Jean-Philippe Rameau  
Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau, oil on canvas by Jacques-André-Joseph Aved,
mid-18th century; in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, France.
Jean-Philippe Rameau, (baptized September 25, 1683, Dijon, France—died September 12, 1764, Paris), French composer of the late Baroque period, best known today for his harpsichord music, operas, and works in other theatrical genres but in his lifetime also famous as a music theorist.

Rameau’s father, Jean, played the organ for 42 years in various churches in Dijon and hoped one day to see his son on a lawyer’s, rather than an organist’s, bench. These hopes were dashed by the boy’s deplorable performance in school. At the age of 17 he is said to have fallen in love with a young widow who laughed at the errors of grammar and spelling in his letters to her. He tried to refine his language, but, to judge by the prolixity of his later theoretical writings, his efforts resulted in no permanent improvement. At the age of 18, after deciding to pursue a musical career, he traveled to Italy but seems to have gotten no farther than Milan. The following year, he received the first of a series of appointments as organist in various cities of central France: Avignon, Clermont, Dijon, Lyon. There was a brief interlude in the capital, but apparently Paris did not take an immediate fancy to the provincial organist, in spite of his having published there a fine suite of harpsichord pieces in A minor, Premier livre de pièces de clavecin (1706). These works show the beneficial influence of Louis Marchand, a famous organist-harpsichordist of the day whose playing Rameau greatly admired.

Back in Clermont by 1715, Rameau rashly signed a contract to be cathedral organist for 29 years. He then settled down to investigate, in an exhaustive and highly original manner, the foundations of musical harmony. He attacked traditional theory on the ground that “The Ancients,” who to Rameau included such relatively recent writers as the 16th-century Italian Gioseffo Zarlino, “…based the rules of harmony on melody, instead of beginning with harmony, which comes first.” Intuitively basing his studies on the natural overtone series, he arrived at a system of harmony that is the basis of most 20th-century harmony textbooks. Finally published in Paris in 1722, his impressive Traité de l’harmonie (Treatise on Harmony) brought him fame at last and a yearning to return to the capital.

Authorities in Clermont were loath to let him go, and the story of his release reveals, as do his own writings and other evidence, something of his thorny personality, his persistence, and his single-mindedness. At an evening service he showed his displeasure with the church authorities by pulling out all the most unpleasing stops and by adding the most rending discords so that “connoisseurs confessed only Rameau could play so unpleasingly.” But, after his release from the contract, he played with “so much delicacy, brilliance, force and harmony, that he aroused in the souls of the congregation all the sentiments he wished, thereby sharpening the regret with which all felt the loss they were about to sustain.”

Bust of Rameau by Caffieri, 1760

Upon his return to Paris, where he was to remain for the rest of his life, Rameau began a new and active life. A second volume of harpsichord pieces, Pièces de clavecin avec une méthode sur la mécanique des doigts (1724; “Harpsichord Pieces, with a Method for Fingering”), met with considerably more success than the first, and he became a fashionable teacher of the instrument. A commission to write incidental music for the Fair theatres planted the seeds of his development as a dramatic composer, and the display of two Louisiana Indians at one of these theatres in 1725 inspired the composition of one of his best and most celebrated pieces, Les Sauvages, later used in his opéra ballet Les Indes galantes (first performed 1735). The following year, at the age of 42, he married a 19-year-old singer, who was to appear in several of his operas and who was to bear him four children.
His most influential contact at this time was Le Riche de la Pouplinière, one of the wealthiest men in France and one of the greatest musical patrons of all time. Rameau was put in charge of La Pouplinière’s excellent private orchestra, a post he held for 22 years. He also taught the financier’s brilliant and musical wife. The composer’s family eventually moved into La Pouplinière’s town mansion and spent summers at their château in Passy. This idyllic relationship between patron and composer gradually came to an end after La Pouplinière separated from his wife, and Rameau was replaced by the younger, avant-garde composer Karl Stamitz. Meanwhile, however, admittance to La Pouplinière’s circle had brought Rameau into contact with various literary lights. Abbé Pellegrin, whose biblical opera Jephté had been successfully set to music by Rameau’s rival Michel de Montéclair in 1732, was to become Rameau’s librettist for his first and in many ways finest opera, Hippolyte et Aricie. It was first performed in the spring of 1733, at La Pouplinière’s house, then, in the autumn, at the Opéra, and in 1734 it was performed at court. André Campra, perhaps the most celebrated French composer of the time, remarked to the Prince de Conti: “My Lord, there is enough music in this opera to make ten of them; this man will eclipse us all.”

