In This Article Jean-Philippe Rameau

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Editions
  • Biographical Studies
  • Harpsichord Music
  • Compositions in Other Genres
  • Historical Reception

Music Jean-Philippe Rameau
Charles Dill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0042


Jean-Philippe Rameau (b. 1683–d. 1764) was trained as a keyboardist. Most of his early career was as a church organist; his best-known job was at Dijon. Rameau continued to compose, publish, and perform keyboard music after moving to Paris in 1722, but from that point on his principal interests became opera and music theory. As an opera composer, Rameau’s output included five tragédies en musique (lyric tragedies)—one not performed until after his death and two additional ones never completed—and twenty-four operas in lighter genres. His operas were revived continuously until the Revolution, when French tastes changed substantially, and musicians and critics acknowledged their importance well into the early years of the 20th century, when a full-scale revival of interest in his works took place. From 1722 on, Rameau was also known as a music theorist. Using the harmonic series as his basis, he conceived harmonic function in terms of a fundamental bass, which allowed him to develop ideas of triadic inversion, along with assigned functions like tonic, subdominant, and dominant.

Reference Works

Although Rameau has not enjoyed the extended treatment some of his contemporaries have received, recent decades have seen a rapid growth in large-scale projects dedicated to him, partly in response to celebrations of the tricentennial of his birth in 1983 and the 250th anniversary of his death in 2014. La Gorce 1987 is the most concentrated of the earlier efforts, but articles from this period can be found throughout the present bibliography. Foster 1989, which took care to provide an up-to-date summary of research, is an outgrowth of this renewed interest in Rameau and provides a valuable picture of research prior to and during this time and during the late 1980s. As is often the case with celebrations of composers, the period also saw calls for an improved scholarly apparatus, of which Bouissou and Herlin 2003– is one result. (For similar results, see Editions.) These recent efforts can justifiably be regarded as catalysts of a revolution in Rameau scholarship, stimulating the new and current ideas found in source, diplomatic, and textual criticism. Sadler 2014 is one of the first products of the 2014 anniversary.

  • Bouissou, Sylvie, and Denis Herlin, eds. Jean-Philippe Rameau: Catalogue thématique des oeuvres musicales. 5 vols. Collection Sciences de la Musique. Paris: CNRS Éditions, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 2003–.

    E-mail Citation »

    The critical catalogue of Rameau’s works, prepared in the context of Bouissou, et al. 1996– (cited under Editions). Volume 1 is devoted to nondramatic music and Volume 2 to librettos and literary sources; Volumes 3 and 4 will be devoted to dramatic works; and Volume 5 to bibliographic resources and an index.

  • Foster, Donald H. Jean-Philippe Rameau: A Guide to Research. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 895. New York: Garland, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    A meticulous, comprehensive, and generously annotated bibliography. Its only flaw is the inevitable one: a considerable amount of research has subsequently been published, during a period in which the nature of Rameau research has changed dramatically. Still repays consultation.

  • La Gorce, Jérôme de, ed. Jean-Philippe Rameau: Colloque international organisé par la Société Rameau, Dijon, 21–24 septembre 1983. Paris: Champion, 1987.

    E-mail Citation »

    Essays from a conference celebrating the third centenary of Rameau’s birth, with essays covering his early career, sources, style, theoretical background, and performance practice. The authors include the most important Rameau scholars and French Baroque specialists of the 20th century.

  • Sadler, Graham. The Rameau Compendium. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2014.

    E-mail Citation »

    A dictionary of information pertaining to Rameau, this includes individuals, works, cities, ideas, and information on theaters and on the music itself. Richly documented. It also includes a short biography, an up-to-date works list, and a substantial bibliography.

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