Despite not composing his first opera until he was almost 50, Rameau quickly became the principal composer of French opera, inheriting a well-established tradition from Lully. Whilst the main plot of his 1739 opera Dardanus was so absurd (a convoluted love story with sea monsters, magicians and dream sequences) that it had to be extensively re-written after its premiere, the prologue, following a Lullian convention, is a straightforward allegory rooted in classical mythology. Cupid banishes Jealousy, but Love can’t survive without her—Cupid and the Pleasures fall into a deep sleep, and Venus has to recall Jealousy to bring them all back to life. The classic ‘French’ Ouverture, with its grandiose dotted-rhythm opening giving way to a compelling energetic movement, is a musical highlight of the opera; and as the mortals pay homage to Cupid through dance, Rameau’s ballet music, for which he was rightly renowned, is especially colourful—demonstrating the revolutionary use of harmony, melodic and rhythmic quirks, and range of emotional expression that conservative ‘Lullistes’ found so grotesque. It was common practice in Rameau’s time to produce a suite of ballet movements from operas to perform in concert, and this collection also contains three such movements from the main opera: the sorrowful Entrée d’Iphise, the martial Entrée pour les Guerriers, and the Sommeil de Dardanus (inexplicably he falls asleep next to a monster) in which Rameau vividly depicts the hero’s snoring.

Matthew Knight

Parts included:

  • Score
  • Trumpet in E-flat
  • Trumpet 1 in B-flat
  • Trumpet 2 in B-flat
  • Trombone 1
  • Trombone 2
  • Trombone 3 (Bass)
  • Tuba

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