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Monstrous Opera

Monstrous Opera: Rameau and the Tragic Tradition

Charles Dill
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Monstrous Opera
    Book Description:

    One of the foremost composers of the French Baroque operatic tradition, Rameau is often cited for his struggle to steer lyric tragedy away from its strict Lullian form, inspired by spoken tragedy, and toward a more expressive musical style. In this fresh exploration of Rameau's compositional aesthetic, Charles Dill depicts a much more complicated figure: one obsessed with tradition, music theory, his own creative instincts, and the public's expectations of his music. Dill examines the ways Rameau mediated among these often competing values and how he interacted with his critics and with the public. The result is a sophisticated rethinking of Rameau as a musical innovator.

    In his compositions, Rameau tried to highlight music's potential for dramatic meanings. But his listeners, who understood lyric tragedy to be a poetic rather than musical genre, were generally frustrated by these attempts. In fact, some described Rameau's music as monstrous--using an image of deformity to represent the failure of reason and communication. Dill shows how Rameau answered his critics with rational, theoretical arguments about the role of music in lyric tragedy. At the same time, however, the composer sought to placate his audiences by substantially revising his musical texts in later performances, sometimes abandoning his most creative ideas.

    Monstrous Operailluminates the complexity of Rameau's vision, revealing not only the tensions within the music but also the conflicting desires that drove the man--himself caricatured by his contemporaries as a monster.

    Originally published in 1998.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6481-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Monstrous Opera
    (pp. 3-30)

    I begin not with tragedy but with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s earliest foray into the lighter genre now referred to asopéra-ballet, and I begin not with the 1735 work itself but with its engraved edition, first published in the following year. The preface to the 1736 edition, or print, ofLes Indes galantesopens with a surprising admission:

    The public having appeared less satisfied with the scenes of [Les]Indes galantesthan with the rest of the work, I believed I ought not question its judgment, and for this reason I present it here with only the symphonies, interspersed with some...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Different Tragedies
    (pp. 31-56)

    The print ofLes lndes galantesillustrates in microcosm the role difference played, and continues to play, in discussions of Rameau’s tragedies. By this I mean more than the disagreements that colored the reception of the tragedies. I refer rather to the larger distinctions arising from the drive or even need to constitute and reconstitute these works ontologically, the contradictions attending the desire of audience members and historians to establish once and for all what sort of objects the operas were musically, genetically, socially, and culturally. Our modern understanding of them depends to some extent on determining a topographically stable...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Rameau’s Twins
    (pp. 57-105)

    Having established a new compositional voice by emphasizing music’s presence, Rameau could easily have continued composing scenes in the vein of “Temple sacré, séjour tranquille.” To be sure,Hippolytehad met with controversy. Musicians refused to perform portions of it, and, as we will see, they forced poet and composer to alter other scenes during the earliest stages of the production. Yet, in spite of this, Rameau’s status as a composer was now sufficiently strong to provide opportunities for pursuing music’s newfound role. The Académie royale de musique, plagued as always by financial difficulties, could scarcely ignore the attention he...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Rameau Mise-en-Scène
    (pp. 106-134)

    Rameau’s shifting attitudes toward text setting repeat the fundamental contradiction we have been tracing all along. On the one hand, if he truly believed he was composing tragédies en musique in the Lullian tradition—and at least on some level he wished to believe it—then he was presenting nothing particularly new in his tragedies: the surprising harmonizations and elaborate orchestrations, however mesmerizing their effect on audiences, were the logical extensions of musical techniques already familiar to operagoers. This belief in tradition complemented his belief that his theories were not newly invented but something in the natural universe that he...

  9. CHAPTER 5 In the Mirror
    (pp. 135-152)

    Even now the temptation is strong to slip into narrative in which Rameau becomes a kind of twentieth-century success story: the ambitious composer who refuses to letLes Indes galanteslanguish in an unflattering and inaccurate form, who sets out to reinvent the tragédie en musique inHippolyte et Aricie, who refines works perhaps as much as seventeen years after conceiving them, who pursues a conservative and old-fashioned ideological agenda in the name of reform. Rameau did all these things, and he did them in a manner familiar to us from narratives of later composers. He exerted his will over...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 153-182)
  11. Sources Cited
    (pp. 183-194)
  12. Index
    (pp. 195-198)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 199-199)