RAMEAU: Harpsichord Music, Vol. 1 (Gilbert Rowland/ John Taylor) (Naxos: 8.553047)
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Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 - 1764)
Harpsichord Works - Vol. 1
Jean-Philippe Rameau was born in Dijon in 1683, the seventh of the eleven children of an organist. His musical gifts led him to decide on a career as a musician and a brief visit to Milan was followed by appointment in 1702 as temporary organist at the cathedral in Avignon, whence he moved very soon in the same year to Clermont as cathedral organist. By 1706 he was in Paris, where he published his first book of pieces for harpsichord and was apparently employed as organist by the Jesuits and the Mercedarians. The year 1709 found Rameau back in Dijon, where he succeeded his father as organist at Notre Dame, an appointment he shared with another organist. In 1713 he was in Lyons and two years later seems to have resumed his duties at Clermont, with a contract for twenty-nine years. The limited possibilities in Clermont and his desire to publish in Paris his important Traité de l'Harmonie led him to seek release from his contract and when this was not granted to play such discords with such unpleasant registration that the cathedral chapter agreed to his departure.
In Paris the Traité de l'Harmonie was followed in 1726 by the Nouveau système de Musique théorique, pour servir d'introduction au Traité de l'Harmonie, the foundation of a system of harmony based on acoustic theory that broadly remains the accepted conventional system still in use. Rameau's reputation as a theorist was established. His earlier years in Paris, at least unti11738, brought continued activity as an organist, but it was to opera that he had turned his thoughts. It was his meeting with Le Riche de la Pouplinière, a man whose great wealth had been derived from his position as a fermier-général, a tax-farmer, that brought acquaintance with the poet-priest, the Abbé Pelletrin, who provided a libretto for Rameau's first opera, Hippolyte et Aricie , à tragédie en musique, which was first performed privately at La Pouplinière's and then, in October 1733, at the Opéra. La Pouplinière's patronage was of the greatest importance to Rameau, who for a time occupied quarters in his household and directed his orchestra, supported in particular by La Pouplinière's wife Thérèse Deshayes. In the following years Rameau wrote some twenty operas, in addition to a series of writings on the theory of music, retaining his reputation as a theorist, while winning renown as a theatre composer, remarkably enough, after the age of fifty. There was a later breach with La Pouplinière, in 1753, but by this time Rameau had pensions from the King and from the Queen, so that his final years were not spent in discomfort, in spite of apparent parsimony. His last opera, Les Paladins, was staged at the Opéra in 1760, but failed to please. Rameau believed that the public had not understood the work, remarking that the pear was not yet ripe, to which a wag remarked, that that had not prevented it falling. He was, however, still held in the highest esteem as a musician, being exempted in 1761 from tax. He died in 1764, summoning the strength to rebuke the priest who attended him on his death-bed for singing out of tune. He was mourned as de la musique le flambeau, the torch of music, and le créateur de l'harmonie, the creator of harmony.
The early Pièces de Clavecin, published in 1706, consist of a Suite in A minor. There is a Prélude with an unbarred and ornamented introduction leading to a rapider passage in 12/8. There follow paired Allemandes, a Courante and a Sarabandes. It has been suggested that the Vénitienne, which follows the Gigue, takes its title and perhaps its origin from an interpolation in the comédie- ballet La Vénitienne by Michel de La Barre. This is followed by a Gavotte and a Menuet.
The Pièces de Clavecin of 1724 appeared with an essay on la mechanique des doigts sur le clavessin, the mechanism of the fingers on the harpsichord. The new pieces are grouped in keys, E minor/E major and D minor/D major, and consist of dance movements and genre pieces, no longer in the more formal dance-suite arrangement. The first group opens with an Allemande, with its notes inégales, rhythmically altered pairs of notes, and Courante, the traditional opening dances of the keyboard suite, proceeding to a pair of Gigues en rondeau, the first in E minor and the second in E major. Le Rappel des Oiseaux calls the birds together, followed here by the character-piece La Villageoise, the Village-Girl. Two Rigaudons, rapid traditional French dances, here in E minor and E major respectively, the second with its variation double, lead to a Musette en rondeau, its persistent E recalling the drone of the fashionable musette, the French bagpipe. The first group of pieces ends with a lively E minor Tambourin, a French dance.
The second group of pieces opens with a rondeau Les Tendres Plaintes, The Tender Complaints, a self-explanatory title. Les Niais de Sologne follows, with two variation doubles, the first in triplets and the second with great bustle in the left hand. This gives immortality to The Fools of Sologne, a region not seemingly noted for the intelligence of its inhabitants. Les Soupirs, The Sighs, is a descriptive title and is followed by a cheerful La Joyeuse, The Cheerful Girl, and La Follette, The Silly Girl.
L'Entretien des Muses, The Converse of the Muses, is among the pieces adduced by Rameau in evidence of his potential dramatic ability, when he sought a librettist. It is succeeded by the limping character-piece La Boiteuse, the Lame Girl. There are eddies of dust swirling in Les Tourbillons, while Le Lardon suggests the small wedges of salted pork inserted in a joint to be cooked, although the word also suggests a witticism. Les Cyclopes is, one of the pieces played at the court of the Chinese Emperor by the French Jesuit Amiot, with Les Sauvages in the middle years of the century, to general distaste. There may, of course, be hidden references in some of the titles used in these pieces and it is possible that Rameau here drew on some of the music that he was writing for the actors of the Paris fairs, popular comedies that included songs and dances.
Gilbert Rowland was born in Glasgow in 1946. He studied the harpsichord with Milliscent Silver at the Royal College of Music and made his debut while still a student at Fenton House, following this quickly with recitals at the Wigmore Hall. Further recitals at the Purcell Room, Greenwich Festival, the 1985 Scarlatti Festival in Berlin, together with frequent broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 have established his reputation as one of the country's leading harpsichordists. His recordings of works by Soler and Fischer, and his numerous Scarlatti recordings have received considerable acclaim from the musical press.