Lived 1683–1764
Mostly in Dijon, Lyon, Paris
Best known for Les Boréades, Les Indes Galantes, Castor et Pollux, Platée, Keyboard Works
Similar to Lully Charpentier


Today we bandy ‘Baroque’ about as a label of convenience for the music of the 17th and early 18th centuries without much thought to the word’s original meaning. Five hundred years ago, ‘baroque’ could have been used to describe a beautifully misshapen pearl or extravagant jewellery. But no one applied the word to music until the 1730s, when a reviewer of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s first opera Hippolyte et Ariciecomplained that it lacked clear melody, continually changed key, and ran the gamut of every conceivable compositional device. All this disconcerting complexity was, in a word, ‘baroque’.

Rameau was no doubt proud that his music was perceived as richly inventive, and throughout his career he continued to challenge his audiences with new colours and textures when they’d probably rather have been allowed to nod off. In fact, they split into two factions – his devotees (the ‘ramistes’), who were thrilled by his progressive Italianate style, and his detractors (the ‘lullistes’), who remained staunchly loyal to the traditions of the long-dead master of French music – Jean-Baptiste Lully. While the worst...