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Did you know that Rameau was ‘the first composer whose music was labelled “baroque”, a wholly derogatory epithet at that time’ (1734), with the meaning ‘bizarre or outlandish’? Graham Sadler’s The Rameau Compendium contains many such fascinating tidbits, although it’s chiefly packed with the most up-to-date information on Rameau’s life, music and writings currently available in English.

Rameau was often embroiled in controversy and the book provides ample evidence of his propensity for falling out with people, either over his music or his theories of harmony, written in what Sadler concedes was a notoriously ‘clumsy and long-winded’ style. Nowadays, of course, Rameau is recognised as a major theorist and composer, whose operas in particular are enjoying a revival (thanks to historically informed performances).

Sadler’s book takes the format of an extensive A-Z guide, bracketed by a brief yet detailed biography, a list of works and a bibliography. The dictionary section includes individual entries on practically every Rameau composition, all the relevant people, places and institutions, plus useful explanations of – for example – specifically French musical terms and practices. Thankfully, Sadler is a much better prose stylist than Rameau: his entries are clear and succinct, and his book left me keen to learn more.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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