Guest Seminar: Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Code de musique pratique (1760)
Convener: Nathan John Martin, University of Michigan
Rameau’s last major treatise, the Code de musique pratique (1760) represents the composer’s definitive music-theoretical statement. Yet the Code has received far less scholarly attention than earlier works such as the Traité de l’harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels (1722), the Génération harmonique (1737), or the Démonstration du principe de l’harmonie (1750). In this seminar, we will concentrate on the Code’s music-theoretical core: Of its seven constituent “methods,” we will first slowly and systematically read through the méthode d’accompagnement;we will then survey the méthode de composition more quickly, before considering the work’s turn towards speculative theory in its appendix, the “Nouvelles réflexions sur le principe sonore.” This reading of the Code will provide an occasion to reflect, among other topics, on the relationship between Rameau’s practical and speculative theorizing (and about that between Geschichte der Musiktheorie and historische Satzlehre more generally), on the evolution of Rameau’s harmonic theory between 1722 and 1760 (including its reception by his French contemporaries and their reciprocal influence on the theory’s subsequent elaboration), on the relative importance of musical examples vs. discursive prose in Rameau’s theorizing (and on the relationship between discursive and non-discursive texts in the history of music theory more generally), and, in the “Nouvelles réflexions,” on Rameau’s appeal to historical and extra-European sources and that appeal’s implications for the rhetoric of his theory’s legitimation (and for modes of legitimation in music theorizing more generally).