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THE MUSICAL HERITAGE SOCIETY A DIGITAL RECORDING MHS 7102F
RARE VINTAGE CLASSICAL OPERA
Jean-Philippe Rameau was one of the truly multifaceted musicians of his day. Acclaimed for his innovative and popular operas, he was also known as one of the greatest organists in France, and his theoretical writings continue to influence musical thinkers over two centuries later.
Although his father was a professional organist, Rameau was expected to pursue a career in the law. However, he was musically very precocious, teaching himself several instruments and the basics of harmony and composition. After spending more time on music than on his studies at the Jesuit College in Dijon (1693-1697), Rameau was removed from school; only when he was 18 did his parents give in to his wishes for a musical career. He went to Italy for a few months, and spent some time playing violin in a travelling French opera troupe. Then he took organist posts in Clermont-Ferrand (1702-1705), Paris (1705-1708), Dijon (1709-1714), Lyons (1714-1715), and Clermont again (1715-1722).
Rameau had begun composing for the harpsichord, publishing his first book of keyboard works in 1706 (subsequent volumes appeared in 1724, 1728, and 1741). He had also written a few motets and secular cantatas, and had started his first book, the Traité de l'harmonie (published 1722), which later made his reputation as an important theorist.
Hoping for greater fame as a composer, he moved to Paris in late 1722; there he took on some private students and composed numerous keyboard and short stage works. Eventually, he came to the attention of the financier and courtier Le Riche de la Pouplinière, who hired Rameau as conductor of his orchestra (a position he held for some 22 years) and allowed him and his family to live in his mansion. Through La Pouplinière, Rameau also met many of the great writers of his day, including some who later became librettists for his operas.
Rameau produced his first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), at the age of 50. The work wasn't well received initially, but the opera Castor et Pollux (1737) was much more successful, and Rameau gradually became known as one of France's leading composers. For the rest of his life, he divided his time between composing and writing further theoretical works like Nouveau système de musique théorique (1726), Dissertation sur les differents méthodes d'accompagnement pour le clavecin ou pour l'orgue (1732), and Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie (1750). He felt his theoretical works were at least as important as his music, and defended his theories in extensive correspondences and debates with many of the leading musical thinkers in Europe.
In 1745, he was appointed composer of the King's chamber music. He continued writing operas, both tragic works like Dardanus (1739, rev. 1744) and comedies like Platée (1745) and La Princesse de Navarre (1745). These and his other operas and incidental music (he wrote about 30 stage works in all) were noteworthy for their expanded harmonic palate, their brilliant choruses and ballets, and the prominent role Rameau gave to the orchestra. But not everyone admired his music, and for years a bitter public rivalry existed between the Rameau partisans and the "Lullistes," who preferred the somewhat more conservative works of Jean-Baptiste Lully. Rameau also had to defend his musical style in the "War of the Buffoons" of 1752 against those who preferred the lighter Italian operas of composers like Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Four months before his death, Rameau was granted a patent of nobility by King Louis XV. He died just before his 81st birthday, and was buried at his parish church at St. Eustache.
Dardanus, tragédie en musique
Jean-Philippe Rameau's Dardanus is typical of his works for the operatic stage: it contains innovative music of great inspiration and dramatic sensitivity, and it caused a public controversy at the time of its premiere. Rameau, who was a respected theorist and writer as well as a composer, employed harmonic devices, orchestrations, and a range of emotional expression that some listeners found grotesque, especially those who favored the works of his predecessors, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Lully's works were more typical of the period than were those of Rameau, especially in their relatively understated orchestrations and use of secco (dry) recitative — done with only keyboard accompaniment. For those who valued tradition over innovation, Rameau's work — full of dramatic instrumentation and accompanied recitatives (performed with orchestra) — was simply too adventuresome and, although Rameau's more forward-looking style would eventually win out, the conflict between the supporters of Rameau and Lully makes for one of opera history's more colorful chapters.
Based on Greek mythology, the libretto, by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère, tells the story of Jupiter's son, Dardanus, and his war with The king of Phrygia. Bruère's libretto represents opera seria at both its most grand and its most absurd: the numerous processions, dream scenes and intrigues brought out the best in Rameau's dramatic writing, but the plot was so laden with supernatural events and interventions that it became a caricature of itself. For this reason, Dardanus was a less-than-spectacular success at its premiere (Paris Opéra, November 1739), and underwent at least two extensive revisions, the first of which completely discarded the last three acts. Subsequent versions placed a greater emphasis on human relationships and simplified the plot — steps that were necessary for the sake of clarity and cohesion, but which also involved the removal of excellent music. Modern revivals of Dardanus have attempted to find an effective middle ground, keeping as much as possible of Rameau's colorful writing while trimming the plot into a coherent form — often with great success.
and performed by the English Baroque Soloists
Although the English Baroque Soloists was officially established as a chamber ensemble of period instruments in 1978, the group actually gave its first concert at the 1977 Innsbruck Festival of Early Music in a performance of Handel's Acis and Galatea. Founded by John Eliot Gardiner, the group regularly performs throughout England and Europe. It has given a number of concerts in two London halls, the Barbican and St. John's Smith Square. The English Baroque Soloists drew many of their original members from another group Gardiner had founded (in 1968), the Monteverdi Orchestra.
and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner is one of the leading conductors in the active "authentic performances" movement in England, performing Baroque music but also extending his range into later repertoire. He first conducted at the age of 15, and after finishing school he studied at King's College, Cambridge. While still an undergraduate, he conducted the combined Oxford and Cambridge Singers on a 1964 tour of the Middle East and founded the Monteverdi Choir, which has consistently performed on his recordings since.
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