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Jean-Philippe Rameau

Jean-Philippe Rameau was a French composer best known for "Les Indes galantes", an opera-ballet published in 1735.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection

Prologue des Indes galantes : représenté devant leurs majestés à Versailles le samedi 16 février 1765. Rameau, Jean-Phillippe (Composer)

Jean-Philippe Rameau was a French composer and music theorist who wrote Les Indes galantes, an opera-ballet that features a magnificent fourth-act tableau of American “savages,” which can be traced to the visit of four Mississippi Valley Indian chiefs to France in 1725. Rameau, born in Dijon, France, in 1683, was one of eleven children of Jean Rameau, a musician, and Claudine Demartinécourt. He attended the Jesuit Collège des Godrans in Dijon where his performance was so grim that his parents were asked to remove him from the school. In January 1702, when Rameau was nineteen, he was engaged as an organist at a provincial cathedral, launching his musical career.

In 1725, Rameau, by then a respected composer, was invited to join King Louis XV to witness several dances of the four visiting Mississippi Valley Indian chiefs. Afterward, Rameau based his keyboard composition Les sauvages on the melodies and rhythms that the Indians performed. Soon Les sauvages was one of the most popular keyboard compositions in eighteenth-century France. Rameau transformed the music into the fourth act of his opera-ballet Les Indes galantes. The plot tells the story of Zima, an Indian princess, who prefers the love of the Indian Adario to Spanish and French colonists of Louisiana. Rameau is but one of numerous composers who for nearly three centuries have found musical inspiration in Louisiana.