Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764) MP

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Dijon, Côte-d'Or, Burgundy, France
Death: Died in Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
Cause of death: Fever
Managed by: Yigal Burstein / יגאל בורשטיין
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About Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau (September 25, 1683, Dijon – September 12, 1764) was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also considered the leading French composer for the harpsichord of his time, alongside François Couperin.

Little is known about Rameau's early years, and it was not until the 1720s that he won fame as a major theorist of music with his Treatise on Harmony (1722). He was almost 50 before he embarked on the operatic career on which his reputation chiefly rests. His debut, Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), caused a great stir and was fiercely attacked for its revolutionary use of harmony by the supporters of Lully's style of music. Nevertheless, Rameau's pre-eminence in the field of French opera was soon acknowledged, and he was later attacked as an "establishment" composer by those who favoured Italian opera during the controversy known as the Querelle des Bouffons in the 1750s. Rameau's music had gone out of fashion by the end of the 18th century, and it was not until the 20th that serious efforts were made to revive it. Today, he enjoys renewed appreciation with performances and recordings of his music ever more frequent.

Life

The details of Rameau's life are generally obscure, especially concerning his first forty years, before he moved to Paris for good. He was a secretive man, and even his wife knew nothing of his early life, which explains the scarcity of biographical information available.

Early years, 1683–1732

Rameau's early years are particularly obscure. He was born on September 25, 1683 and baptised the same day.[4] His father, Jean, worked as an organist in several churches around Dijon, and his mother, Claudine Demartinécourt, was the daughter of a notary. The couple had eleven children (five girls and six boys), of which Jean-Philippe was the seventh. Rameau was taught music before he could read or write. He was educated at the Jesuit college at Godrans, but he was not a good pupil and disrupted classes with his singing, later claiming that his passion for opera had begun at the age of twelve. Initially intended for the law, Rameau decided he wanted to be a musician, and his father sent him to Italy, where he stayed for a short while in Milan. On his return, he worked as a violinist in travelling companies and then as an organist in provincial cathedrals before moving to Paris for the first time. Here, in 1706, he published his earliest known compositions: the harpsichord works that make up his first book of Pièces de clavecin, which show the influence of his friend Louis Marchand. In 1709, he moved back to Dijon to take over his father's job as organist in the main church. The contract was for six years, but Rameau left before then and took up similar posts in Lyon and Clermont. During this period, he composed motets for church performance as well as secular cantatas. In 1722, he returned to Paris for good, and here he published his most important work of music theory, Traité de l'harmonie (Treatise on Harmony). This soon won him a great reputation, and it was followed in 1726 by his Nouveau système de musique théorique. In 1724 and 1729 (or 1730), he also published two more collections of harpsichord pieces. Rameau took his first tentative steps into composing stage music when the writer Alexis Piron asked him to provide songs for his popular comic plays written for the Paris Fairs. Four collaborations followed, beginning with L'endriague in 1723; none of the music has survived. On February 25, 1726, Rameau married the 19-year-old Marie-Louise Mangot, who came from a musical family from Lyon and was a good singer and instrumentalist. The couple would have four children, two boys and two girls, and the marriage is said to have been a happy one. In spite of his fame as a music theorist, Rameau had trouble finding a post as an organist in Paris.

Later years, 1733–1764

It was not until he was approaching 50 that Rameau decided to embark on the operatic career on which his fame as a composer mainly rests. He had already approached writer Houdar de la Motte for a libretto in 1727, but nothing came of it; he was finally inspired to try his hand at the prestigious genre of tragédie en musique after seeing Montéclair's Jephté in 1732. Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie premiered at the Académie Royale de Musique on October 1, 1733. It was immediately recognised as the most significant opera to appear in France since the death of Lully, but audiences were split over whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Some, such as the composer André Campra, were stunned by its originality and wealth of invention; others found its harmonic innovations discordant and saw the work as an attack on the French musical tradition. The two camps, the so-called Lullyistes and the Rameauneurs, fought a pamphlet war over the issue for the rest of the decade.

Just before this time, Rameau had made the acquaintance of powerful financier Alexandre Le Riche de La Poupelinière, who became his patron until 1753. La Pouplinière's mistress (and later, wife), Thérèse des Hayes, was Rameau's pupil and a great admirer of his music. In 1731, Rameau became the conductor of La Pouplinière's private orchestra, which was of an extremely high quality. He held the post for 22 years; he was succeeded by Johann Stamitz and then Gossec. La Pouplinière's salon enabled Rameau to meet some of the leading cultural figures of the day, including Voltaire, who soon began collaborating with the composer. Their first project, the tragédie en musique Samson, was abandoned because an opera on a religious theme by Voltaire—a notorious critic of the Church—was likely to be banned by the authorities. Meanwhile, Rameau had introduced his new musical style into the lighter genre of the opéra-ballet with the highly successful Les Indes galantes. It was followed by two tragédies en musique, Castor et Pollux (1737) and Dardanus (1739), and another opéra-ballet, Les fêtes d'Hébé (also 1739). All these operas of the 1730s are among Rameau's most highly regarded works. However, the composer followed them with six years of silence, in which the only work he produced was a new version of Dardanus (1744). The reason for this interval in the composer's creative life is unknown, although it is possible he had a falling-out with the authorities at the Académie royale de la musique.