Portrait of Rameau by Carmontelle, 1760

To some ears there was, indeed, too much music. Those who had grown up with the operas of Jean-Baptiste Lully were baffled by the complexity of Rameau’s orchestration, the intensity of his accompanied recitatives (speechlike sections), and the rich and often dissonant diversity of his harmonies. Rameau himself, however, professed his admiration for his predecessor in the preface to Les Indes galantes, in which he praised the “beautiful declamation and handsome turns of phrase in the recitative of the great Lully,” and stated that he had sought to imitate it, though not as a “servile copyist.” Indeed, almost everything in Rameau’s operas has, at least technically, a precedent in Lully. Yet the content of his works, the rich dramatic contrasts, the brilliant orchestral sections, and, above all, the permeating sensuous melancholy and languorous pastoral sighings, put him in a different world: in short, the Rococo world of Louis XV.

Among those at the first performance of Hippolyte was the great Voltaire, who quipped that Rameau “is a man who has the misfortune to know more music than Lully.” But he soon came around to Rameau’s side and wrote for him a fine libretto, Samson, which was banned ostensibly for religious reasons but really because of a cabal against Voltaire; the music was lost. Their later collaboration on two frothy court entertainments is preserved, however: La Princesse de Navarre and Le Temple de la Gloire (both 1745). The former was condensed and revised as Les Fêtes de Ramire (1745) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau, Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, and other writers associated with Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie began as ardent Rameau enthusiasts, but, by the mid-1750s, as they warmed more and more to Italian music, they gradually turned against him. Rameau appreciated the new Italian music as much as anyone, but the works he composed in this style, such as the overtures to Les Fêtes de Polymnie (1745) and to his final work, Abaris ou les Boréades (1764), do not bear the mark of individuality.

The zenith of Rameau’s career may be said to have encompassed the brief span from 1748, when he tossed off the masterpiece Pygmalion in eight days and had six other operas on the boards, through 1754, when he wrote La Naissance d’Osiris (“The Birth of Osiris”) for the birth of the future Louis XVI. Thereafter, his fame diminished, as the prevailing musical style became what is now generally called “Classical.” The public preferred catchy tunes with simple harmonies to Rameau’s profound emotion and rich, late-Baroque harmony.

Alan S. Curtis

Encyclopædia Britannica

Joan—Philippe Rameau was born in Dijon, one of 11 children, and studied at a Jesuit College - It is father's initial intention being that he should become a lawyer — before being allowed to go to study music in Milan at the age of 18. After a number of appointments as organist, he settled in Clermont m 1715, where he was organist at the cathedral for eight years.

During this period Rameau wrote his first collection of harpsichord pieces and m 1722 published his book on music theory, Treatise on harmony. He tried to move to Paris, the centre of creative activity, but encountered resistance from his employers in Clermont. It is said that on a particular feast day he simply refused to play, and when pressed, performed with so many discordant notes that he was released from duty. He moved to Paris but for a decade he failed to secure a formal position, although he continued to compose, and published his second and third books of harpsichord works. He made a living by teaching music, in 1732 becoming organist at Ste Croix-de-la-13retonnerie and the following year at the Jesuit novitiate.

Title page of the Treatise on Harmony

Rameau s desire to write an opera received help from an admirer - the wife of a financier, Le Riche de la Poupliniere, who funded a private orchestra. Through this circle the composer met the writer Abbe Simon-Joseph Pellegrin, and together they created his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie, based on Racine's tragedy Phedre. It was performed in 1733 at Poupliniere's residence, and then at the Opera in Paris three months later.

