In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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  • Reference Works
  • Foundational Studies of Rousseau with Significant Comment on the Musical Writings
  • Biographies and Biographical Studies

Music Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Nathan Martin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0217


Recent scholarship has increasingly recognized the central role that Jean-Jacques Rousseau (b. 1712–d. 1778) played in the musical life of Enlightenment France. Rousseau was active as a composer, theorist, copyist, compiler, editor, and polemicist. His interests ranged across the full field of 18th-century musical thought: musical antiquarianism (Greek harmonic theory and medieval music, especially that of Guillaume de Machaut), musical ethnography (particularly Chinese, Persian, and Amerindian musics), music theory (notably the writings of his great contemporaries Giuseppe Tartini and Jean-Philippe Rameau), operatic aesthetics (especially the century-long and seemingly endemic controversy over Italian and French opera, but also melodrama, opéra comique, and the opera-reform movement associated with Gluck), systems of musical notation, and so on. Though somewhat overshadowed in posterity’s estimation by the preoccupations of his political and autobiographical writings, musical questions were nonetheless a subject of life-long interest for Rousseau. His musical writings occupy fully a fifth of the total corpus of his works, and they span from almost his first publication (the Dissertation sur la musique moderne of 1743) to his late writings on Gluck (e.g., the Extrait d’une réponse du petit faiseur à son prête-nom sur l’Orphée de M. le Chevalier Gluck of c. 1774). His opera Le Devin du village (1752) was among late-18th-century France’s perennial favorites and was still in the repertoire during Berlioz’s lifetime; it also exerted a key influence on the early development of opéra comique. The late melodrama Pygmalion (1775) popularized a genre of which Rousseau was effectively the inventor, and which enjoyed a long posterity running through Franz Benda’s (b. 1709–d. 1786) numerous Melodramen and Beethoven’s Fidelio (1805) to Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw (1947). The general modern resurgence of interest in Rousseau’s musical writings began with Lévi-Strauss 1976 and Derrida 1976 (both cited under Foundational Studies of Rousseau with Significant Comment on the Musical Writings), and it received further impetus from the lengthy gestation of the fifth volume (Écrits sur la musique, la langue et le théâtre; see Rousseau 1959–1995, cited under Editions) of the standard Pléiade edition of Rousseau’s works. The various scholarly activities sparked by the three-hundredth centenary of Rousseau’s birth in 2012, including the new Garnier edition of his Œuvres complètes, promise further to enrich our understanding of Rousseau’s multifarious musical activities.


The standard French edition of Rousseau’s works is that published by Gallimard (Rousseau 1959–1995) in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade series. The significant delay in preparing Volume 5 (Rousseau 1959–1995) meant that readers whose attention was drawn to Rousseau’s Essai sur l’origine des langues by Derrida 1976 (cited under Foundational Studies of Rousseau with Significant Comment on the Musical Writings) long had to rely on stand-alone editions such as those of Charles Porset (Rousseau 1958), Jean Starobinski (Rousseau 1990; reissued in Rousseau 1959–1995), or Catherine Kintzler (Rousseau 1993). The Pléiade edition omits the many articles that Rousseau compiled for the Encyclopédie in 1749 (see Encyclopédie Articles) and simply reprints the Dictionnaire de musique without critical apparatus. Rousseau’s music (as opposed to his writing about music) is omitted entirely. Claude Dauphin’s edition (Rousseau 2008) represents the first modern critical edition of the Dictionnaire de musique. It is joined by Brenno Boccadoro, Amalia Collisani, and Samuel Baud-Bovy’s recent edition for the Slatkine/Champion tercentenary edition of Rousseau’s works (Rousseau 2012) and by Maria Semi’s projected edition for the new Garnier collection. R. A. Leigh’s monumental edition of Rousseau’s Correspondance complète (Rousseau 1965–1998) is an essential tool for research. Its fifty-two volumes present not just the corpus, lavishly annotated, of surviving letters to and from Rousseau, but also a wealth of contemporary documents pertaining to him. Its numerous appendices (e.g., that on “Rousseau and Gluck”) provide valuable guidance to both the documentary evidence and the secondary literature on various topics relevant to Rousseau and music. The general index is given in Volume 52 (but unfortunately does not contain an entry for “Musique”). Le devin du village is available in a modern edition by Charlotte Kaufmann (Rousseau 1998); Pygmalion in one by Jacqueline Waeber (Rousseau 1997). There is no collected edition of Rousseau’s music.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essai sur l’origine des langues où il est parlé de la mélodie et de l’imitation musicale. Edited by Charles Porset. Bordeaux, France: Guy Ducros, 1958.

    An early modern edition of Rousseau’s Essai. The edition of reference for much of the earlier literature.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Œuvres complètes. 5 vols. Edited by Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond. Paris: Gallimard, 1959–1995.

    The standard French edition of Rousseau’s writings. The musical writings are in Volume 5 (1995). The presentation is, however, incomplete. The articles on music for the Encyclopédie are omitted; the Dictionnaire de musique is merely reprinted from an earlier edition; and the volume gives only Rousseau’s writings on music, none of his music.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Correspondance complète. Edited by R. A. Leigh. Geneva, Switzerland and Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 1965–1998.

    Probably the greatest single monument of 20th-century Rousseau scholarship. The edition, which was compiled single-handedly, replaces Théophile Dufour’s earlier effort.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essai sur l’origine des langues où il est parlé de la mélodie et de l’imitation musicale. Edited by Jean Starobinski. Paris: Gallimard, 1990.

    The great rousseauiste Jean Starobinski’s edition, first printed apart and then subsequently incorporated into Volume 5 of the Gallimard Œvres complètes (Rousseau 1959–1995).

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essai sur l’origine des langues où il est parlé de la mélodie et de l’imitation musicale, suivi de Lettre sur la musique française et Examen de deux principes avancés par M. Rameau. Edited by Catherine Kintzler. Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1993.

    Another stand-alone edition of the Essai that remains useful for its introduction and notes.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Pygmalion: Scène lyrique. Edited by Jacqueline Waeber. Geneva, Switzerland: Éditions Université–Conservatoire de Musique, 1997.

    A widely available edition of Rousseau’s mélodrame. A new edition by Erik Leborgne is planned for the Garnier Oeuvres complètes.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Le devin du village. Edited by Charlotte Kaufmann. Madison, WI: A-R Editions, 1998.

    The most widely available modern edition of Rousseau’s celebrated opéra comique. A new critical edition by Jacqueline Waeber is planned for the Garnier Œuvres complètes.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Le dictionnaire de musique de Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Une édition critique. Edited by Claude Dauphin. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2008.

    The first modern critical edition of the Dictionnaire de musique.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Œuvres complètes: Édition thématiques du tricentenaire. Vol. 13. Edited by Raymond Trousson and Frédéric Eigeldinger. Geneva, Switzerland: Slatkine, 2012.

    Volume 13 presents Brenno Boccadoro, Amalia Collasini, and Samuel Baud-Bovy’s edition of Rousseau’s Dictionnaire. The majority of Rousseau’s other writings on music are in Volume 12.

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Œuvres complètes. 20 vols. Edited by Alain Grosrichard, François Jacob, and Yannick Séité. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015.

    The Garnier edition will present the first modern critical edition of the articles from the Encyclopédie (by Alain Cernuschi), a new critical edition of the Dictionnaire de musique (by Maria Semi), editions of musical works such as Le devin du village (by Jacqueline Waeber), as well as revised editions of all those musical writings included in the older Pléiade volume.

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