Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean -Philippe Rameau (* baptized September 25, 1683 in Dijon, † September 12, 1764 in Paris) was a French composer and music theorist.

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Rameau's father Jean, the first musician of the family, was organist at several churches in Dijon, including at the St. Bénigne Cathedral. His mother Claudine de Martinécourt was counted for gentry and was the daughter of a notary. Jean -Philippe was the seventh of eleven children born, of whom two others were musical: his younger brother Claude was an organist, his sister Catherine played harpsichord and worked as a music teacher. Claude's son, Jean -François has become immortal through Diderot's novel Rameau's Nephew.

His first musical training was Jean- Philippe by his father. He attended a Jesuit school, but had to leave due to lack of services. Approximately eighteen years he undertook a trip to Italy, but not more than led Milan. He worked in different cities, as an orchestral violinist and organist in Marseille, Avignon, Albi, Montpellier, Nimes and Lyon.

In January 1702 Rameau was temporarily engaged as organist at the Cathedral of Avignon. Starting in May, he got a job as organist at Clermont, which was scheduled for six years, from 1706, however, he moved to Paris and worked closely with Louis Marchand. In this year he published his first collection Pièces de clavecin. 1706 to 1709 he was organist at several churches in Paris, but no organ works from his hand are known.

1709 he took over the place of his father as organist of Notre- Dame de Dijon. This agreement also was originally stipulated for six years, but already for July 1713 Rameau's presence in Lyon documented, from where he moved again in 1715 to an organist to Clermont, which was created 29 years. More information about Rameau's work is only handed back from 1722, when he finally settling in Paris.

Soon after that his theoretical works ( Traité de l' harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels ) sent to press, he had already written in the Auvergne. Together with the supplementary Nouveau Système de musique théorique from 1726 he founded so that the modern music theory for chords and harmony and earned a reputation as a theorist. He coined with " l'accord tonique " the term for a tonic triad. The names subdominant and dominant go back to Rameau, in the system, however they had a different meaning than today.

On February 25, 1726, he married at the age of forty-two years, the nineteen year-old Marie -Louise Mangot from a musical family. Marie -Louise later sang in several of Rameau's operas. They had two sons and two daughters. Jean -Philippe Rameau applied in 1727 to an organist, but the Louis -Claude Daquin got. Only for a permanent position in 1732 is documented as an organist, which he held until 1738 at least.

Around 1727 he met his patron Alexandre Le Riche de La Pouplinière, a -general ( Fermier Général ) of the king, Louis XV. Rameau and the family had to live in his palace in the Rue de Richelieu. For at least twelve years Rameau led the private orchestra of his patron, where he gained valuable experience and experiment with the instrumental ensemble.

By the age of fifty years his compositional output was limited to a few cantatas, motets, music for the stage, and three collections of harpsichord pieces. The last two of these collections have a great originality and Rameau place among the best of his profession in France. In 1723 a collaboration with the writer Alexis Piron Rameau began. He wrote his first stage music to four of his comedies. However, none of these compositions have been preserved.

After several failures succeeded Rameau in 1733 to perform his first lyrical work, the opera Hippolyte et Aricie drama. This work is in the tradition of Jean -Baptiste Lully, but it far exceeds the previously familiar musical richness. A contemporary said, " this opera contains enough music to turn them into ten ".

The " Lullysten " found this music to modern, while on the other hand Rameau's followers who " Ramists ", they found awesome. Success was immediate. Rameau earned the highest glory and was designed by Louis XV. raised to the peerage, was appointed Cabinet composers and received a pension of 2,000 livres. Lyric tragedies, heroic works, ballets followed work after work until his death. Rameau moved very often his librettist, but found his claim thinking no one could write some of the quality of his music lyrics. At the same time he was tirelessly engaged in theoretical work and strives to enforce its principles that should form the basis of harmony later.

In the so-called Buffonistenstreit between French and Italian music direction Rameau represented the French side. For the Italian pleaded Jean- Jacques Rousseau " in his famous Lettre sur la Musique Françoise " ( the letter on the French music ). The criticism was directed particularly against Rameau. In Piccinnistenstreit a contrast between Italian and French music was again summoned and this time decided in favor of a French operatic style, stood for Christoph Willibald Gluck, who had " taken the place of Rameau ".

