Born 1683 died 1764. His father was organist of Dijon Cathedral. At seven the boy could read any piece of Harpsichord music put before him, but this was about all he would read, which did not please his head master, who asked his father to remove him. He never learnt to spell until the time came for him to write love-letters, when shame drove him to self-improvement. In order to give the love-letters a longer journey and allow them to cool a little on the way, his father sent him to Italy when he was seventeen or eighteen, but he took up with a theatrical party, and accompanied them, as first violin, to various towns in southern France.
Then he became organist of various churches in Paris, but being disappointed in obtaining a certain post (for which Daquin was preferred) he went to Lille and afterwards to Clermont, in the mountains of Auvergne, where his brother held the post of cathedral organist but was willing to give it up in his favour. Here he had leisure and began to study Acoustics and Musical Theory, accomplishing the first real systematization of Harmony and putting this into a book, which he went to Paris to publish (1722); in this book first appeared the suggestion of ‘ inversions’ of chords, i. e. that E G C and G C E are the same chord as C E G, and so on. Later he published other scientific-musical treatises, and his work in this branch is the foundation of musical theory today. In Paris Rameau held an Organ post, and a position of influence as a fashionable Harpsichord teacher.
At the age of about forty Rameau began composing theatre music, but by the age of fifty he had attained no real celebrity in this line. Soon after that age, however, he gained full recognition, became conductor of the Opéra Comique, wrote Operas and Ballets for the Court, and basked in the rays of ‘ Le Roi Soleil’. He met, however, with opposition from the supporters of Lully (who, as an opera composer, will 1eceive some mention in the second volume of this work). He published a book of pieces of Harpsichord Music, which is worth the attention of pianists.
FURTHER READING. There is a long and interesting article in Grove’s Dictionary, by the late Gustave Chouquet. Jean-Aubry in his Introduction to French Music touches upon him. Matthew Shirlaw’s The Theory of Harmony (Novello, l0s.) gives a full account of Rameau’s views on harmony.
PRINTED Music. A volume of ‘Selected Pieces’, edited by Pauer (Augener, 3s.), will give a sufficient idea of Rameau’s style ; it includes, besides genuine Harpsichord Music, one or two dances from Operas. The standard edition of Rameau’s Harpsichord Music is that of Saint-Saëns (Durand, Paris).
PIANOLA ROLLS. Extracts from Opera Hippolyte et Aricie (Airs de Ballet, Airs des Matelots, Gavottes, Rigaudons = Orchestral Music arranged by Vincent d’Indy). Similar extracts from Les Indes galantes (Airs de Ballet, Marche, Menuets; Danse des Sauvages, Chaconne, arranged by Paul Dukas) ; Tambourin, arranged by L. Godovsky (all Æolian and all 65 note).
GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. Gavotte and Variations (played by Moiseivitch ; H. M. V.) ; Tambourin (played by Mrs. Gordon Woodhouse on the Harpsichord, H. M. V.) ; Rossignols amoureux (sung by Alma Gluck ; H. M. V.) ; Menuet, Platée (‘Cello, Squire, C.).