Jean-Philippe Rameau


Born: Sep 25, 1683; France   Died: Sep 12, 1764; France   Period: Baroque
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
Read more 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. Read less
Rameau: Castor et Pollux / Pichon, Pygmalion
Release Date: 05/12/2015   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902212   Number of Discs: 2
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Work: Les Indes galantes

About This Work
Les Indes Galantes (The Gallant Indians) was Rameau's second theatrical work. Termed an opéra-ballet, it was essentially a dance spectacle with sung elements. (The form was descended from the earlier ballet a entrées of the French Read more court.) There was more than one kind of opéra-ballet; the more dramatic works were termed ballets heroïques, and Les Indes Galantes was one of these. It was first given on August 23, 1735, to reviews that both praised and condemned it. Much of the music was quite adventuresome and elicited strong reactions from the Parisian public. The libretto was by Louis Fuzelier, a writer of comedies and a well-known author. The Prologue has a theme taken from mythology, and concerns the universality of Love. Each section or entrée is set in an exotic locale and contains a story of an amorous nature.

The exotic locations, while typical of the genre, here point vaguely toward Enlightenment-oriented human universals. Nevertheless, there is plenty of pure spectacle. Le Turc Genereux (The Generous Turk) contains a descriptive storm scene, a chorus of sailors, and a ballet by African slaves. The storm music is quite effective, and makes use of Vivaldi-like tremolos and scalar patterns, as well as dramatic key changes.

The Incas' Festival of the Sun is depicted in the second entrée in a grand spectacle full of choruses, symphonies, and airs. There is a long scene in which the sun is invoked by the priest Huascar, and the chorus "Brillant Soleil" (Brilliant Sun) is its climax. Although this scene was praised by Voltaire, many found it too new and unusual. The earthquake that follows is described in the orchestra by tremolos, rushing scales, and dissonant harmony, and was considered too difficult to perform. An unusual trio for Phani, Don Carlos, and Huascar is another highlight of this entrée; Huascar's voice argues in counterpoint with the two lovers, right before he is vanquished by the eruption of a volcano. The music of this entrée is very dissonant, emotionally sustained, and quite modern.

Les Indes Galantes contained only the first two entrées and the Prologue at its premiere. Afterwards, Rameau added Les Fleurs, which offers emotional release after so much drama. The dominant element in this entrée is the dance; there is no drama, only serene music. The final Les Sauvages (The Savages) was added at a much later date. Set in a North American forest, with Native American characters, after an initial amorous story, the main body of the entrée is built around the Ceremony of the Pipe of Peace. Much of the music for the ceremony was taken from harpsichord music Rameau had published in 1730, and the entree ends with a chaconne written for the opera Samson.

