There’s a lot of deserved hoopla over the birthday of Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist heralded for his interpretations of JS Bach. Today also marks the anniversary of French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s birth. He was a direct contemporary of JS Bach’s, and truly was his French counterpart, but for some reason, didn’t achieve the same level of long-lasting fame. Fortunately, in recent decades, efforts were made to expose his music to wider audiences.
He’s a bit of an enigma – even his wife didn’t know the details of the first forty years of his life. Was he a spy? A mercenary? We’ll never know. Thankfully, though, his great legacy of music remains. He changed the way music was written, tinkered with harmonies, which some folks declared brilliant and innovative, while others said his music sounded discordant and “anti-French”. It was such a big deal at the time, people who were “pro-Lully” (the most famous traditional French composer before Rameau), and those who were “pro-Rameau” argued for years. In today’s world, the equivalent controversy would be whether or not it’s appropriate for a female concert pianist to wear a very revealing dress. If social media were around in Rameau’s day, the debate could be ongoing!
Here is Grigory Sokolov performing Rameau’s “La Poule” (The Hen). This piece would have sounded very percussive and unusual in mid-1700’s France.
Jean-Philippe Rameau, born September 25, 1683, Dijon; died September 12, 1764, Paris.