The year 1745 was a watershed in Rameau's career. He received several commissions from the court for works to celebrate the French victory at the Battle of Fontenoy and the marriage of the Dauphin to Infanta Maria Teresa Rafaela of Spain. Rameau produced his most important comic opera, Platée, as well as two collaborations with Voltaire: the opéra-ballet Le temple de la gloire and the comédie-ballet La princesse de Navarre. They gained Rameau official recognition; he was granted the title "Compositeur du Cabinet du Roi" and given a substantial pension. 1745 also saw the beginning of the bitter enmity between Rameau and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Though best known today as a thinker, Rousseau had ambitions to be a composer. He had written an opera, Les muses galantes (inspired by Rameau's Indes galantes), but Rameau was unimpressed by this musical tribute. At the end of 1745, Voltaire and Rameau, who were busy on other works, commissioned Rousseau to turn La Princesse de Navarre into a new opera, with linking recitative called Les fêtes de Ramire. Rousseau then claimed the two had stolen the credit for the words and music he had contributed, though musicologists have been able to identify almost nothing of the piece as Rousseau's work. Nevertheless, the embittered Rousseau nursed a grudge against Rameau for the rest of his life.

Rousseau was a major participant in the second great quarrel that erupted over Rameau's work, the so-called Querelle des Bouffons of 1752–54, which pitted French tragédie en musique against Italian opera buffa. This time, Rameau was accused of being out of date and his music too complicated in comparison with the simplicity and "naturalness" of a work like Pergolesi's La serva padrona. In the mid-1750s, Rameau criticised Rousseau's contributions to the musical articles in the Encyclopédie, which led to a quarrel with the leading philosophes d'Alembert and Diderot. As a result, Rameau became a character in Diderot's then-unpublished dialogue, Le neveu de Rameau (Rameau's Nephew).

In 1753, La Pouplinière took a scheming musician, Jeanne-Thérèse Goermans, as his mistress. The daughter of harpsichord maker Jacques Goermans, she went by the name of Madame de Saint-Aubin, and her opportunistic husband pushed her into the arms of the rich financier. She had La Pouplinière engage the services of the Bohemian composer Johann Stamitz, who succeeded Rameau after a breach developed between Rameau and his patron; however, by then, Rameau no longer needed La Pouplinière's financial support and protection.

Rameau pursued his activities as a theorist and composer until his death. He lived with his wife and two of his children in his large suite of rooms in Rue des Bons-Enfants, which he would leave every day, lost in thought, to take a solitary walk in the nearby gardens of the Palais-Royal or the Tuileries. Sometimes he would meet the young writer Chabanon, who noted some of Rameau's disillusioned confidential remarks: "Day by day, I'm acquiring more good taste, but I no longer have any genius" and "The imagination is worn out in my old head; it's not wise at this age wanting to practise arts that are nothing but imagination."

Rameau composed prolifically in the late 1740s and early 1750s. After that, his rate of productivity dropped off, probably due to old age and ill health, although he was still able to write another comic opera, Les Paladins, in 1760. This was due to be followed by a final tragédie en musique, Les Boréades; but for unknown reasons, the opera was never produced and had to wait until the late 20th century for a proper staging. Rameau died on September 12, 1764 after suffering from a fever. He was buried in the church of St. Eustache, Paris the following day.

Music [edit] General character of Rameau's music

Rameau's music is characterised by the exceptional technical knowledge of a composer who wanted above all to be renowned as a theorist of the art. Nevertheless, it is not solely addressed to the intelligence, and Rameau himself claimed, "I try to conceal art with art." The paradox of this music was that it was new, using techniques never known before, but it took place within the framework of old-fashioned forms. Rameau appeared revolutionary to the Lullyistes, disturbed by the complex harmony of his music; and reactionary to the "philosophes," who only paid attention to its content and who either would not or could not listen to the sound it made. The incomprehension he received from his contemporaries stopped Rameau from repeating such daring experiments as the second Trio des Parques in Hippolyte et Aricie, which he was forced to remove after a handful of performances because the singers had been either unable or unwilling to render it correctly.

Rameau's musical works

Rameau's musical works may be divided into four distinct groups, which differ greatly in importance: a few cantatas; a few motets for large chorus; some pieces for solo harpsichord or harpsichord accompanied by other instruments; and, finally, his works for the stage, to which he dedicated the last thirty years of his career almost exclusively. Like most of his contemporaries, Rameau often reused melodies that had been particularly successful, but never without meticulously adapting them; they are not simple transcriptions. Besides, no borrowings have been found from other composers, although his earliest works show the influence of other music. Rameau's reworkings of his own material are numerous; e.g., in Les Fêtes d'Hébé, we find L'Entretien des Muses, the Musette, and the Tambourin, taken from the 1724 book of harpsichord pieces, as well as an aria from the cantata Le Berger Fidèle.

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Jean-Philippe Rameau's Timeline

1683
September 25, 1683
Dijon, Côte-d'Or, Burgundy, France
1727
August 3, 1727
Age 43
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
1732
November 15, 1732
Age 49
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
1740
December 5, 1740
Age 57
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
1744
September 28, 1744
Age 61
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
1764
September 12, 1764
Age 80
Paris, Paris, Île-de-France, France
September 13, 1764
Age 80
Paris, France
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