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Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau (French: [ʒɑ̃filip ʁamo]; 25 September 1683 – 12 September 1764)

was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the 18th century. [1]

He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera and is also

Jean-Philippe Rameau, by Jacques Aved, 1728
Jean-Philippe Rameau, by
Jacques Aved, 1728

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) and also in the following years

as a composer of masterpieces for the harpsichord, which circulated throughout Europe. He

was almost 50 before he embarked on the operatic career on which his reputation chiefly rests

today. His debut, Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), caused a great stir and was fiercely attacked by

the supporters of Lully's style of music for its revolutionary use of harmony. 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 hismusic ever more frequent.



Early years, 1683–1732 Later years, 1733–1764 Rameau's personality

Music General character of Rameau's music Rameau's musical works Motets Cantatas Instrumental music Opera Rameau and his librettists

Reputation and influence

Theoretical works Treatise on Harmony, 1722

List of works Instrumental works Motets Canons Songs Cantatas Operas and stage works Tragédies en musique Opéra-ballets Pastorales héroïques Comédies lyriques

Comédie-ballet Actes de ballet Lost works Incidental music foropéras comiques


See also


External links


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, [3] which explains the scarcity of biographical information


Early years, 1683–1732

Rameau's early years are particularly obscure. He was born on 25 September 1683 in

Dijon, 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

whom 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. [5]

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. [6] 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 friendLouis Marchand. [7]

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-Ferrand. During this period, he composed

motets for church performance as well as secularcantatas.

The Cathedral of Saint-Bénigne, Dijon
The Cathedral of Saint-Bénigne,

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. [8] In

1724 and 1729 (or 1730), he also published two more collections of harpsichord pieces. [9]

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. [10]

On 25 February 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. [11]

In spite of his fame as a music theorist, Rameau had trouble finding a post as an organist in Paris. [12]

Later years, 1733–1764

Bust of Rameau by Caffieri, 1760
Bust of Rameau by Caffieri, 1760

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 Antoine 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 1 October 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. [13]

Just before this time, Rameau had made the acquaintance of the powerful financier Alexandre Le Riche de La Poupelinière, who became his patron until 1753. La Poupelinière'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 Poupelinière'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. [14] La Poupelinière's salon enabled Rameau to meet some of the leading cultural figures of the day, including Voltaire, who soon began collaborating with the composer. [15] 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. [16] 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 anotheropéra-ballet, Les fêtes d'Hébé(also 1739). All these operas of the 1730s are among Rameau's most highly regarded works. [17] 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. [18]

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 theBattle of Fontenoyand the marriage of theDauphin 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. [19] They gained Rameau official recognition; he was granted the title "Compositeur du Cabinet du Roi" and given a substantial pension. [20] 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 Bouffonsof 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. [22] 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. [23] As a result, Rameau became a character in Diderot's then-unpublished dialogue, Le neveu de Rameau(Rameau's Nephew).

In 1753, La Poupelinière 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 Poupelinière 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 Poupelinière'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 earnothing but imagination." [24]

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. [25] Rameau died on 12 September 1764 after suffering from a fever, thirteen days before his 81st

birthday. At his bedside, he objected to a song sung. His last words were, "What the devil do you mean to sing to me, priest? You are

out of tune." [26] He was buried in the church of St. Eustache, Paris on the same day of his death. [27] Although a bronze bust and red

marble tombstone were erected in his memory there by the Société de la Compositeurs de Musique in 1883, the exact site of his

burial remains unknown to this day.

Rameau's personality

While the details of his biography are vague and fragmentary, the details of Rameau's personal

and family life are almost completely obscure. Rameau's music, so graceful and attractive,

completely contradicts the man's public image and what we know of his character as described

(or perhaps unfairly caricatured) by Diderot in his satirical novel Le Neveu de Rameau.

Throughout his life, music was his consuming passion. It occupied his entire thinking;

Philippe Beaussant calls him a monomaniac. Piron explained that "His heart and soul were in

his harpsichord; once he had shut its lid, there was no one home." [28] Physically, Rameau was

tall and exceptionally thin, [29] as can be seen by the sketches we have of him, including a

famous portrait by Carmontelle. He had a "loud voice." His speech was difficult to

understand, just like his handwriting, which was never fluent. As a man, he was secretive,

solitary, irritable, proud of his own achievements (more as a theorist than as a composer),

brusque with those who contradicted him, and quick to anger. It is difficult to imagine him

among the leading wits, including Voltaire (to whom he bears more than a passing physical

resemblance [29] ), who frequented La Poupelinière's salon; his music was his passport, and it

made up for his lack of social graces.

