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ClassicsOnline Home » RAMEAU: Harpsichord Music, Vol. 2
By E D Klemke
"Gilbert Rowland is one of the best performaners of Rameau's works that I have encountered ... this recording - one of the best that I have heard of harpsichord music by a French composer."
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764)
Harpsichord Works - Vol. 2
Jean-Philippe Rameau was born in Dijon in 1683, the seventh of the eleven children of an organist. His musical gifts led him to decide on a career as a musician and a brief visit to Milan was followed by appointment in 1702 as temporary organist at the cathedral in Avignon, whence he moved very soon in the same year to Clermont as cathedral organist. By 1706 he was in Paris, where he published his first book of pieces for harpsichord and was apparently employed as organist by the Jesuits and the Mercedarians. The year 1709 found Rameau back in Dijon, where he succeeded his father as organist at Notre Dame, an appointment he shared with another organist. In 1713 he was in Lyons and two years later seems to have resumed his duties at Clermont, with a contract for twenty-nine years. The limited possibilities in Clermont and his desire to publish in Paris his important Traité de l'Harmonie led him to seek release from his contract and when this was not granted to play such discords with such unpleasant registration that the cathedral chapter agreed to his departure.
In Paris the Traité de l'Harmonie was followed in 1726 by the Nouveau système de Musique théorique, pour servir d'introduction au Traité de l'Harmonie, the foundation of a system of harmony based on acoustic theory that broadly remains the accepted conventional system still in use. Rameau's reputation as a theorist was established. His earlier years in Paris, at least unti11738, brought continued activity as an organist, but it was to opera that he had turned his thoughts. It was his meeting with Le Riche de la Pouplinière, a man whose great wealth had been derived from his position as a fermier-général, a tax-farmer, that brought acquaintance with the poet-priest, the Abbé Pelletrin, who provided a libretto for Rameau's first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie , à tragédie en musique, which was first performed privately at La Pouplinière's and then, in October 1733, at the Opéra. La Pouplinière's patronage was of the greatest importance to Rameau, who for a time occupied quarters in his household and directed his orchestra, supported in particular by La Pouplinière's wife Thérèse Deshayes. In the following years Rameau wrote some twenty operas, in addition to a series of writings on the theory of music, retaining his reputation as a theorist, while winning renown as a theatre composer, remarkably enough, after the age of fifty. There was a later breach with La Pouplinière, in 1753, but by this time Rameau had pensions from the King and from the Queen, so that his final years were not spent in discomfort, in spite of apparent parsimony. His last opera, Les Paladins, was staged at the Opéra in 1760, but failed to please. Rameau believed that the public had not understood the work, remarking that the pear was not yet ripe, to which a wag remarked, that that had not prevented it falling. He was, however, still held in the highest esteem as a musician, being exempted in 1761 from tax. He died in 1764, summoning the strength to rebuke the priest who attended him on his death-bed for singing out of tune. He was mourned as de la musique le flambeau, the torch of music, and le créateur de l'harmonie, the creator of harmony.
Rameau's third collection of keyboard pieces, the Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin was published in Paris in 1728. As with the second collection, dance movements appear, as well as character-pieces. Once again they are grouped according to key, with a first set in A minor/A major and a second in G major/G minor. The former opens with the traditional dances of Allemande, Courante and Sarabande, the first two in A minor and the last in A major. Les Trois Mains, The Three Hands, only seems to be in three parts, with what is, in fact, a two-part texture. Fanfarinette, a girl's nickname, leads to La Triomphante, The Triumphant Girl, and a final group that consists of a Gavotte and six short variation doubles.
The second group of pieces starts with a quick G major dance, Les Tricotets, that takes its name from the speed of the feet, as fast as the stitches of a knitter. The G minor L'lndifferente, a character-title, leads to a pair of Menuets, respectively in G major and G minor. La Poule, The Hen, imitates the sound of the bird, printed below the opening repeated notes as "co co co co co co co dai. Les Triolets refers in its title to a traditional verse form now revived in which the first line recurs after each triolet or group of three lines, a device echoed in the music. Les Sauvages, The Savages, was suggested by the dancing of two American Indians from Louisiana who had performed at the Fair. In G minor and marked gracieusement, L'Enharmonique takes its name from the enharmonic change in the second half, where sharp notes are translated into their equivalent in flats, a transformation on which, Rameau suggested, the player should linger. The collection ends with L'Egyptienne, a gypsy girl dancing.
The Piéces de Clavecin en Concert, published in 1741, provided parts for violin, flute and cello as well as harpsichord. Five of these were arranged by Rameau for solo harpsichord, starting with La Livri, a tribute to the Comte de Livry, a courtier and patron. L'Agacante, The Irritating, La Timide, with its two rondeaux and L'Indiscrete are character-pieces. La Dauphine, a late example of music written originally by Rameau for the harpsichord, celebrates the marriage of the Dauphin to Maria-Josepha of Saxony in 1747 and was not published in the composer's life-time.
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RAMEAU: Harpsichord Music, Vol. 2