Jean Philippe Rameau (1683 –1764)

Jean Philippe Rameau (1683 –1764) was one of the most important French composers and theorists of the Baroque era. He wrote Treatise on Harmony, which was revolutionary for that day. In it, he explores the philosophical underpinnings of music, and its mathematical and scientific foundations, giving musical criticism and pedagogy some objective foci.  He gained notoriety for his departure from what had become conventional harmonies of John-Baptiste Lully for much more adventurous harmonies, which, in their turn, soon became accepted as convention. He was forgotten until rediscovered in the 20th century.

His harmonies are much more familiar to the modern ear, and to my mind, he makes a quantum leap from the past which he inherited. Having written that, I note that the early 20th century was, itself, a reaction against such harmonies.  Composers were then criticized for living in an ivory tower and being inaccessible to the common person. Nonetheless, as modern “serious music” explored new tonalities or none at all, tone clusters or minimalistic sonorities, some composers turned to the past through primitivism and neoclassicism.  Concertizing relied upon audience appeal, so that it tended to turn to music of the past which most related to that which was familiar in our churches and on the airways. One well-known example of such criticism was The Agony of Modern Music by Henry Pleasants.  The listening public of his time, on the other hand, related to Rameau.

Rameau – Motet, In convertendo / Part 1 ( William Christie )

Rameau – Motet, In convertendo / Part compositions 2

Rameau – Motet, In convertendo / Part 3

Beati qui habitant


Dominus virtutum

Rameau “Les Grands Motets”

Laboravi clamans – Herreweghe

Grand Motet – Deus noster refugium


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