-- Rita Laurance Read less

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Formats & Featured

Jean-Philippe Rameau

I. Ouverture
II. Air pantomime
III. Air de ballet
IV. Orage
V. Air pour des fous gais et des fous tristes
VI. Menuet I - II
VII. Rigaudon I - II
I. Ouverture
II. Marche pour les differentes nations
III. Menuet
IV. Tambourin I - II
V. Rigaudon I - II
VI. Entree d'Iphise
VII. Air gai en rondeau
VIII. Menuet I - II
IX. Tambourin III - IV
X. Sommeil de Dardanus
XI. Chaconne
I. Ouverture
II. Les differents caracteres de la danse (Gracieusement): Air - Gavotte - Menuet - Gavotte - Chaconne - Loure - Passepied - Rigaudon -
(II.) Sarabande pour la Statue - Tambourin: Forte et vite
III. Marche
IV. Pantomime niaise et un peu lent - Deuxieme Pantomime tres vite
V. Air gracieux et gai et contredanse
Act I: Ritournelle
Act I Scene 1: Recitative: L'hymen courone votre soeur (Cleone, Phoebe)
Act I Scene 2: Air: Eclatez, mes justes regrets! (Telaire)
Act I Scene 3: Recitative: Ah! je mourrai content, je revois ovs appas! (Castor, Telaire)
Act I Scene 4: Recitative: Non demeure, Castor! (Pollux, Castor, Telair)
Act I Scene 5: Chorus: Chantons l'eclatante victoire (Castor, Telaira, Pollux)
Act I Scene 5: Air tres pointe
Act I Scene 5: Menuets
Act I Scene 5: Ariette: Quel bonheur regne dans mon ame! (Castor)
Act I Scene 5: Gavottes
Act I Scene 5: Tambourins
Act I Scene 6: Recitative: Quitttez ces jeux! (Spartan, Choir, Castor, Pollux, Telaire)
Act I: Entracte: Bruit de guerre
Act II Scene 1: Chorus: Que tout gemisse (Spartans)
Act II Scene 2: Air: Tristes apprets (Telaire)
Act II Scene 3: Cruelle, en quels lieux venez-vous? (Telaire, Phoebe, Choir)
Act II Scene 4: March Recitative: Peuples, cessez de soupirer! (Pollux)
Act II Scene 5: Chorus: Que l'enfer applaudisse
Act II Scene 4: Recitative: Princesse une telle victoire (Pollux, Telaire)
Act II Scene 4: Air gai
Act II Scene 4: Air pour les athletes
Act II Scene 4: Aria: Eclatez fieres trompettes! (Athlete)
Act II Scene 4: Air tres gai
Act III Scene 1: Aria: Present des dieux (Pollux)
Act III Scene 2: Recitative: (High Priest, Pollux, Jupiter)
Act III Scene 3: Descente de Jupiter
Act III Scene 3: Recitative: Ma voix, puissant maitre du monde (Pollux, Jupiter)
Act III Scene 3: Recitative: Ah! laisse-moi percer jusques aux sombre bords! (Pollux, Jupiter)
Act III Scene 4: Chorus: Ah! Pouvez-vouz nous meconnaitre? "Chorus of Celestial Pleasures"
Act III Scene 4: Recitative: Tout l'eclat de l'Olympe (Pollux)
Act III Scene 4: Qu'Hebe de fleurs toujours nouvelles (Small Chorus)
Act III Scene 4: Sarabande: Voici des dieux (One of Hebe's Attendants)
Act III Scene 4: Recitative: Ah! sans le trouble ou je me vois (Pollux)
Act III Scene 4: Air: Que nos jeux (One of Hebe's Attendants)
Act III Scene 4: Recitative: Quand je romps vos aimable chaines (Pollux)
Act IV Scene 1: Esprits, soutines de mon pouvoir (Phoebe, Choir)
Act IV Scene 1: Recitative: Mais que vois-je? (Phoebe, Mercury, Pollux)
Act IV Scene 2: Trio: Tombez, rentrez dans l'esclavage (Phoebe, Mercury, Pollux, Choir of Demons)
Act IV Scene 2: Air des Demons
Act IV Scene 2: Chorus of Demons: Brisons tous nos fers
Act IV Scene 3: Recitative: O ciel! tout cede a sa valeur (Phoebe)
Act IV Scene 4: Aria: Sejour de l'eternelle paix (Castor)
Act IV Scene 4: Chorus of Happy Spirits: Qu'il soit heureux comme nous
Act IV Scene 4: Loure
Act IV Scene 4: Gavotte: Sur les ombres fugitives (A spirit)
Act IV Scene 4: Menuet: Dans ce doux asiles (A spirit, Choir)
Act IV Scene 4: Chorus: Fuyez, fuyez, ombres legeres
Act IV Scene 5: Recitative: Rassurez-vous, habitants forutnes (Pollux, Castor)
Act IV Scene 5: Recitative: Ses jours sont commences (Pollux)
Act IV Scene 5: Entracte
Act V Scene 1: Recitative: Le ciel est donc (Telaire, Castor)
Act V Scene 2: Chorus: Vivez, heureux epoux! (Castor, Telaire)
Act V Scene 2: Recitative: Peuples, eloignez-vous (Castor, Telaire)
Act V Scene 3: Tonnerre
Act V Scene 4: les destins sont contents: ton sort est arrete (Jupiter, Castor, Pollux, Telaire)
Act V Scene 5: Recitative: Palais de ma grandeur, ou je dicte mes lois (Jupiter)
Act V Finale: Chaconne

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