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Baptized Sept. 25, 1683, in Dijon; died Sept. 12, 1764, in Paris. French composer and music theoretician.
The son of an organist, Rameau served as an organist in various churches until 1738. In 1723 he moved to Paris, where he became a court composer in 1745. He wrote 48 miniatures for harpsichord (three collections published in 1706, 1724, and c. 1728), including program pieces and dances (for example, the allemande, courante, gigue, sarabande, tambourin, rigaudon, gavotte, and minuet), in which he emphasized and at the same time poeticized the dance element. Although he followed the traditions of the French harpsichord style associated with F. Couperin, Rameau also endeavored to go beyond chamber music and develop a more ornamental style.
Despite his dependence on the conventions of French aristocratic court opera, in his works for the stage Rameau endeavored to deepen dramatic expressiveness, intensify the action, and clarify and democratize the musical language (for example, the lyric tragedies Hippolyte et Aricie , Castor et Pollux , and Dardanus , as well as the opera-ballet Les Indes galantes ). By integrally combining the achievements of French and Italian music, Rameau contributed to the crystallization of the classical musical style and, to a significant degree, laid the foundation for C. W. Gluck’s operatic reforms.
Rameau also composed cantatas, motets, and instrumental ensemble works. He was an important scholar, whose theoretical works (including the Treatise on Harmony, 1722) represent a significant stage in the development of the theory of harmony.
WORKSOeuvres completes, vols. 1–18. Published under the direction of C. Saint-Saëns. Paris, 1895–1924. (Incomplete.)
REFERENCESBriantseva, V. “Zh. F. Ramo i ego klavesinnoe tvorchestvo.” In J.-P. Rameau, Poh. sobr. soch dlia klavesina. Moscow, 1972.
Girdlestone, C. Jean Philippe Rameau: His Life and Work. London, 1957.
V. N. BRIANTSEVA