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).



Meeting Dates: 

Session 1:      Thursday, Aug. 30, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode d’accompagnement I

Session 2:      Friday, Sept. 7, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode d’accompagnement II

Session 3:      Tuesday, Sept. 11, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode d’accompagnement III

Session 4:      Friday, Sept. 14, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode de composition I

Session 5:      Monday, Sept. 17, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode de composition II

Session 6:      Friday, Sept. 21, 15:00 – 18:00: Méthode de composition III

Session 7:      Tuesday, Oct. 2, 15:00 – 18:00: Nouvelles réflexions sur le principe sonore


Principal Texts:


Rameau, Jean-Philippe. 1760. Code de musique pratique. Paris: Imprimerie Royale. Facsimile with commentary as Vol. 4 of Erwin R. Jacobi, Jean-Philippe Rameau: Complete Theoretical Writings. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1967–1972. English translation by Mark Howard as Decoding Rameau: Music as the Sovereign Science.A Translation with Commentary of Code de musique pratique and Nouvelles réflexions sur le principe sonore (1760). Lucca: Libreria musicale italiana, 2015.

______. [c. 1759]. “Nouvelles réflexions sur le principe sonore.” Museo internationale e bibliotheca della musica di Bologna, dossier Martini, P. Giambattista, miscellanea, I.45/8. [An earlier version of the “Nouvelles réflexions” sent by Rameau to Padre Martini in Bologna; an Italian translation commissioned by Martini survives as “Riflessioni (nuove) sul principio sonoro,” miscellanea, I.45/9]

______. 1759. Letter to Padre Martini of Oct. 29, 1759. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Autogr. 7/93–2 Han.

______. 1757. Prospectus, où on propose au public, par voie de souscription, un Code de musique pratique, composé de sept méthodes. Paris: n.p. Facsimile in Vol. 4 of Erwin R. Jacobi, Jean-Philippe Rameau: Complete Theoretical Writings. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1967–1972.



Bouissou, Sylvie. 2014. Jean-Philippe Rameau: Musicien des Lumières. Paris: Fayard.

Christensen, Thomas. 1993. Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

______. 1987. “Rameau’s ‘L’Art de la basse fondamentale.’” Music Theory Spectrum 9: 18–41.

Holtmeier, Ludwig. 2017. Rameaus langer Schatten: Studien zur deutschen Musiktheorie des 18. Jahrhunderts. Hildesheim: Olms Verlag.

Jacobi, Erwin R. 1964. “Rameau and Padre Martini: New Letters and Documents.” Musical Quarterly 50: 452–75.

Lester, Joel. 2002. “Rameau and Eighteenth-Century Harmonic Theory.” In The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. Edited by Thomas Christensen, 753–77. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin, Nathan John. 2016. “Rousseau, Rameau, and the ‘Leçons de musique.’” Theoria 23: 5–82.

______. 2012. “Rameau’s Changing Views on Supposition and Suspension.” Journal of Music Theory 56: 121–67.

Rouard, Isabelle. 2016. “L’‘Art de la basse fondamentale’ de Rameau, pratique et pédagogie raisonées de la composition harmonique.” In Rameau, entre art et science. Edited by Sylvie Bouissou, Graham Sadler, and Solveig Serre, 367–80. Paris: École nationale des chartes.

Rouard, Isabelle and Claude Knepper. 2013. “Les ‘Leçons de musique’ du Fonds Rousseau de la Bibliothèque de Genève, manuscript autographe du traité de composition inédit de J.-Ph. Rameau: ‘L’Art de la basse fondamentale.” Annales Jean-Jacques Rousseau 51: 117–71.