Portrait of Rameau by Carmontelle, 1760
Portrait of Rameau by
Carmontelle, 1760

His enemies exaggerated his faults; e.g. his supposed miserliness. In fact, it seems that his

thriftiness was the result of long years spent in obscurity (when his income was uncertain and scanty) rather than part of his character,

because he could also be generous. We know that he helped his nephew Jean-François when he came to Paris and also helped

establish the career of Claude-Bénigne Balbastre in the capital. Furthermore, he gave his daughter Marie-Louise a considerable

dowry when she became a Visitandine nun in 1750, and he paid a pension to one of his sisters when she became ill. Financial security

came late to him, following the success of his stage works and the grant of a royal pension (a few months before his death, he was

also ennobled and made a knight of the Ordre de Saint-Michel). But he did not change his way of life, keeping his worn-out clothes,

his single pair of shoes, and his old furniture. After his death, it was discovered that he only possessed one dilapidated single-

keyboard harpsichord [30] in his rooms in Rue des Bons-Enfants, yet he also had a bag containing 1691 goldlouis. [31]


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.

0:00 I. Allemande (3:54) 0:00 Performed in 1953 by Marcelle Meyer Problems playing these files?
I. Allemande (3:54)
Performed in 1953 by Marcelle
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Rameau's musical works

Rameau's musical works may be divided into four distinct groups, [32] 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. [33]


For at least 26 years, Rameau was a professional organist in the service of religious institutions, and yet the body of sacred music he composed is exceptionally small and his organ works nonexistent. Judging by the evidence, it was not his favourite field, but rather, simply a way of making reasonable money. Rameau's few religious compositions are nevertheless remarkable and compare favourably to the works of specialists in the area. Only four motets have been attributed to Rameau with any certainty: Deus noster refugium, In convertendo, Quam dilecta, and Laboravi. [34]


The cantata was a highly successful genre in the early 18th century. The French cantata, which should not be confused with the Italian or the German cantata, was "invented" in 1706 by the poet Jean-Baptiste Rousseau [35] and soon taken up by many famous composers of the day, such as Montéclair, Campra, and Clérambault. Cantatas were Rameau's first contact with dramatic music. The modest forces the cantata required meant it was a genre within the reach of a composer who was still unknown. Musicologists can only guess at the dates of Rameau's six surviving cantatas, and the names of the librettists are unknown. [36][37]

Instrumental music

Along with François Couperin, Rameau is one of the two masters of the French school of harpsichord music in the 18th century. Both composers made a decisive break with the style of the first generation of harpsichordists, who confined their compositions to the relatively fixed mould of the classical suite. This reached its apogee in the first decade of the 18th century with successive collections of pieces by Louis Marchand, Gaspard Le Roux, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Jean-François Dandrieu, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Charles Dieupart, and Nicolas Siret.

Rameau and Couperin have different styles. They seem not to have known one another (Couperin was one of the official court

musicians while Rameau was still an unknown; fame would only come to him after Couperin's death). Rameau published his first

book of harpsichord pieces in 1706 while Couperin (who was fifteen years his senior) waited until 1713 before publishing his first

"ordres." Rameau's music includes pieces in the pure tradition of the French suite: imitative ("Le rappel des oiseaux," "La poule") an

character ("Les tendres plaintes", "L'entretien des Muses") pieces and works of pure virtuosity that resemble Scarlatti ("Les

tourbillons," "Les trois mains") as well as pieces that reveal the experiments of a theorist and musical innovator ("L'Enharmonique",

"Les Cyclopes"), which had a marked influence onDaquin, Royer, and Jacques Duphly. The suites are grouped in the traditional way,

by key.

Rameau's three collections appeared in 1706, 1724 and 1726 or 1727, respectively. After this, he only composed a single piece for the

harpsichord: "La Dauphine" (1747). Other works, such as "Les petits marteaux," have been doubtfully attributed to him.

