Movement 1: Allemande
Movement 2: Courante
Movement 3a: Gigue en rondeau I
Movement 3b: Gigue en rondeau II
Movement 4: Le rappel des oiseaux
Movement 5: Rigaudons I, II & double
Movement 6: Musette en rondeau
Movement 7: Tambourin
Movement 8: La villageoise (rondeau)
Rameau introduces an imitation of nature in Le rappel des oiseaux (roughly translated as ‘The conference of the birds’). This piece was most likely inspired by Rameau’s friendship with the Jesuit Père Castel, who discussed with the composer the phenomenon and study of birdsong. We would be misguided to regard this (or La poule, from the G minor Suite) as some sort of silly warbling. There is a clear narrative thread, particularly evident in the second half where we hear the wings slowly losing energy and folding inwards as the birds fall asleep. It is all so wonderfully fetching, and I cannot help but think of the great medieval Sufi text of the same title (which has no relation to Rameau): ‘… rise up and play / Those liquid notes that steal men’s hearts away’.
There follows a triptych of vigorous Rigaudons followed by the glowing calm of the Musette en rondeau. This serene dance suggests a trio of old peasant ladies acting out the half-forgotten dances of their youth to the distant tones of a bagpipe being played in the hills. Then comes the dance of the young peasants with a rousing Tambourin—not a modern tambourine, but a pipe and tabor. It was this short movement that apparently inspired a little girl named Wanda Landowska to take up the cause of Baroque music. The last piece of the set, La villageoise, is a rondeau followed by a variation in running semiquavers. I like to imagine that this vignette depicts Rameau visiting the surrounding countryside of his hometown of Dijon, spying on a young peasant girl walking in the meadows. She is graceful, innocent, and all the more alluring as she hasn’t the faintest notion of her own quiet power. In the semiquavers I hear Rameau’s love for this girl and for the old days as he rides back to Paris. As in Dvořák’s ‘Dumky’ Piano Trio, Op 90, the composer observes the simple beauty and youth of times past, and the music only hints at what must be a deeper longing.
from notes by Mahan Esfahani © 2014