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Jean-Philippe Rameau

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Jean-Philippe Rameau (25 September 1683 - 12 September 1764) was one of the most important French composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. He replaced Jean-Baptiste Lully as the dominant composer of French opera, and was attacked by those who preferred Lully’s style.

Rameau’s music is characterised by the exceptional technical knowledge of a composer who wanted above all to be renowned as a theorist of the art. Nevertheless it is not solely addressed to the intelligence and Rameau himself claimed “I try to conceal art with art”. The paradox of this music was that it was new, using techniques never known before, but it took place within the framework of old-fashioned forms; Rameau appeared revolutionary to the Lullystes, disturbed by the complex harmony of his music, and reactionary to the “philosophes” who only paid attention to its content and who either would not or could not listen to the sound it made. The incomprehension he received from his contemporaries stopped Rameau repeating such daring experiments as the second Trio des Parques in Hippolyte et Aricie, which he was forced to remove after a handful of performances because the singers were unable to interpret it correctly. So the greatest harmonist of his era went unrecognised at the very time that harmony - the “vertical” aspect of music - was taking precedence over counterpoint, which represented its “horizontal” aspect.

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