A Parisian disco?
Rameau's 'Les Indes galantes' -
'... Les Arts Florissants would triumph in any location.'
Till almost forty, Rameau was a theoretician and organist. A probably unreliable tradition
has it that he was finally released from his contract at Clermont Cathedral when he celebrated
the Corpus Christi festival with the most disagreeable stop combinations he could devise and
wedded them to the most loathsome harmonies. In Paris from 1722, it was still a further decade
till he appeared before the public as an opera composer at the age of fifty. At once he was
controversial: his voice parts seemed a mere 'accompaniment to the accompaniment', and the
orchestral virtuosity was as bewildering as the abstruseness of his harmony, even if there
was potential enchantment in the prevalence of dance.
Paris was uncertain about Rameau, but Versailles and Fontainebleau embraced him. With a
strong ally in Mme de Pompadour, he had been commissioned to provide music for the Dauphin's
marriage. If the Congress of Vienna was later to dance and make no progress, the French court
still cavorted with the spirit that kept it socially static. Rousseau the musician had earned
scorn from Rameau in his haughty aloofness; the ideas of the philosophe, though, were to
threaten, overtake and annihilate the manners of an ancien régime that still
supported an opera based on the virtues of antiquity at the service of absolute monarchy.
While the Pompadour's policies led to the French loss of India and Canada, Les Indes
galantes extols precisely the virtues of such exotic countries.
Copyright © 7 September 2005
Robert Anderson, London UK