording that breathtaking opera!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elgarian View Post
    Give me any excuse to go partying with Rameau, Christie, and Patricia Petibon - and I'll take it.

    Try this; and this.
    I must admit, I don't really like your first 'this'. The singers & dancers are so busy pulling faces & dissociating themselves from Rameau's view of Native Americans that it distracts & detracts from the glory of the music. It's fun, but that's all...
    ~ Mollie ~
    My fiddle my joy.

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    For me, nothing beats listening to the albums. The music is so dramatically intertwined with the actions, that I prefer to imagine the scenery for myself.

    I devoted most of 2007 - 2008 to Rameau.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Air View Post
    Yes, all of Rameau's operas are absolute masterpieces. I like most the three operas that were unappreciated during his time, Hippolyte et Aricie, Les Boreades, and Platee. Rameau was extremely ahead of his time in these works, just listen to the overture of Platee.
    I put those Operas on a pedestal above all other Baroque operas. They are as innovative as they are perfect.

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