During his semiretirement in the years 1740 to 1744, he wrote the Pièces de clavecin en concert (1741), which some musicologists

consider the pinnacle of French Baroque chamber music. Adopting a formula successfully employed by Mondonville a few years

earlier, these pieces differ from trio sonatas in that the harpsichord is not simply there as basso continuo to accompany other

instruments (the violin, flute or viol) playing the melody but has an equal part in the "concert" with them. Rameau also claimed that

the pieces would be equally satisfying as solo harpsichord works—althoughthis statement is far from convincing, since the composer

took the trouble to transcribe five of them himself—those where the lack of other instruments would show the least. [38][39]


From 1733, Rameau dedicated himself almost exclusively to opera. On a strictly musical level, 18th-century French Baroque opera is

richer and more varied than contemporary Italian opera, especially in the place given to choruses and dances but also in the musical

continuity that arises from the respective relationships between the arias and the recitatives. Another essential difference: whereas

Italian opera gave a starring role to female sopranos andcastrati, French opera had no use for the latter. The Italian opera of Rameau's

day (opera seria, opera buffa) was essentially divided into musical sections (da capo arias, duets, trios, etc.) and sections that were

spoken or almost spoken (recitativo secco). It was during the latter that the action progressed while the audience waited for the next

aria; on the other hand, the text of the arias was almost entirely buried beneath music whose chief aim was to show off the virtuosity

of the singer. Nothing of the kind is to be found in French opera of the day; since Lully, the text had to remain comprehensible—

limiting certain techniques such as the vocalise, which was reserved for special words such as gloire ("glory") or victoire ("victory").

A subtle equilibrium existed between the more and the less musical parts: melodic recitative on the one hand and arias that were ofte

closer to arioso on the other, alongside virtuoso "ariettes" in the Italian style. This form of continuous music prefigures Wagnerian

drama even more than does the "reform" opera ofGluck.

Five essential components may be discerned in Rameau's operatic scores:

Pieces of "pure" music (overtures,ritornelli , music which closes scenes). Unlike the highly stereotyped Lullian overture, Rameau's overtures show ritornelli, music which closes scenes). Unlike the highly stereotyped Lullian overture, Rameau's overtures show an extraordinary variety. Even in his earliest works, where he uses thestandard French model, Rameau—the born symphonist and master of orchestration—composes novel and unique pieces. A few pieces are particularly striking, such as the overture toZaïs, depicting the chaos before the creation of the universe, that of Pigmalion, suggesting the sculptor's chipping away at the statue with his mallet, or many more conventional depictions of storms and earthquakes, as well perhaps as the imposing finalchaconnes of Les Indes galantes or Dardanus.

Dance music: the danced interludes, which were obligatory even intragédie en musique, allowed Rameau to give free rein to his inimitable sense of rhythm, tragédie en musique,allowed Rameau to give free rein to his inimitable sense of rhythm, melody, and choreography, acknowledged by all his contemporaries, including the dancers themselves. [40] This "learned" composer, forever preoccupied by his next theoretical work, also was one who strung togethergavottes, minuets, loures, rigaudons, passepieds, tambourins, and musettes by the dozen. According to his biographer, Cuthbert Girdlestone, "The immense superiority of all that pertains to Rameau in choreography still needs emphasizing," and the German scholar H.W. von Walthershausen affirmed:

Rameau was the greatest ballet composer of all times. The genius of his creation rests on one hand on his perfect

artistic permeation by folk-dance types, on the other hand on the constant preservation of living contact with the

practical requirements of the ballet stage, which prevented an estrangement between the expression of the body from

the spirit of absolute music. [41]

Choruses: Padre Martini , the erudite musicologist who corresponded with Rameau, affirmed that "the French are Padre Martini, the erudite musicologist who corresponded with Rameau, affirmed that "the French are excellent at choruses," obviously thinking of Rameau himself. A great master of harmony, Rameau knew how to compose sumptuous choruses—whethermonodic, polyphonic, or interspersed with passages for solo singers or the orchestra—and whatever feelings needed to be expressed.

