Musical selection of works by J.P. Rameau on the occasion of his 340th birth anniversary

Jean-Philippe Rameau was the Baroque epoch composer and music theorist. The date of his birth is unknown; hence, he was baptized on September 25, 1683 in Dijon. His father worked as a church organist and the boy received his first music lessons from his father. When he was a teenager, the boy attended a Jesuit college. He began his musical career as a violinist, performing with various itinerant troupes. Then worked as a church organist. Rameau published his first theoretical work, Treatise on Harmony, in 1722. The treatise and its author made headlines in Paris, where Rameau moved in early 1723. There, this modest and tenacious musician entered the ranks of court musicians after becoming well known for his harpsichord compositions and especially his theoretical works. Having decided to try his hand at opera only at the age of fifty, Rameau became the leading opera composer in France from 1733 onwards, while also continuing his scholarship and teaching. He was titled as the court composer in 1745, and short before his death he was ennobled. Operas and ballets by Rameau made up the entire era in the history of French musical theatre.

Rameau was very demanding of himself as a musician, believing that an opera composer should know both theatre and human nature, be well versed in dancing, singing and actors’ toggery.

Vital richness of the music by Rameau usually triumphs over the cold allegories or courtly grandeur of traditional mythological plots. The melody of the arias is emphasized by vivid expressiveness, and the orchestra emphasizes tableaus and pictures out the images of nature and battles. In his musical tragedies “Hippolyte et Aricie” (1733), “Castor and Pollux” (1737) and Dardanus (1739), Rameau paved the way for future discoveries by Christoph von Gluck that managed to restore the ancient plots their original severity and passion. The operas by Rameau embody choreographic episodes accompanied by glorious music that has a descriptive dramaturgical connotation, giving the performance bewitchment and magnetism that anticipates some actual solutions verging to Igor Stravinsky.

In music theory, Rameau explained his contemporary use of chords by a coherent system based on physical nature of sound. Between 1726 and 1762, Rameau published 15 books and articles, in which he laid out his views and was tenacious of his opinions in polemics with his opponents, headed by Rousseau. The French Academy of Sciences rated highly the theoretical works by Rameau.

Today, it is not theoretical investigation by Rameau that is important, hence his music. The return of music by Rameau to concert halls and opera houses started in the 20th century, primarily due to the efforts of French musicians. The legacy of Rameau includes several dozen books and a number of articles on music and acoustic theory; four volumes of clavier works, several motets and solo cantatas; 29 stage compositions -- operas, opera-ballets and pastorals.

The works by Rameau can be seen and heard on the stages of French and foreign theatres. Most of them are available in musical records. Musical selection of the peices by the French Baroque composer is posted in the museum Sound Library.

One of them -- “The tambourine” is a renowned musical piece by Jean-Philippe Rameau. A tambourine is an ancient cylindrical-shaped music drum, as well as a duple meter dance and music to it. The second composition "Gavotte and Variations” is the acknowledged masterpiece as well. In this work, the refined dancing theme gradually takes on the harshness and austerity of sound inherent in anthem. Music by Rameau is gorgeous for its exquisiteness, delicate melodism and inherent to the French school dancing, which in this case has been elevated to unprecedented heights.