Oblivion and rediscovery

It has great recognition paid to him after his death as one of the great French musicians, which could not prevent his lyrical work for 140 years was forgotten. At the beginning of the 20th century, the ballet La garland was performed for the first time. Gradually, his works appear again in the repertoires of opera houses. The majority of his works, formerly thought to be unplayable, is now to be found in the repertoire of the most famous baroque ensemble. His last work Les Boréades came only in 1982 for the premiere after the samples had been canceled because of Rameau's death in 1764.


In addition to the dramatic works of the chamber music makes up a relatively small part of Rameau's works. The 50 individual records for solo harpsichord came almost all from his operas. During the first published collection ( 1706) contains a suite of nine sets, pass the other two collections (1724, 1728) consist of two suites, which are held together according to the French preference over little more than the key. In each case, the first of the two suites consisting of a mixture of dance movements, Allemande Courante and are at the beginning. The respective second is a series of character pieces (Les tourbillons = The whirlwinds or Les sauvages = The savages ) and other sets with titles (L' enharmonique ).

A very special structure have the Pièces de clavecin en concert from 1741 for harpsichord, violin and viol (alternatively, the instruments could be exchanged for a flute or a second violin). Here it is not the popular trio sonatas in which the harpsichord exposes an accompanying basso continuo, but the harpsichord part is obligatory listed, so in complete set of both hands. A model for this form were the Pièces de clavecin en sonates (1734 ) Mondo Ville. The five suites organized each with three to four sets of pieces are partly programmatic titles, partly they received subsequently the names of people such as La Pouplinière ( Rameau's patron ) or La Laborde (then his pupil ).


Instrumental works

  • Pièces de clavecin en 5 Concert ( 1741)
  • 3 livres de Pièces de clavecin (3 books Harpsichord Pieces, 1706, 1724, 1726/27 ) Les Tendres Plaintes ( 1724), among others
  • Tambourine? / I


With year and place of the first performance.

  • Hippolyte et Aricie, UA: October 1, 1733 Royal Academy of musique, Paris
  • Samson 1733 - lost music
  • Castor et Pollux in 1737 Paris
  • Dardanus 1739 Paris
  • Zoroastre 1749 Paris
  • Linus 1751 - lost music
  • Les Boréades July 21, 1982 Aix -en- Provence

Lyrical comedy

  • La Princesse de Navarre ( The Princess of Navarre ) 1745 Versailles
  • Platée 1745 Versailles
  • Le procureur sans le savoir Dupé 1758/9 Paris
  • Les Paladins 1760 Paris

Ballet opera

  • Les Indes Gallant 1735 Paris
  • Les Fêtes d' Hébé 1739 Paris
  • Les Fêtes de Polymnie 1745 Paris
  • Le Temple de la Gloire ( The Temple of Victory ) 1745 Versailles
  • Les fêtes de l' Hymen et de l' Amour Les Dieux d' Egypte or 1747 Versailles
  • Les surprises de l' Amour ( The surprises of Cupid) 1748 Versailles

Heroic works

  • Zaïs 1748 Paris
  • Naïs 1749 Paris
  • Acanthe et Céphise 1751 Paris
  • Daphnis et Eglé 1753 Fontainebleau
  • Lysis et Delie 1753 - lost music

Ballet Act

  • Pygmalion
  • La naissance d' Osiris ( The Birth of Osiris )
  • La garland
  • Anacréon ( libretto by Cahuzac )
  • Anacréon ( libretto by Gentil -Bernard )
  • Les Sybarites
  • Nelee et Myrthis
  • Io
  • Zéphyre


  • Les amants trahis ( The betrayed lover)
  • L' impatience ( Impatience )
  • Aquilon et Orithie
  • Orphée
  • Thétis
  • Le Berger Fidele ( The Good Shepherd )


  • Deus noster refugium
  • Quam dilecta
  • In convertendo
  • Laboravi

Theoretical Writings (selection )

  • Traité de l' harmonie reduite à ses principes naturels, Paris 1722
  • Nouveau système de musique théorique, Paris 1726
  • Dissertation sur les différentes méthodes d' accompagnement pour le clavecin ou pour l' orgue, Paris 1732
  • Génération harmonique, ou Traité de musique théorique et pratique, Paris 1737
  • Démonstration du principe de l' harmonie ( with D. Diderot ), Paris 1750
  • Nouvelles Reflexions sur le principe sonore 1758-1759, MS I- Bc
  • Code de musique pratique, ou Méthode pour apprendre la musique avec de nouvelles ... Reflexions sur le principe sonore ( with F. Arnaud ), Paris 1760