Handel, Rameau


I hope it’s only a passing phase or something, but I’ve recently gone off Handel’s operas. I’ve, meanwhile, rediscovered the operas/opera-ballets of Handel’s contemporary, Rameau.

I know this can only be a crude generalization, but here goes. Whilst Handel’s operas seem to have an endless aria-recitative thing, Rameau’s – assuming the comparison’s valid – seem to have, in addition to all that, more richly-textured overtures and orchestral accompaniments, rousing choruses, dances of compelling rhythmic energy, etc., and I can’t get enough of them at the moment.

Apparently they never met (Handel and Rameau), but I do believe that Rameau deserves more exposure. Handel was more successful at marketing than Rameau, but they are both great composers.

I occasionally switch my allegiance from one to the other – silly really, they are both too great and unique in their own way to make such comparisons. The other night whilst listening to “Suivez les lois” from the last scene in Rameau’s Les fêtes d’Hébé, I wondered how could any other composer possibly equal this.

Handel can – just listen to the soprano aria “What passion cannot music raise and quell” from his Ode for St Cecilia’s Day.

To return to Rameau – if you don’t already know his motet “In Convertendo”, then you are missing a truly remarkable experience. It is the first and without doubt the finest of three which are included in a CD called “Les Grands Motets” played by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie. An absolute must for anyone with a need for the great Jean-Philippe Rameau in their life.


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