Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/81

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

other places in the south of France. How long the tour lasted it is impossible to ascertain, as no letters belonging to this period are to be found. From his 'Premier Livre de pièces de clavecin' (Paris, 1706) we learn that he was then living in Paris, at a wig-maker's in the Vieille Rue du Temple, as Haydn did at Keller's, though without the disastrous results which followed that connexion. Meantime he was organist of the Jesuit convent in the Rue St. Jacques, and of the chapel of the Pères de la Merci. No particulars, however, of the length of his stay in Paris are known, nor how he occupied the interval between this first visit and his return about 1717. In that year a competition took place for the post of organist of the church of St. Paul, and Rameau was among the candidates. Marchand, then at the head of the organists in Paris, was naturally one of the examiners; and either from fear of being outshone by one whom he had formerly patronised, or for some other reason, he used his whole influence in favour of Daquin, who obtained the post. Mortified at the unjust preference thus shown to a man in all points his inferior, Rameau again left Paris for Lille, and became for a short time organist of St. Etienne. Thence he went to Clermont in Auvergne, where his brother Claude[1] resigned the post of organist of the cathedral in his favour. In this secluded mountain town, with a harsh climate predisposing to indoor life, he had plenty of time for thought and study. The defects of his education drove him to find out everything for himself. From the works of Descartes, Mersenne, Zarlino, and Kircher he gained some general knowledge of the science of sound, and taking the equal division of the monochord as the starting-point of his system of harmony, soon conceived the possibility of placing the theory of music on a sound basis. Henceforth he devoted all his energies to drawing up his 'Treatise on Harmony reduced to its natural principles,' and as soon as that important work was finished he determined to go to Paris and publish it. His engagement with the chapter of Clermont had however several years to run, and there was great opposition to his leaving, owing to the popularity of his improvisations on the organ, in which, contrary to the usual course, his theoretical studies, instead of hampering his ideas, seemed to give them greater freshness and fertility.

Once free he started immediately for Paris, and brought out his 'Traité de l'Harmonie' (Ballard, 1722, 4to, 432 pp.).[2] The work did not at first attract much attention among French musicians, and yet, as Fétis observes, it laid he foundation for a philosophical science of harmony. Rameau's style is prolix and obscure, often calculated rather to repel than attract the reader, and the very boldness and novelty of his theories excited surprise and provoked criticism. His discovery of the law of inversion in chords was a stroke of genius, and led to very important results, although in founding his system of harmony on the sounds of the common chord, with the addition of thirds above or thirds below, he put both himself and others on a wrong track. In the application of his principle to all the chords he found himself compelled to give up all idea of tonality, since, on the principles of tonality he could not make the thirds for the discords fall on the notes that his system required. Fétis justly accuses him of having abandoned the tonal successions and resolutions prescribed in the old treatises on harmony, accompaniment, and composition, and the rules for connecting the chords based on the ear, for a fixed order of generation, attractive from its apparent regularity, but with the serious inconvenience of leaving each chord disconnected from the rest.

Having rejected the received rules for the succession and resolution of chords which were contrary to his system, Rameau perceived the necessity of formulating new ones, and drew up a method for composing a fundamental bass for every species of music. The principles he laid down for forming a bass different from the real bass of the music, and for verifying the right use of the chords, are arbitrary, insufficient in a large number of cases, and, as regards many of the successions, contrary to the judgment of the ear. Finally, he did not perceive that by using the chord of the 6-5-3 both as a fundamental chord and an inversion he destroyed his whole system, as in the former case it is impossible to derive it from the third above or below.[3] After more study, however, particularly on the subject of harmonics, Rameau gave up many of his earlier notions, and corrected some of his most essential mistakes. The development and modification of his ideas may be seen by consulting his works, of which the following is a list:—'Nouveau systeme de musique théorique … pour servir d'Introduction au traité d'Harmonie' (1726, 4to); 'Génération harmonique' etc. (1713, 8vo); 'Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie' (1750, 8vo); 'Nouvelles réflexions sur la demonstration du principe de l'harmonie' (1752, 8vo); 'Extrait d'une réponse de M. Rameau à M. Euler sur l'identité des octaves,' etc. (1753, 8vo)—all published in Paris. To these specific works, all dealing with the science of harmony, should be added the 'Dissertation sur les différentes méthodes d'accompagnement pour le clavecin ou pour l'orgue' (Paris, Boivin, 1732, 4to), and some articles which appeared in the 'Mercure de France,' and in the 'Mémoires de Trevoux.'

The mere titles of these works are a proof of the research and invention which Rameau brought to bear on the theory of music; but what was

  1. Claude Rameau, a man of indomitable will and capricious temper, and a clever organist, lived successively at Dijon, Lyons, Marseilles, Clermont, Orleans, Strassburg, and Autun. His son Jean François, a gifted musician, but a dissipated man, is admirably portrayed by Diderot in his 'Neveu de Rameau.' He published in 1766 a poem in 5 cantos called 'Le Raméïde,' followed in the same year by 'La nouvelle Raméïde.' a parody by his schoolfellow Jacques Cazotte. He is mentioned by Mercier in his 'Tableau de Paris.'
  2. The Third Part of this was translated into English 15 years later, with the title 'A Treatise of Music, containing the Principles of Composition.' London, no date, 8vo. 180 pp.
  3. Fétis has explained, detailed, and refuted Rameau's system in his 'Esquisse de l'Histoire de l'Harmonie,' which has been used by the writer, and to which he refers his readers.