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Jean-Ferry Rebel (1666 - 1747)
1st movement - Le Cahos
[ the Elements - Chaos ]
Pamela Thorby - recorders
Rodolfo Richter - baroque violin
Susanne Heinrich - viola da gamba
William Carter - archlute, theorbo, baroque guitar
Excerpt from CD Notes/Essay~
The thunderous dissonance which opens 'Les Elemens' is probably the most shocking and original single bar of music composed up to that time. How much more extraordinary to reflect that it was written by a 71 year old pensioner whose music had been previously praised for its 'Wisdom, Taste and Tenderness' and its avoidance of the 'Frightening and Monstrous'!
Jean-Féry Rebel enjoyed a long and productive career as one of Louis XIV favoured musicians. He was presented at court at the age of 8 by his father, a royal musician, where he reportedly astonished the King with his virtuosity on the violin. He was encouraged by Lully and rose through the ranks to eventually direct the 24 Violons du Roy. When he stepped down from conducting the Concert Spirituel in 1735 he had a long series of successful instrumental works and ballet scores to look back on (although his one Opera; Ulysse, was a failure) However, he was soon tempted out of retirement by Prince Carignan to write the score that has become his most famous: 'Les Elemens'. The work was premiered in 1737 without the opening movement Le Cahos. The "Mercure de France" reported,
'On the 27th of September the Royal Academy of Music played, after the Opera 'Cadmus' a new symphonic work, by Mr. Rebel Senior (Rebel's son was also a prominent musician) entitled 'The Elements', danced by Mlles. Salle and Mariette and by Ms. Dumoulin, Dupre, Malter and Javilliers. This Divertissement, which was perfectly executed, and much applauded, is adorned with a set which characterized the Elements and made a very grand effect.'
The same journal in 1738 tells us:
'On the 17th and 22nd of March there were performances of 'Chaos' by M. Rebel Senior, the which, in the judgment of the greatest Connoisseurs, is one of the most beautiful symphonic works in this genre...a pure symphony without dance or pantomime.'
Rebel's forward to the work gives us a glimpse of his thoughts:
'The introduction to this work is Chaos itself; that confusion which reigned among the Elements before the moment when, subject to immutable laws, they assumed their prescribed places within the natural order. This initial idea led me somewhat further. I have dared to link the idea of the confusion of the Elements with that of confusion in Harmony. I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound. To designate, in this confusion, each particular element, I have availed myself of some widely accepted conventions. The bass expresses Earth by tied notes which are played jerkily. The flutes, with their rising and falling line, imitate the flow and murmur of Water. Air is depicted by pauses followed by cadenzas on the small flutes, and finally the violins, with their liveliness and brilliance represent the activity of Fire. These characteristics may be recognized, separate or intermingled, in whole or in part, in the diverse reprises that I have called Chaos, and which mark the efforts of the Elements to get free of each other. At the 7th appearance of Chaos these efforts diminish as order begins to assert itself...'
William Carter, London 2003