Video: Hearing Rameau Arranged for Guitar Duo Might Make 18th Century Music First in Your Heart

By Stephen Raskauskas |

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Eden Stell Guitar Duo performing the WFMT Levin Studio

Eden Stell Guitar Duo played two works by Jean-Philippe Rameau during their Impromptu performance at WFMT that might make you fall in love with 18th century French music – if you weren’t already smitten with its sensualité.

One of the most influential composers and music theorists of the 18th century, Rameau published few instrumental works. Though his Pièces de Clavessin of 1724 were intended for keyboard instruments, some can be brilliantly arranged for other instruments.

Many of the great French composers of the 17th and 18th centuries allowed for a little wiggle room so that people could play works using what instruments and musicians were available. (Kind of nice, right?) In fact, Rameau’s only published chamber works, his Pièces de clavecin en concerts, were created to accommodate several possible combinations of instruments.

What would Rameau think of his keyboard pieces arranged for guitar duo?

Plucked string instruments like lutes and guitars were so ubiquitous in 18th century France that we see them frequently in depictions of both contemporary life and imagined scenes in many media from painting to porcelain.

La Partie carrée, Antoine Watteau (1713), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

French masters of the harpsichord mimicked a particular style of lute playing for the harpsichord in what was called style luthé. (Nowadays, it is called style brisé.) Many harpsichords then and now are equipped with a lute stop that allows players to mimic the sound of a lute by dampening the strings.

Rameau might have been delighted if an impromptu gathering of friends resulted in a few folks picking up their guitars to pluck out their own arrangements of his keyboard works.

As you watch guitarists Mark Eden and Christopher Stell perform Rameau below, you may be inspired to create some original arrangements of Rameau. Or at least, let Eden and Stell provide the music for your own impromptu fête galante.