Definitions

Rameau

Rameau

[ra-moh]
Rameau, Jean Philippe, 1683-1764, French composer and theorist. He was organist at the cathedral in Clermont and at Notre Dame de Dijon. In the early part of his career his wrote two treatises on harmony (1722, 1726) in which he introduced the important and influential theory of chord inversion. He revolutionized music theory by his contention that harmony derives from the acoustical harmonics present in a vibrating string or tube. His first opera was Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), and it was followed by more than 30 stage works, including the dramatic ballet Les Indes galantes (1735) and his best opera, Castor et Pollux (1737). Rameau's career was marked by controversies; at first he was attacked for his Italianate departure from the classical style of Lully, and later he was criticized for his old-fashioned French style. His harpsichord works and chamber music are brilliant examples of the elegant rococo style of the mid-18th cent.

See his Treatise on Harmony (tr. 1971); study by C. Girdlestone (1957, rev. ed. 1969).

Rameau's Nephew, or the Second Satire (Le Neveu de Rameau ou La Satire seconde) is an imaginary philosophical conversation written by Denis Diderot, probably between 1761 and 1772.

It was first published in 1805 in German translation by Goethe, but the French manuscript used has subsequently disappeared. The German version was translated back into French by de Saur and Saint-Geniès and published in 1821. The first published version based on French manuscript appeared in 1823 in the Brière edition of Diderot's works. Modern editions are based on the complete manuscript in Diderot’s own hand found by Georges Monval, the librarian at the Comédie-Française, in 1890 while buying music scores from a second-hand bookshop in Paris. Monval published his edition of the manuscript in 1891. Subsequently, the manuscript was bought by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. It is unclear why Diderot never had it published in his time. Given the satirical tone of the work, it has been suggested that the author prudently refrained from giving offence.

Description

The scene takes place in the Palais-Royal, where Moi ("I"), a narrator-like persona supposed to stand for Diderot himself, claims he enjoys a daily walk. There he comes across Lui ("Him"), meaning Jean-François Rameau, supposedly the nephew of the famous composer, who engages him in conversation.

Recurring themes in the discussion include the education of children, the nature of genius, and money. The often rambling conversation pokes fun at numerous prominent figures of the time.

In the prologue that precedes the conversation, the first-person narrator depicts Lui as a true original, eccentric and extravagant, full of contradictions, "a mixture of the sublime and the base, of good sense and irrationality". Effectively being a provocateur, Lui extols the virtues of crime and theft, and raises his beloved gold to the level of a religion. Moi seems to have a didactic role, while the nephew (Lui) succeeds in conveying a cynical, if perhaps immoral, vision of reality.

Though the two characters actually existed, the characters of the novel are meant as allegorical figures, and the dialogue is in fact Diderot's own ruminations on life and morality.

Summary

Preface

The narrator has made his way to his usual haunt on a rainy day, the Café de la Régence, France's chess mecca, where he enjoys watching such masters as Philidor or Legall. He is accosted by an eccentric figure : I do not esteem such originals. Others make them their familiars, even their friends. Such a man will draw my attention perhaps once a year when I meet him because his character offers a sharp contrast with the usual run of men, and a break from the dull routine imposed by one's education, social conventions and manners. When in company, he works as a pinch of leaven, causing fermentation and restoring each to his natural bend. One feels shaken and moved; prompted to approve or blame; he causes truth to shine forth, good men to stand out, villains to unmask. Then will the wise man listen and get to know those about him.

Dialogue

The dialogue form allows Diderot to examine issues from widely different perspectives. The character of Rameau is presented as extremely unreliable, ironical and self-contradicting, so that the reader may never know whether he is being sincere or provocative. The impression is that of nuggets of truth artfully embedded in trivia. For example, after an exchange of pleasantries the discussion turns to the problem of geniuses, prompted by the mention of Philidor, Legall, and Rameau's uncle. Geniuses often make cruel husbands and fathers, and yet, Rameau observes, who does not wish to be able to produce sublime works even at such a price ? The persona of the narrator, by contrast, appears more staid and rational, which lends it authority.

A parasite in a well-to-do family, Rameau has recently been kicked out because he refused to compromise with the truth. Now he will not humble himself by apologizing. And yet, rather than starve, shouldn't one live at the expense of rich fools and knaves as he once did, pimping for a lord ? Society does not allow the talented to support themselves because it does not value them, leaving them to beg while the rich, the powerful and stupid poke fun at men like Buffon, Duclos, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, D'Alembert, Diderot. The poor genius is left with but two options : to crawl and flatter or to dupe and cheat, either being repugnant to the sensitive mind. If virtue had led the way to fortune, I would either have been virtuous or pretended to be so like others; I was expected to play the fool, and a fool I turned myself into.

History

In Rameau's Nephew, Diderot attacked and ridiculed the critics of the Enlightenment, but he knew from past experience that some of his enemies were sufficiently powerful to have him arrested or the work banned. Diderot had done a spell in prison in 1749 after publishing his Lettre sur les aveugles (Letter about the Blind) and his Encyclopédie had been banned in 1759. Prudence, therefore, may have dictated that he showed it only to a happy few.

After the death of Diderot, the manuscript or a copy of it probably made its way to Russia. In 1765, Diderot had faced financial difficulties, and the Empress Catherine of Russia had come to his help by buying out his library. The arrangement was quite a profitable one for both parties, Diderot becoming the paid librarian of his own book collection, with the task of adding to it as he saw fit, while the Russians enjoyed the prospect of one day being in possession of one of the most selectively stocked European libraries, not to mention Diderot's papers, .

An appreciative Russian reader communicated the work to Schiller, who shared it with Goethe who translated it into German in 1805.

External links

Footnotes

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