Rameau was 50 when his Hippolyte et Aricie was performed and he spent the rest of Ins working life producing operas. In these lie stressed musical elements more than Lully had done, stating, "Lully needs actors but I need singers." Les Indes galantes in 1735 and Castor et Pollux m 1737 were great successes, showing Rameau's bold harmonies and establishing him as Lully's successor as the leading light of French opera. A comic opera, Platee, was also successful when performed at the Paris Opera in 1745, m part because it parodied the set language and conventions of serious opera. Some of its jests were sentimental words set to inappropriate music, incorrect stress of words or syllables, and the use of "unoperatic" phrases and expressions.

Rameau died just before his eighty-first birthday, shortly after Louis XV, in recognition of his long service and lifetime of creative effort, made him Composieur du Cabinet du Roy. His death was marked by a number of memorial services, the passion and vibrance of his music ensuring a great sense of loss at his passing.


Jean Philippe Rameau - 1733 Hippolyte et Aricie - Emmanuelle Haim
Hippolyte et Aricie (Hippolytus and Aricia) was the first opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau. It was premiered to great controversy by the Académie Royale de Musique at its theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris on October 1, 1733. The French libretto, by Abbé Simon-Joseph Pellegrin, is based on Racine's tragedy Phèdre. The opera takes the traditional form of a tragédie en musique with an allegorical prologue followed by five acts. Early audiences found little else about the work to be conventional.

Composition history

When he wrote Hippolyte, Rameau was almost fifty, and there was little in his life to suggest he was about to embark on a major new career as an opera composer. He was famous as much, if not more, for his works on music theory, as for his books of keyboard pieces. The closest he had come to writing dramatic music was composing a few secular cantatas and some popular pieces for the Paris fairs. Yet some time in 1732, Rameau approached Abbé Pellegrin and asked him for a libretto. Pellegrin had written the words for Montéclair's tragédie en musique Jephté (February, 1732), a work which had greatly impressed Rameau. Hippolyte et Aricie was given a run-through at the house of Rameau's patron, La Pouplinière, in April, 1733 and went into rehearsal at the Opéra in September. To Rameau's annoyance, the musicians at the opera house found the second trio for the Fates (Trio des Parques), some of the composer's most daring music, too hard to play and it was cut. It was just a foretaste of the difficulties to come.

Reception: Lullistes versus Ramoneurs

Tragédie en musique had been invented as a genre by Lully and his librettist Quinault in the 1670s and 1680s. Their works had held the stage ever since and had become regarded as a French national institution. When Hippolyte et Aricie made its debut, many in the audience were delighted, praising Rameau as "the Orpheus of our century". André Campra was struck by the richness of invention:
"There is enough music in this opera to make ten of them; this man will eclipse us all".[citation needed]
Others, however, felt the music was bizarre and dissonant (Hippolyte was the first opera to be described as baroque, then a term of abuse). They saw Rameau's work as an assault on Lullian opera and French musical tradition. As Sophie Bouissou puts it:
"With a single stroke Rameau destroyed everything Lully had spent years in constructing: the proud, chauvinistic and complacent union of the French around one and the same cultural object, the offspring of his and Quinault's genius. Then suddenly the Ramelian aesthetic played havoc with the confidence of the French in their patrimony, assaulted their national opera that they hoped was unchangeable."
Audiences and music critics soon split into two factions: the traditional Lullistes and Rameau's supporters, the Ramoneurs (a play on the French word for "chimney-sweep"). The controversy would burn on throughout the 1730s.

