Jean-Philippe Rameau produced some of the most remarkable expressions of the eighteenth century. Of these many wonders, Rameau’s expression of “tenderness”, I argue, represents the codification of irony in musical terms, embodying a fundamentally different way of listening.
As a condition, tenderness is characterised by restraint, by which it holds something back. As such, tenderness unavoidably expresses a kind of loss. The meaning of tenderness can be approached according to the nature of its loss; in other words, the meaning of tenderness is what it laments.
Moreover, not simply is loss inherent to tenderness as a mechanism of its meaning but so does the fabric of tenderness draw on the trope of loss: lament. The chapter provides a basic historical context to lament, examining lament as a tradition that deals specifically with the trope of loss, with particular focus on examples of Monteverdi (this is where the chapter begins), but also Lully, Diderot, Proust and the eighteenth-century visual tradition of Parisian street cries (see ‘Sound, Order, and Elitism’, chapter 1). The chapter culminates in a series of illustrations of tenderness in the orchestral music of Rameau in which tenderness is presented as a disorder of the trope of loss: a trope-of-a-trope.
In effect, tenderness constitutes an ironic expression in which something is stated whilst seemingly meaning something else. This expression is fascinating to consider since it constitutes a kind of meaning that is essentially generative—a kind of meaning, in other words, that draws on the experience of the listener (‘The Sense of Disorder’, chapter 2, discusses the role of subjectivity within musical meaning). Indeed, a claim of the chapter is that tenderness represents the codification of a different way of listening. What is meant by this is that, in so far as tenderness expresses other than it means, in hearing its expression one is essentially “hearing between the lines”. This is described in the chapter as a kind of distance from the present moment. In this sense, tenderness can be understood according to the way in which it plays “in time”, by which it is meant that its present expression is not really “present” at all but plays on its history, or, more accurately, imagines a future which is really a misreading of its past.
Rameau’s most extraordinary expressions go beyond tenderness, either transforming it upwards as in ‘Air pour les muses’ from Le temple de la gloire or, as is the case of the ‘Entrée’ from Les Boréades, inhabiting a realm of Grace reached by precious few composers.
The chapter is the heart of the dissertation, drawing together theories of musical meaning with its mechanisms, and situating this in a context of sensibility. It is a dense and unusual chapter which combines close analysis with affective observations, as well as poetics and sensibility. The fabric of the argument is very much the music, and, as such, recordings are suggested throughout (accessible below), and entire pieces are typeset where editions either do not exist or are generally difficult to locate. The chapter additionally examines the theoretical writings of Rameau (Traité), including the relation of tenderness to “the chords of supposition”, a contentious and advanced area of Rameau’s tonal theory.
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S. Crayton: ‘Tendres Plaintes’, Out of Order (University of Cambridge, 2023), pp. 47-85.
Lamento della ninfa, ‘Amor, dicea, il ciel mirando’ from Monteverdi’s Book VIII, performed by Delitiae Musicae (Naxos, 2017). The passage discussed in the chapter begins at 1:54.
Altri canti d’amor, tenero arciero from Monteverdi’s Book VIII, performed by Delitiae Musicae (Naxos, 2017). The passage discussed in the chapter begins at 1:11.
‘Tendre Amour’ from Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (conducted by William Christie, harmonia mundi, 2014).
The Passacaille from Lully’s Armide of 1686 (conducted by Christophe Rousset in Paris: Aparté, 2015). Begin at 2:01:38.
The Passacaille from Lully’s Acis et Galatée of 1687 (conducted by Marc Minkowski: DG Archiv: 1998).
Les Tendres Plaintes performed by Jean Rondeau (Erato, 2016).
‘Air tendre en Rondeau’, Zoroastre, directed by Jordi Savall (Alia Vox, 2011).
‘Sommeil (Rondeau tendre)’, Dardanus, conducted by Marc Minkowski (Archiv Produktion, 2000).
’Anacreon: Sommeil’, Les Surprises de l’Amour, conducted by Sébastien d’Hérin (Glossa, 2013).
‘Entrée d’Abaris, Polimnie, les Muses, Zéphyrs, Saisons, Les Heures et Les Arts’, Les Boréades, conducted by Frans Brüggen (Philips Digital Classics, 1987).
‘Air pour l’adoration du soleil’, Les Indes galantes, conducted by Frans Brüggen (Philips Digital Classics, 1994).
‘Air tendre’, Les fêtes d’Hébé, conducted by Marc Minkowski (Archiv Produktion, 2005).
‘Air tendre pour les muses’, Le temple de la gloire, conducted by Marc Minkowski (Archiv Produktion, 2005).
‘Deuxième air [pour Zephire]’, Les Indes galantes, directed by Jordi Savall (Alia Vox, 2010).
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Martin, N. J.: ‘Rameau’s Changing Views on Supposition and Suspension’, Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 121-167.
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*Rameau, J-P.: Traité de l’Harmonie (Paris: J-B-C. Ballard, 1722).
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Proust, M.: The Prisoner, ed. C. Prendergast, trans. C. Clark (The Penguin Press, 2002).
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