Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)

Rameau was well known in his day as a musical theorist, organist, and composer.  His early career was devoted to organ playing in several of the great cathedrals of France.  While serving in this capacity at Clermont-Ferand, he wrote his famous "Traite de l'harmonie" (Treatise of Harmony) in 1722.  In this work he stated his system of chord building on superimposed thirds; the conception of a chord in all its inversions as one and the same entity; and the idea of a fundamental bass by which chord progressions are determined.  His fame as a composer, however, is based mainly on his dramatic compositions, of which the works "Les Indes galantes" (The Gallant Indians) and "Castor et Pollux" are his masterpieces.  In addition to many ballets, operas, and much incidental music for drama, Rameau wrote frequently for clavecin and chamber groups typical of the Baroque period.  Rameau's dramatic works were exceptional for their expressive melodic line, originality of instrumentation, and richness of harmonic idiom.  Rameau's ideas aroused violent interest (both antagonistic and favorable), first between those who favored him and those who favored Lully, and later between his adherents and the "Encyclopedists".  The latter exchange was known as the "War of the Buffoons."   The perennial charges against operatic innovators that were leveled at Monteverdi, Gluck, and Wagner were leveled at Rameau.  His critics found that his works lacked melody, were filled with illogical harmony, and used orchestral instruments in a noisy fashion.