Arias: less frequent than in Italian opera, Rameau nevertheless offers many striking examples. Particularly admired arias include Télaïre's "Tristes apprêts," fromCastor et Pollux ; "Ô jour affreux" and "Lieux funestes," from Dardanus ; Huascar's invocations Castor et Pollux; "Ô jour affreux" and "Lieux funestes," fromDardanus; Huascar's invocations inLes Indes galantes; and the final ariette inPigmalion. In Platée we encounter a showstopping ars poetica aria for the character of La Folie (the madness), "Formons les plus brillants concerts / Aux langeurs d'Apollon".

Recitative: much closer to arioso than torecitativo secco . The composer took scrupulous care to observe French prosody and used his recitativo secco. The composer took scrupulous care to observe French prosody and used his harmonic knowledge to give expression to his protagonists' feelings.

During the first part of his operatic career (1733–1739), Rameau wrote his great masterpieces destined for the Académie royale de

musique: three tragédies en musique and two opéra-ballets that still form the core of his repertoire. After the interval of 1740 to

1744, he became the official court musician, and for the most part, composed pieces intended to entertain, with plenty of dance music

emphasising sensuality and an idealised pastoral atmosphere. In his last years, Rameau returned to a renewed version of his early

style in Les Paladins and Les Boréades.

His Zoroastre was first performed in 1749. According to one of Rameau's admirers, Cuthbert Girdlestone, this opera has a distinctive

place in his works: "The profane passions of hatred and jealousy are rendered more intensely [than in his other works] and with a

strong sense of reality."

Rameau and his librettists

Unlike Lully, who collaborated with Philippe Quinaulton almost all his operas, Rameau rarely worked with the same librettist twice.

He was highly demanding and bad-tempered, unable to maintain longstanding partnerships with his librettists, with the exception of

Louis de Cahusac, who collaborated with him on several operas, including Les fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour (1747), Zaïs (1748),

Naïs (1749), Zoroastre (1749; revised 1756), La naissance d'Osiris(1754), and Anacréon (the first of Rameau's operas by that name,

1754). He is also credited with writing the libretto of Rameau's final work,Les Boréades (c. 1763).

Many Rameau specialists have regretted that the collaboration with Houdar de la Mottenever took place, and that the Samson project

with Voltaire came to nothing because the librettists Rameau did work with were second-rate. He made his acquaintance of most of

them at La Poupelinière's salon, at the Société du Caveau, or at the house of the Comte de Livry, all meeting places for leading

cultural figures of the day.

Not one of his librettists managed to produce a libretto on the same artistic level as Rameau's music: the plots were often overly

complex or unconvincing. But this was standard for the genre, and is probably part of its charm. The versification, too, was mediocre,

and Rameau often had to have the libretto modified and rewrite the music after the premiere because of the ensuing criticism. This is

why we have two versions ofCastor et Pollux(1737 and 1754) and three ofDardanus (1739, 1744, and 1760).

Reputation and influence

By the end of his life, Rameau's music had come under attack in France from theorists who favoured Italian models. However,

foreign composers working in the Italian tradition were increasingly looking towards Rameau as a way of reforming their own

leading operatic genre, opera seria. Tommaso Traetta produced two operas setting translations of Rameau libretti that show the

French composer's influence,Ippolito ed Aricia(1759) and I Tintaridi (based on Castor et Pollux, 1760). [42] Traetta had been advised

by Count Francesco Algarotti, a leading proponent of reform according to French models; Algarotti was a major influence on the

Castor et Polluxopen with the funeral of one of the leading characters who later comes back to life. [43] Many of the operatic reforms

advocated in the preface to Gluck's Alceste were already present in Rameau's works. Rameau had used accompanied recitatives, and

the overtures in his later operas reflected the action to come, [44] so when Gluck arrived in Paris in 1774 to produce a series of six

For most of the 19th century, Rameau's music remained unplayed, known only by reputation. Hector Berlioz investigated Castor et

Pollux and particularly admired the aria "Tristes apprêts," but "whereas the modern listener readily perceives the common ground

1870–71 was the grand occasion for digging up great heroes from the French past. Rameau, like so many others, was flung into the

[47] In 1894, composerVincent d'Indy founded the

enemy's face to bolster our courage and our faith in the national destiny of France."

