Flute Performance Practice in the Tragédies en Musique of Jean-Philippe Rameau



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Focusing on historically informed flute performance practice in an ensemble setting, this essay explores performance possibilities pertaining to rhythmic alteration, articulation, and ornamentation in the context of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s tragédies en musique—Hippolyte et Aricie (1733), Castor et Pollux (1737), Dardanus (1739), Zoroastre (1749), and Les Boréades (1763). Rameau’s tragédies en musique prominently feature the orchestra, and the variety of instrumental combinations within dance movements, vocal airs, and orchestral interludes provides numerous scenarios for the flutist to evaluate performance practice in relationship to other ensemble members. Historical considerations for this essay include the instrumentation, musical leadership, and rehearsal practices of the Académie Royale de Musique, the organization for which Rameau wrote these five-act operas. Additionally, this essay draws upon the advice of several eighteenth-century flute, violin, harpsichord, viol, and vocal treatises to inform the interpretation of musical elements such as agréments (tremblements, ports de voix, and flattement), over-dotted notes, notes inégales, and articulation. This study reveals that, although eighteenth century musicians and audience members valued a high quality of execution and uniformity in performance, factors such as the idiosyncratic tendencies of the flute and other instruments led to performance discrepancies, influencing the overall ensemble sound. Likewise, the modern performer will discover a variety of possible solutions to questions of ornamentation, articulation, and rhythmic alteration in the performance of these works.



Rameau, Jean-Philippe, Flute (instrument), Performance practice