Jean-Philippe Rameau

All but one of Rameau’s seven secular cantatas were written during his period in Clermont Ferrand, and although full of musical and even dramatic interest, they have been overshadowed by his later stage works. 


Ram 1

Aquilon et Orithie

French cantata

for bass (F#-f'#), violin and bc

Price: £ 7.50

This cantata Aquilon et Orithie, together with his other early work Thétis, may date from as early as 1715.

Aquilon et Orithie shows the Italian influence particularly in Rameau’s writing for violin.  James Anthony notes that “Brilliant , concerto-like violin obbligati climax in the rage aria ‘Servez mes feux’ [No. 4]”(1).  The final Air – Gracieusement et un peu piqué - is entirely and lyrically French however.

Aquilon (Boreas, the north wind), is in love with Oreithyia, who repulses his advances, possibly because she is a votary of Athene Polias.  Aquilon determines to take her by force, and creates a frightful storm which terrorises mere mortals.  During this he swoops down on Orithie when she is taking part in a ritual procession to the temple of Athene , and carries her off.  The non ‘politically correct’ outcome is that she is impressed by his ardour and succumbs to his advances. The ‘moral’ of the final Air is that we should seek to please a loved one, by whatever means are necessary!

(1). Anthony J R (1997): French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau, Amadeus Press, Portland, Oregon, p 435.

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Ram 2

Thétis

A French cantata

for bass (A-e'), violin and bc

Price: £ 6.90

Thétis borrows elements of French opera in the thunder symphonie preceding Jupiter's air (no. 5) and in Neptune's air (No. 3) which ends with an instrumental 'storm' passage. The work opens with a prelude based on the grave section of the French overture.

Thétis is a sea-goddess, one of the primal beings, and of extraordinary beauty. The cantata tells of her being courted by both Zeus (Jupiter) the thunderer, and Poseidon (Neptune) the ruler of the waves. Both demonstrate their power in terrifying, but characteristic fashion. In fact Thétis in the end married a mortal, Peleus , and her famous son was Achilles. The moral is that if you are beautiful enough you may choose whomever pleases you most.

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Ram 3

Les Amans Trahis

Cantata

for tenor (d-g''), bass (F-e'), viol and bc

Price: £ 10.50

All but one of his seven secular cantatas were written during his period in Clermont Ferrand, and although full of musical and even dramatic interest, they have been overshadowed by his later stage works. It is possible that his Aquilon et Orithie and Thétis represent his first works in the genre of chamber cantata, as the composer himself places them as early as 1715 , and that Les Amans Trahis is a later work. As James Anthony has commented, this work

“is a rare example in the French Baroque of a comic cantata. It contains the earliest suggestions of a style perfected by Rameau in his lyric comedy, Platée, of 1745. The various musical means used to characterize laughing or weeping, although obvious and overworked, are at least justifiable from the standpoint of the subject matter; and the rapid Alberti bass patterns and awkward leaps of the obbligato bass viol add much to the buffo character of Damon’s airs”

Tircis and Damon are like characters in some other dramas - like Héraclite et Démocrite in Stuck’s lovely cantata of that name – one weeps at misfortune, particularly in matters of love, and the other laughs. In the end Damon wins the argument, and they resolve that forgetting the fickleness of their girlfriends is the sweetest revenge.

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Ram 4

Tristes apprêts

Télaïre's lament from Castor et Pollux

for soprano, strings, bassoon and continuo

Price: £ 5.50

This tragic air is sung by Télaïre who has just learned that Castor, king of the Spartans, with whom she is passionately in love, has been killed in battle. Pollux, his twin brother resolves to descend to Hades to be with his brother, even though he knows that by doing so he will lose all chance to wed Télaïr, whom he loves. He thereby frees Castor to return to earth, and this he does but stays only one day; time to tell Télaïre that they must part for ever.

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