Performance history

The first run of Hippolyte et Aricie in 1733-34 enjoyed a respectable forty performances. It was revived for another forty performances in 1742-43 and again in 1757 and 1767. The revivals during Rameau's lifetime entailed several revisions, as was the composer's wont. Hippolyte et Aricie was never Rameau's most popular opera but its significance was recognised almost immediately and the Trio des Parques at least was well known by reputation in the nineteenth century, even in an era when no Rameau operas were being performed. The first modern revival took place in Paris on May 13, 1908. Another landmark was the recording by Anthony Lewis in 1966.
In recent years, Hippolyte et Aricie has shown strong indications it might re-enter the standard repertoire, with some of the leading lights of the Baroque revival, John Eliot Gardiner (at Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1982), Marc Minkowski (at Versailles Baroques Centre's Journée Rameau 1993, 2 concerts. then recorded CD), William Christie (at Opéra National de Paris in 1996, then recorded CD) (at Glyndebourne in 2013, cinema and online broadcast and future DVD release) and Emmanuelle Haïm (in the lavish show directed by Ivan Alexandre at Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse in 2009) giving acclaimed performances of the work.


An overture in the typical Lullian style precedes the allegorical prologue set in the Forest of Erymanthus where Diana and Cupid are arguing who will rule over the forest dwellers. The quarrel is settled by Jupiter who decrees that Love will reign over their hearts for one day every year. Diana vows to look after Hippolyte and Aricie.

Act 1
The temple of Diana in Troezen
The story concerns the Greek hero Theseus, King of Athens (Thésée in the opera), his wife Phaedra (Phedre) and Thésée's son by another woman, Hippolytus (Hippolyte). Hippolytus is in love with a young woman, Aricia, but she is the daughter of Theseus's enemy, Pallas, and he has compelled her to take a vow of chastity to Diana. Before she does so, Hippolytus reveals his love for her and the goddess promises to protect the couple. This enrages Phaedra, who has been nursing an illicit desire for her stepson herself. News arrives that Theseus has made a journey to the Underworld and is probably now dead. This means Phaedra may pursue her passion for Hippolytus and offer him the crown of Athens.

Act 2
Hades, the Underworld
Theseus descends to Hades to rescue his friend Pirithous, who has been captured when he tried to seduce Pluto (Pluton)'s wife, Proserpina (Proserpine). Theseus has a special advantage: his father, the god Neptune, has promised to answer his prayers on three occasions during his life. The first prayer Theseus makes is to be allowed to reach Hades. At the entrance, he fights with the Fury Tisiphone, but makes it through to Pluto's court. Pluto condemns Theseus to share the same fate as his friend but allows a trial. When Theseus again loses, he calls on Neptune to free him (his second prayer), and Pluto is powerless to hold him back. As Theseus leaves, however, the Furies (Les Parques) foretell that Theseus may leave Hades but he will find Hell in his own household.

Act 3

Theseus's palace by the sea
Phaedra meets Hippolytus, who offers his condolences on her bereavement. Mistaking his concern for love, Phaedra confesses her passion. Hippolytus is shocked and curses her. Phaedra tries to kill herself with a sword but Hippolytus snatches it from her. At this moment, Theseus arrives unexpectedly. He is unsure what to make of the scene, but fears Hippolytus was trying to rape his wife. Phaedra rushes off and Hippolytus nobly refuses to denounce his stepmother. But this only serves to increase his father's suspicions, now reinforced by Phaedra's confidante, Oenone. Theseus finally decides to use his last prayer to Neptune to punish Hippolytus.

Act 4

A grove sacred to Diana by the sea
Hippolytus realises he must go into exile and Aricia vows to go with him as his wife. The forest people celebrate Diana. A monster suddenly emerges from the sea - the instrument of Theseus's punishment. Hippolytus tries to fight it but disappears in a cloud of flames. Phaedra arrives, distraught, and admits she is the cause of Hippolytus's death.

Act 5

A grove sacred to Diana by the sea
Theseus has learnt the truth from Phaedra, just before she killed herself. Full of remorse, he too threatens suicide but Neptune reveals that his son is still alive, thanks to Diana's protection. However, Theseus will never see him again.
The forest of Aricia, Italy
Aricia wakes up, still mourning Hippolytus. Diana tell her she has found a husband for the girl, but Aricia is inconsolable until the goddess reveals Hippolytus, alive and well. The opera ends with general rejoicing.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jean Philippe Rameau 1735 Les Indes Galantes W Christie Les Arts Florissants
Jean-Philippe Rameau - Suite: Les Boréades (Live)
Suite: Les Boréades

Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Harry Bicket
Composer: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

Les Boréades (The Descendants of Boreas) or Abaris is an opera in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. It was the last of Rameau's five tragédies en musique. The libretto, attributed to Louis de Cahusac (died 1759), is loosely based on the Greek legend of Abaris the Hyperborean and includes Masonic elements.

