Main menu

The Rameau Project

Founded by Dr Jonathan Williams (TORCH AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellow 2013-14), the Rameau Project is a large-scale multidisciplinary research project devoted to the operas of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764). This ambitious three-phase venture is bringing together leading international scholars and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a major reappraisal of Rameau's stage works.

Employing highly developed music, richly choreographed dance sequences and multi-referencing librettos, these multimedia products are sophisticated expressions of Enlightenment agendas. As such, few idioms are as complex or raise as many unanswered questions of scholarship, performance and interpretation. For instance, in what ways did the intellectual doctrines and cultural contexts of mid-eighteenth-century France shape the work of Rameau and his collaborators? Can the Paris Opéra’s idiosyncratic performing environment be better understood? Is his work faithfully represented by performances today? How would Rameau’s operas sound were his composer-specific practices to be comprehensively adopted? And how would they look if historically-informed choreography was performed? How indeed does a menuet convey meaning?

Answering the questions posed by this complex idiom requires integrated research activities in diverse disciplines. A team of Rameau scholars led by Professor Graham Sadler will survey sources pertaining to the operas’ conception, performance and reception. An interdisciplinary research group, led by Professor Alain Viala, will investigate Rameau’s interactions with progressive agendas in philosophy, art, literature, politics and history. To explore the many issues of performance practice, research questions are being focused through workshops and performances of six Rameau operas with Edith Lalonger and her Baroque dance troupe, Les Plaisirs des Nations, and with the world-acclaimed Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE).

By this multifaceted approach, the Rameau Project will develop scholarly insights and practitioner expertise needed to convey to a modern audience these grandest expressions of the French Baroque.

Why is such a project so important? A contemporary of Bach, Handel and Vivaldi, Rameau wrote over 30 operas for Louis XV’s court, as well as ground-breaking treatises that remain foundational texts in the development of Western art music. Despite this, he remains one of the Enlightenment's least studied great figures, especially in Britain where he is still to attract sustained attention. Many of Rameau's large-scale, spectacular operas have never been performed in the UK, and the OAE’s recording of Anacréon is the first Rameau CD made here in 30 years. Remarkably, almost half of his operas remain unavailable in reliable critical editions. No other major composer remains so neglected.

 To discover more about the Rameau Project, please go to the Project’s main site here:

Dr Jonathan Williams