Schola Cantorum to promote French national music; the society put on several revivals of works by Rameau. Among the audience

was Claude Debussy, who especially cherished Castor et Pollux, revived in 1903: "Gluck's genius was deeply rooted in Rameau's


Rameau petered out again, and it was not until the late 20th century that a serious effort was made to revive his works. Over half of


a detailed comparison allows us to affirm that Gluck could replace Rameau on the French stage only by assimilating the

Theoretical works

Treatise on Harmony, 1722

Rameau's 1722 Treatise on Harmony initiated a revolution in music theory. [48]

Rameau posited the discovery of the "fundamental law" or what he referred to as the

"fundamental bass" of all Western music. Heavily influenced by new Cartesian

modes of thought and analysis, Rameau's methodology incorporated mathematics,

commentary, analysis and a didacticism that was specifically intended to illuminate,

scientifically, the structure and principles of music. With careful deductive

reasoning, he attempted to derive universal harmonic principles from natural

causes. [49] Previous treatises on harmony had been purely practical; Rameau

embraced the new philosophical rationalism, [50] quickly rising to prominence in

France as the "Isaac Newton of Music." [51]

throughout all Europe, and his Treatise became the definitive authority on music

theory, forming the foundation for instruction in western music that persists to this


His fame subsequently spread

List of works

Title page of the Treatise on Harmony
Title page of the Treatise on

RCT numbering refers to Rameau Catalogue Thématique established

by Sylvie Bouissou and Denis Herlin. [52]

Instrumental works

Bouissou and Denis Herlin. [ 5 2 ] Instrumental works Pièces de clavecin . Trois livres.

Pièces de clavecin. Trois livres. "Pieces for harpsichord", 3

books, published 1706, 1724, 1726/27(?).

3 books, published 1706, 1724, 1726/27(?) . Tambourin RCT 1 – Premier livre de Clavecin (1706)

RCT 1 – Premier livre de Clavecin (1706) Premier livre de Clavecin(1706)

RCT 2 – Pièces de clavecin (1724) – Suite in E minor Pièces de clavecin(1724) – Suite in E minor

RCT 3 – Pièces de clavecin (1724) – Suite in D major Pièces de clavecin(1724) – Suite in D major

RCT 4 – Pièces de clavecin (1724) – Menuet in C major Pièces de clavecin(1724) – Menuet in C major

RCT 5 – Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (1726/27) – Suite in A minor Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (1726/27) – Suite in A minor

RCT 6 – Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (1726/27) – Suite in G Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin (1726/27) – Suite in G

Pieces de Clavecin en Concerts Five albums of character pieces for harpsichord, violin and viol. Pieces de Clavecin en ConcertsFive albums of character pieces for harpsichord, violin and viol. (1741) RCT 7 – Concert I in C minor

violin and viol. (1741) RCT 7 – Concert I in C minor RCT 8 – Concert
RCT 8 – Concert II in G major

RCT 8 – Concert II in G major

RCT 8 – Concert II in G major
RCT 8 – Concert II in G major
RCT 8 – Concert II in G major

RCT 9 – Concert III in A major

RCT 10 – Concert IV in B flat major

RCT 11 – Concert V in D minor

RCT 12 – La Dauphine for harpsichord. (1747) La Dauphine for harpsichord. (1747)

RCT 12bis – Les petits marteaux for harpsichord. Les petits marteauxfor harpsichord.

Several orchestral dance suites extracted from his operas.(1747) RCT 12bis – Les petits marteaux for harpsichord. Motets RCT 13 – Deus noster refugium


RCT 13 – Deus noster refugium (c. 1713–1715) Deus noster refugium(c. 1713–1715)

RCT 14 – In convertendo (probably before 1720, rev. 1751) In convertendo (probably before 1720, rev. 1751)

RCT 15 – Quam dilecta (c. 1713–1715) Quam dilecta (c. 1713–1715)

RCT 16 – Laboravi (published in the Traité de l'harmonie , Laboravi (published in theTraité de l'harmonie,



RCT 17 – Ah! loin de rire, pleurons (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) (pub. 1722) Ah! loin de rire, pleurons(soprano, alto, tenor, bass) (pub. 1722)

RCT 18 – Avec du vin, endormons-nous (2 sopranos, Tenor) (1719) Avec du vin, endormons-nous(2 sopranos, Tenor) (1719)

