Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Jean-Philippe Rameau

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
Catholic Encyclopedia (1913), Volume 12
Jean-Philippe Rameau

by Aloysius John Mary Walter


Musician, b. at Dijon, Burgundy, 25 Sept., 1683; d. at Paris, 12 Sept., 1764. His father, himself an organist, was his first master. At the age of seven he was able to perform every kind of music. For his further education he was sent to a Jesuit college; but even during class he was either singing or writing music. Excepting a short stay in Italy, he always lived in France, was twice organist at Clermont, and from 1723 remained constantly in Paris, where he was organist in several churches. Rameau was very tall and extraordinarily thin, so he had more the appearance of a ghost than of a human being. He was a great thinker, fond of solitude, and out of place in society. In 1726 he married Marie-Louise Mangot, and had four children, a son and three daughters, one of whom entered the Order of the Visitation. Without denying the merits of Lully (1633-1687) and Couperin (1663-1733), the founders of the French opera, and even admitting that Rameau was not right in all the details of his theory, we must acknowledge that he opened up a new road, which was followed by all who came after him. His main principle, for the defence of which he had to sustain hard struggles, was that melody, far from being sufficient for a good piece of music, itself depends on the rules of harmony, so that the real guide of every composer is harmony, not melody. His chief merit consists in having established the relations between science and art, and in having highly developed the symphonic part of the opera. His most famous theoretical works are: "Traité de l'harmonie réduite à son principe naturel" (1722); "Génération harmonique" (1737); "Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie" (1750); "Code de musique pratique" (1760). Only at the age of fifty did he begin to write for the stage, and in sixteen years (1733-1749) he composed about thirty operas and ballets, the best of which are: "Castor et Pollux", "Les Indes Galantes", "Dardanus" and "Zoroastre". Of his church music some motets only are known. He left many compositions for the piano, either alone or with other instruments, eighteen of which have been lately published by Vincent d'Indy. Durand, in Paris, has undertaken a complete edition of Rameau's works, under the direction of Saint-Saëns.

MARET, Eloge historique de M. Rameau (Paris, 1766); POUGIN, Rameau, Essai sur sa vie et ses oeuvres (Paris, 1878); LAURENCIE, Mercure musical du 15 Juin (1907); LALOY, Rameau (Paris, 1909), 2 edit.

A. Walter.