Jean-Philippe Rameau

September 25, 1683 - Dijon (France) — September 12, 1764 - Paris (France)


Jean-Philippe Rameau: the bad student who preferred music

Jean-Philippe Rameau went to school at the Jesuit college at Godrans, but he was a bad pupil and disrupted classes. His parents wanted him to study law, but Rameau decided he wanted to be a musician. His father taught him music, and sent him to Italy where he stayed only three months. When he came back to France, he started his organist career, playing in Clermont-Ferrand's cathedral, in Avignon and in Lyon.

Rameau, the famous baroque music theorist

Jean-Philippe Rameau gave great importance to theoretical works. In 1722, he started a revolution in music theory with his Treatise on Harmony, in which he considered music as a science and attempted to derive universal harmonic principles from natural causes. This work became the definitive authority on music theory, forming the foundation for instruction in western music that persists today.

Jean-Philippe Rameau, the brilliant composer

When he turned fifty, his career as a great composer truly began. Before 1733, Jean-Philippe Rameau had only composed some motets, cantatas and pieces for harpsichord, but his first opera, Hippolytus and Aricia, was soon premiered at the Académie Royale de Musique. Six years later, he had written four more masterpieces: Les Indes galantes (1735), Castor and Pollux (1737), The Festivities of Hebe and Dardanus (1739).

Rameau, the King's musician, source of controversy

In 1745, Rameau wrote two ballets with Voltaire: The Princess of Navarre and The Temple of Glory. This same year, Jean-Philippe Rameau became King Louis XV's musician, though his music was a source of controversy: a quarrel erupted over Rameau's work which favoured the new Italian style, accused of being dangerous for the traditional French opera.