RCT 18bis – L'épouse entre deux draps (3 sopranos) (formerly attributed to François Couperin ) L'épouse entre deux draps(3 sopranos) (formerly attributed toFrançois Couperin)

RCT 18ter – Je suis un fou Madame (3 voix égales ) Je suis un fou Madame(3 voix égales)



RCT 21.1 – L'amante préoccupée or A l'objet que j'adore (soprano, continuo ) (1763) L'amante préoccupéeor A l'objet que j'adore (soprano, continuo) (1763)

RCT 21.2 – Lucas, pour se gausser de nous (soprano, bass, continuo ) (pub. 1707) Lucas, pour se gausser de nous(soprano, bass, continuo) (pub. 1707)


RCT 23 – Aquilon et Orithie (between 1715 and 1720) [ 5 3 ] Aquilon et Orithie(between 1715 and 1720) [53]

RCT 28 – Thétis (same period) Thétis (same period)

RCT 26 – L’impatience (same period) L’impatience (same period)

Operas and stage works

Tragédies en musique

RCT 43 – Hippolyte et Aricie (1733; revised 1742 and Hippolyte et Aricie(1733; revised 1742 and


RCT 32 – Castor et Pollux (1737; revised 1754) Castor et Pollux (1737; revised 1754)

RCT 35 – Dardanus (1739; revised 1744 and 1760), score Dardanus (1739; revised 1744 and 1760), score

RCT 19 – Mes chers amis, quittez vos rouges bords (3 sopranos, 3 basses) (pub. 1780) Mes chers amis, quittez vos rouges bords(3 sopranos, 3 basses) (pub. 1780)

RCT 20 – Réveillez-vous, dormeur sans fin (5 voix égales ) (pub. 1722) Réveillez-vous, dormeur sans fin(5 voix égales) (pub. 1722)

RCT 20bis – Si tu ne prends garde à toi (2 sopranos, bass) (1720) Si tu ne prends garde à toi(2 sopranos, bass) (1720)

RCT 21.3 – Non, non, le dieu qui sait aimer(soprano, continuo) (1763) RCT 21.4 – 21.3 – Non, non, le dieu qui sait aimer (soprano, continuo Un Bourbon ouvre sa carrière Un Bourbon ouvre sa carrièreor Un héros ouvre sa carrière(alto, continuo) (1751, air belonging to Acante et Céphisebut censored before its first performance and never reintroduced in the work).

RCT 22 – Les amants trahis(around 1720) RCT 27 – RCT 22 – Les amants trahis Orphée (same period) RCT 24 – Le berger fidèle (1728) Orphée (same period) RCT 24 – Le berger fidèle (1728) RCT 25 – Cantate pour le jour de la Saint Louis(1740)

RCT 62 – Zoroastre (1749; revised 1756, with new music for Acts II, III & V) RCT 31 – RCT 62 – Zoroastre Les Boréades or Abaris (unperformed; in rehearsal 1763) Les Boréades or Abaris (unperformed; in rehearsal 1763)


RCT 44 – Les Indes galantes (1735; revised 1736) Les Indes galantes(1735; revised 1736)

RCT 41 – Les fêtes d'Hébé or les Talens Lyriques Les fêtes d'Hébéor les Talens Lyriques


RCT 39 – Les fêtes de Polymnie (1745) Les fêtes de Polymnie(1745)

Pastorales héroïques

RCT 60 – Zaïs (1748) Zaïs (1748)

RCT 49 – Naïs (1749) Naïs (1749)

Comédies lyriques

RCT 53 – Platée or Junon jalouse (1745), score Platée or Junon jalouse (1745), score


RCT 54 – La princesse de Navarre (1744) La princesse de Navarre(1744)

Actes de ballet

RCT 33 – Les courses de Tempé (1734) Les courses de Tempé (1734)

RCT 40 – Les fêtes de Ramire (1745) Les fêtes de Ramire(1745)

RCT 52 – Pigmalion (1748) Pigmalion (1748)

RCT 42 – La guirlande or Les fleurs enchantées La guirlande or Les fleurs enchantées


RCT 57 – Les sibarites or Sibaris (1753) Les sibarites or Sibaris (1753)

RCT 48 – La naissance d'Osiris or La Fête Pamilie La naissance d'Osirisor La Fête Pamilie


Lost works

RCT 56 – Samson ( tragédie en musique ) (first version written 1733–1734; second version 1736; neither were Samson (tragédie en musique) (first version written 1733–1734; second version 1736; neither were ever staged )

Incidental music foropéras comiques

Music mostly lost.

