Hyperion Records

Suite in E minor
Pièces de clavecin, 1724, revised 1731

'Rameau: Keyboard Suites' (CDA67597)
Rameau: Keyboard Suites
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67597 
'Rameau: Keyboard Suites' (SACDA67597)
Rameau: Keyboard Suites
SACDA67597  Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
Movement 1: Allemande
Track 1 on CDA67597 [3'34]
Track 1 on SACDA67597 [3'34] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 2: Courante
Track 2 on CDA67597 [1'48]
Track 2 on SACDA67597 [1'48] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 3a: Gigue en rondeau I
Track 3 on CDA67597 [1'28]
Track 3 on SACDA67597 [1'28] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 3b: Gigue en rondeau II
Track 4 on CDA67597 [2'44]
Track 4 on SACDA67597 [2'44] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 4: Le rappel des oiseaux
Track 5 on CDA67597 [2'37]
Track 5 on SACDA67597 [2'37] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 5: Rigaudons I, II & double
Track 6 on CDA67597 [2'20]
Track 6 on SACDA67597 [2'20] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 6: Musette en rondeau
Track 7 on CDA67597 [2'45]
Track 7 on SACDA67597 [2'45] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 7: Tambourin
Track 8 on CDA67597 [1'29]
Track 8 on SACDA67597 [1'29] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 8: La villageoise (rondeau)
Track 9 on CDA67597 [2'43]
Track 9 on SACDA67597 [2'43] Super-Audio CD — Deleted

Suite in E minor
Following the collection of 1706, Rameau did not publish any more solo harpsichord music until the Pièces de clavecin of 1724. Containing two groups (most likely intended as suites), each centred on a different tonality, this publication shows a more mature composer who has clearly found his own voice. The Suite in E minor opens with a lofty Allemande, a piece that at first seems indebted to the older style until Rameau introduces a second theme with widely spaced intervals. This musical non sequitur, following the stepwise motion of the opening bars, creates an effect of eccentric opulence as Rameau suddenly, mid-phrase, shifts the melodic activity to a higher register, infusing the piece with a splendid vocal quality. The following Courante takes a more humble tone, with occasional moments of wit. Dispensing with the usual sarabande, Rameau goes straight into a pair of Gigues. The first is in the minor mode with a plaintive quality, which contrasts with the triumphal mood of the major-key second Gigue. Both are in rondeau form, and the second one sees Rameau introducing a variety of contrasting characters in the alternating couplets. This is the kind of music that transforms the double-manual harpsichord into a wellspring of colour and timbre.

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

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