Jean-Philippe Rameau Pieces de Clavecin,Celine Frisch
Jean-Philippe Rameau: La Orquesta de Luis XV - Concierto de Jordi Savall
Jean-Philippe Rameau: La Orquesta de Luis XV - Concierto de Jordi Savall.
(Suites de Orquesta).

Intérprete: Le Concert des Nations - Director: Jordi Savall.

[Concierto realizado el 16-01-2011 en La Ópera Real de Versalles].


Naïs (1748)
Suite d'orchestre

1. Ouverture
2. Musette tendre
3. Rigaudons I /II
4. Sarabande
5. Gavotte pour les Zéphirs
6. Loure
7. Musette
8. Tambourins I/II
9. Entrée des Luteurs
10. Chaconne
11. Air de Triomphe

"París, Biblioteca Nacional de Francia, A-165 (1-4)".


Les Indes Galantes (1735)
Suite d'orchestre

1. Ouverture
2. Musette en Rondeau
3. Air vif
4. Air des Incas pour la dévotion du Soleil
5. Air pour les amants qui suivent Bellone
6. Air pour les guerriers
7. Menuets pour les Guerriers et Amazones I & II
8. Orage
9. Air pour les esclaves africains
10. Air pour Borée et la Rose
11. 2ème Air pour les Zephirs
12. Tambourins I/II
13. Chaconne

"París, Biblioteca Nacional de Francia, A-132 (A,2)".


Zoroastre (1749)

1. Ouverture
2. Passepieds I/II
3. Loure
4. Air des Esprits Infernaux II
5. Air tendre en Rondeau
6. Air Grave
7. Gavotte en Rondeau
8. Sarabande
9. Contredanse

"París, Biblioteca Nacional de Francia, Vm2. 376".


Les Boréades (1764)
Suite d'orchestre

1. Ouverture
2. Entrée
3. Entrée des Peuples
4. Contredanse en rondeau
5. Les Vents
6. Gavotte I & II pour les heures et les Zephirs
7. Menuets I- II
8. Contredanse très vive

"París, Biblioteca Nacional de Francia, Rés Vmb Ms4".

Rameau : Les Surprises de l'Amour (Marc Minkowski)
"Les Surprises De L'amour" (SUITE EN CONCERT, 1757-1758)

I. Ouverture (Vif - Adagio - Gai)
II. Ritournelle - Entree Des Crotoniates - Air Tendre Pour Venus Et Les Graces -- Sarabande
III. Entree Des Jeux, Amour Et Plaisirs - Menuet - Air Pour Les Sybarites - Passepied - Gavotte I & Ii
IV. Rigaudon - Loure - Passepieds I & Ii - Tambourins - Air Pour Les Gladiateurs
V. Entree Des Suivants De L'amour Et De Bacchus - Gigue En Rondeau
VI. Mouvement De Chaconne -- Contredanse
VII. Annonce De Chasse - Descente De Diane - Sommeil D'endymion - Air Pour Diane -- Majestueusement
VIII. Rondeau - Sarabande - Annonce De Chasse - Airs I & Ii
IX. Entree Des Sirenes -- Gavotte
X. Sommeil D'anacreon
XI. Gavotte Tendre Pour Les Graces - Sortie Des Bacchantes - Entree

Les Musiciens Du Louvre
Marc Minkowski

Recording: July 1987, Palais Barberini, Rome, Italy.

Jean Philippe Rameau 1737 Castor et Pollux C Rousset Les Talens Lyriques
Rameau - Dardanus - Tragédie en musique, 1739
Jean-Philippe Rameau 'Pygmalion' - Barrocade
Barrocade plays Jean-Philippe Rameau :
conductor: Patrick Cohen-Akenine
Jean Philippe Rameau - suite in G minor
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