RCT 36 – L'endriague (in 3 acts, 1723) L'endriague (in 3 acts, 1723)

RCT 37 – L'enrôlement d'Arlequin (in 1 act, 1726) L'enrôlement d'Arlequin(in 1 act, 1726)


Nouveau système de musique théorique(Paris, 1726) (Paris, 1726)

Dissertation sur les différents méthodes d'accompagnement pour le clavecin, ou pour l'orgue (Paris, 1732) (Paris, 1732)

Génération harmonique, ou Traité de musique théorique et pratique(Paris, 1737) (Paris, 1737)

ou Traité de musique théorique et pratique (Paris, 1737) RCT 59 – Le temple de la

RCT 59 – Le temple de la gloire(1745; revised 1746) RCT 38 – Les fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amouror Les Dieux d'Egypte (1747) RCT 58 – Les surprises de l'Amour(1748; revised


RCT 29 – Acante et Céphise or La sympathie (1751) RCT 34 – Daphnis et Eglé (1753) Acante et Céphiseor La sympathie (1751) RCT 34 – Daphnis et Eglé (1753)

RCT 51 – Les Paladins or Le Vénitien (1760) Les Paladins or Le Vénitien (1760)

RCT 30 – Anacréon (1754) Anacréon (1754)

RCT 58 – Anacréon (completely different work from the above, 1757, 3rd Entrée of Les surprises de l'Amour Anacréon (completely different work from the above, 1757, 3rdEntrée of Les surprises de l'Amour)

RCT 61 – Zéphire (date unknown) Zéphire (date unknown)

RCT 50 – Nélée et Myrthis (date unknown) Nélée et Myrthis (date unknown)

RCT 45 – Io (unfinished, date unknown) Io (unfinished, date unknown)

RCT 46 – Linus (tragédie en musique) (1751, score stolen after a rehearsal) RCT 47 – RCT 46 – Linus ( tragédie en musique Lisis et Délie ( pastorale ) (scheduled on Lisis et Délie (pastorale) (scheduled on November 6, 1753)

RCT 55 – La robe de dissensionor Le faux prodige (in 2 acts, 1726) RCT 55bis – RCT 55 – La robe de dissension or Le faux prodige La rose or Les jardins La rose or Les jardins de l'Hymen(in a prologue and 1 act, 1744)

Mémoire où l'on expose les fondemens du Système de musique théorique et pratique de M. RameauLes jardins de l'Hymen (in a prologue and 1 act, 1744) (1749) Démonstration du principe de


Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie(Paris, 1750) (Paris, 1750)

Nouvelles réflexions de M. Rameau sur sa 'Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie'(Paris, (Paris,


Observations sur notre instinct pour la musique(Paris, (Paris,


Erreurs sur la musique dans l'Encyclopédie(Paris, (Paris,


Suite des erreurs sur la musique dans l'Encyclopédie (Paris, 1756) (Paris, 1756)

Reponse de M. Rameau à MM. les editeurs de l'Encyclopédie sur leur dernier Avertissement (Paris, (Paris,


Nouvelles réflexions sur le principe sonore(1758–9) (1758–9)

See also

Code de musique pratique, ou Méthodes pourréflexions sur le principe sonore (1758–9) See also apprendre la musique sur le principe sonore (Paris,

apprendre la musique

sur le principe sonore(Paris, 1760)


des nouvelles réflexions

Lettre à M. Alembert sur ses opinions en musique (Paris, 1760) (Paris, 1760)

Origine des sciences, suivie d'un controverse sur le même sujet (Paris, 1762) (Paris, 1762)




New Grove p. 243: "A theorist of European stature, he was also France's leading 18th-century composer."


Girdlestone p. 14: "It is customary to couple him with Couperin as one couples Haydn with Mozart or Ravel with Debussy."


