Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/82

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70
RAMEAU.
 

most remarkable in his case is that he succeeded in lines which are generally opposed to each other, and throughout life occupied the first rank not only as a theorist, but as a player and composer. Just when his 'Traité de l'Harmonie' was beginning to attract attention he arranged to make music for the little pieces which his fellow-countryman, Alexis Piron, was writing for the Théâtre de la Foire, and accordingly, on Feb. 3, 1723, they produced 'L'Endriague,' in 3 acts, with dances, divertissements, and grand airs, as stated in the title. In Jan. 1724 he obtained the privilege of publishing his cantatas, and various instrumental compositions, amongst others his 'Pièces de clavecin, avec une Méthode pour la mécanique des doigts,' etc., republished as 'Pieces de Clavecin, avec une table pour les agréments'[1] (Paris, 1731 and 1736, oblong folio).

As the favourite music-master among ladies of rank, and organist of the church of Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie, Rameau's position and prospects now warranted his taking a wife, and on Feb. 25, 1726, he was united to Marie Louise Mangot, a good musician with a pretty voice. The disparity of their ages was considerable, the bride being only 18, but her loving and gentle disposition made the marriage a very happy one.

A few days later, on Feb. 29, Rameau produced at the Théâtre de la Foire a 1-act piece called L'Enrôlement d'Arlequin,' followed in the autumn by 'Le faux Prodigue,' 2 acts, both written by Piron. Such small comic pieces as these were obviously composed, by a man of his age and attainments (he was now 42), solely with the view of gaining access to a stage of higher rank, but there was no hope of admission to the theatre of the Académie without a good libretto, and this it was as difficult for a beginner to obtain then as it is now. There is a remarkable letter still extant from Rameau to Houdar de Lamotte, dated Oct. 1727, asking him for a lyric tragedy, and assuring him that he was no novice, but one who had mastered the 'art of concealing his art.' The blind poet refused his request, but aid came from another quarter. La Popeliniere, the fermier général, musician, poet, and artist, whose houses in Paris and at Passy were frequented by the most celebrated artists French and foreign, had chosen Rameau as his clavecinist and conductor of the music at his fêtes, and before long placed at his disposal the organ in his chapel, his orchestra, and his theatre. He did more, for through his influence Rameau obtained from Voltaire the lyric tragedy of 'Samson,' which he promptly set to music, though the performance was prohibited on the eve of its representation at the Académie—an exceptional stroke of ill-fortune. At last the Abbé Pellegrin agreed to furnish him with an opera in 5 acts, 'Hippolyte et Aricie,' founded on Racine's 'Phèdre.' He compelled Rameau to sign a bill for 500 livres as security in case the opera failed, but showed more sagacity and more heart than might have been expected from one

Qui dinait de l'autel et soupait du théâtre,
Le matin catholique et le soir idolâtre,[2]

for he was so delighted with the music on its first performance at La Popelinière's, that he tore up the bill at the end of the first act. The world in general was less enthusiastic, and after having overcome the ill-will or stupidity of the performers, Rameau had to encounter the astonishment of the crowd, the prejudices of routine, and the jealousy of his brother artists. Campra alone recognised his genius, and it is to his honour that when questioned by the Prince de Conti on the subject, he replied, 'There is stuff enough in Hippolyte et Aricie for ten operas; this man will eclipse us all.'

The opera was produced at the Académie on Oct. 1, 1733. Rameau was then turned 50 years of age, and the outcry with which his work was greeted suggested to him that he had possibly mistaken his career; for a time he contemplated retiring from the theatre, but was reassured by seeing his hearers gradually accustoming themselves to the novelties which at first shocked them. The success of 'Les Indes galantes' (Aug. 23, 1735), of 'Castor et Pollux,' his masterpiece (Oct. 24, 1737), and of 'Les Fêtes d'Hébé' (May 21, 1739), however, neither disarmed his critics, nor prevented Rousseau from making himself the mouthpiece of those who cried up Lully at the expense of the new composer. But Rameau was too well aware of the cost of success to be hurt by epigrams, especially when he found that he could count both on the applause of the multitude, and the genuine appreciation of the more enlightened.

His industry was immense, as the following list of his operas and ballets produced at the Académie in 20 years will show:—

Dardanus, 5 acts and prologue (Nov. 19. 1739).
Les Fêtes de Polymnie, 3 acts and prologue (Oct. 12 [App. p.766 "Oct. 10"], 1745).
Le Temple de la Gloire, Fête, in 3 acts and prologue (Dec. 7, 1745).
Zaïs, 4 acts and prologue (Feb. 29, 1748).
Pygmalion, 1 act (Aug. 27, 1748).
Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de 1'Amour, 3 acts and prologue (Nov. 6. 1748).
Platée, 3 acts and prologue (Feb. 4, 1749).
Naïs, 3 acts and prologue (April 22, 1749).
Zoroastre, 5 acts (Dec. 5, 1749).
La Guirlande, ou les Fleurs enchantées, 1 act (Sept. 21, 1751).
Acanthe et Céphise, 3 acts (Nov. 18, 1751).
Les Surprises de l'Amour, 3 acts (May 31, 1757).
Les Paladins, 3 acts (Feb. 12. 1760).

Besides these, Rameau found time to write divertissements for 'Les Courses de Tempé,' a Pastoral (Théâtre Français, Aug. 1734), and 'La Rose' (Théâtre de la Foire, March, 1744), both by Piron. From 1740 to 1745 the director of the Opéra gave him no employment, and in this interval he published his 'Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de clavecin' and his 'Pièces de clavecin en concerts avec un violon ou une flûte' (1741), remarkable compositions which have been reprinted by Mme. Farrenc ('Le Trésor des Pianistes') and M. Poisot. He also accepted the post of conductor of the Opéra-Comique, of which Monnet[3] was

  1. Both Fétis and Pougin have fallen into the mistake of considering this a separate work.
  2. Who dined at the altar and supped at the theatre; Catholic in the morning, and Idolater at night.
  3. See Monnet's 'Supplément au Roman comique,' 51. This fact seems to have escaped all Rameau's biographers.