Beaussant p. 21


Date of birth given by Chabanon in hisÉloge de M. Rameau(1764)


New Grove pp. 207–08


Girdlestone p. 3


Norbert Dufourcq, Le clavecin, p. 87


Girdlestone p. 7


New Grove


New Grove p. 215


Girdlestone p. 8


New Grove p. 217


New Grove p. 219


Girdlestone, p. 475


New Grove pp. 221–23


New Grove p. 220


New Grove p. 256


Beaussant p. 18


New Grove pp. 228–30


Girdlestone p. 483


New Grove p. 232


Viking p. 830


New Grove pp. 236–38


Quoted in Beaussant p. 19


Viking p. 846


Lockyer, Herbert (2000).Last Words of Saints and Sinners. p. 118.


New Grove p. 240


Malignon p. 16


Girdlestone p. 513


Compare the inventories of François Couperin (one large harpsichord, three spinets and a portable organ) and Loui Marchand (three harpsichords and three spinets) after their deaths.


Girdlestone p. 508

32. Apart from the pieces written for the Paris fairs, which haven't survived

33. Beaussant pp. 340–43

34. New Grove pp. 246–47

35. Girdlestone p. 55

36. New Grove pp. 243–44

37. Girdlestone pp. 63–71

38. Girdlestone pp. 14–52

39. New Grove pp. 247–55

40. According to the ballet master Gardel: "He divined what the dancers themselves did not know. We look upon him rightly as our first master." Quoted by Girdlestone, p. 563.

41. Girdlestone p. 563

42. Viking pp. 1110–11

43. Girdlestone pp. 201–02

44. Girdlestone p. 554

45. New Grove p. 277

46. Hugh MacdonaldThe Master Musicians: Berlioz(1982) p. 184

47. Quoted by Graham Sadler in "Vincent d'Indy and the RameauOeuvres complètes: a case of forgery?",Early Music, August 1993, p. 418

48. Christensen, Thomas (2002).The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. Cambridge University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0-521-62371-5.

49. New Grove p. 278

50. Girdlestone p. 520

51. Christensen, Thomas (2002).The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. Cambridge University Press. p. 759. ISBN 0-521-62371-5.

52. Bouissou,S. and Herlin, D.,Jean-Philippe Rameau : Catalogue thématique des œuvres musicales (T. 1, Musique instrumentale. Musique vocale religieuse et profane), CNRS Édition et Éditions de la BnF, Paris 2007

53. All dates from Beaussant p. 83


Beaussant, Philippe,Rameau de A à Z (Fayard, 1983) Rameau de A à Z(Fayard, 1983)

Gibbons, William.Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-siècle Paris (University of Rochester Press, 2013) Building the Operatic Museum: Eighteenth-Century Opera in Fin-de-siècle Paris(University of Rochester Press, 2013)

Girdlestone, Cuthbert,Jean-Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work (Dover paperback edition, 1969) Jean-Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work(Dover paperback edition, 1969)

Holden, Amanda , (Ed) The Viking Opera Guide (Viking, 1993) Holden, Amanda, (Ed) The Viking Opera Guide(Viking, 1993)

Sadler, Graham, (Ed.), The New Grove French Baroque Masters (Grove/Macmillan, 1988) The New Grove French Baroque Masters(Grove/Macmillan, 1988)

Trowbridge, Simon,Rameau (EdAC, 2016) Rameau (EdAC, 2016)

F. Annunziata, Una Tragédie Lyrique nel Secolo dei Lumi. Abaris ou Les Boréades di Jean Philippe Rameau,1988) Trowbridge, Simon, Rameau (EdAC, 2016) External links Works

External links

Rameau, External links Works written by or about Jean-Philippe Rameau at

Works written by or aboutJean-Philippe Rameauat Wikisource

(en) Gavotte with Doubles Hypermedia by Jeff Hall & Tim Smith at the BinAural Collaborative Hypertex Gavotte with DoublesHypermedia by Jeff Hall & Tim Smith at the BinAural Collaborative Hypertext– Shockwave Player required – ("Gavotte with Doubles" link NG)

(en) Rameau – Le Site – Le Site

(fr) Biography, List of Works, bibliography, discography, theoretical writings, in French Biography, List of Works, bibliography, discography, theoretical writings, in French

Magnatune Les Cyclopes by Rameau in on-line mp3 format (played b y Trevor Pinnock ) Magnatune Les Cyclopes by Rameau in on-line mp3 format (played byTrevor Pinnock)