The Apotheosis of French Baroque Music

Jean-Philippe Rameau ca. 1728

Some of us were fortunate enough to attend the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale’s production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Le Temple de la Gloire this past spring, which used the extraordinary original source manuscript score and libretto in the collection of UC Berkeley’s Jean Gray Hargrove Music Library. In September, John Prescott, Ph.D., will present a week-long series of talks on the composer of this remarkable music, another in his ongoing, always imaginative, and by now nearly semi-annual early music lecture courses. The new series runs Monday, September 18, through Friday, September 22, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon, at St. Mary Magdalene Parish (Norton Hall), 2005 Berryman St., Berkeley.

As with Dr. Prescott’s previous lectures, proceeds from this course go to benefit the SFEMS Music Discovery Workshop and Youth Collegium, a week-long summer day camp that introduces children to early music and social history through music instruction and theater projects.

Dr. Prescott’s lectures for interested adults have become a beloved institution for SFEMS members, as he has used his extensive scholarship, intelligence and wit to make early music and its historical context come alive for enthusiastic audiences. Over the past decade, his well-attended, in-depth courses—always including many audio samples—have covered the biographies and works of other musical giants, such as Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Telemann, and most recently Mozart; he has surveyed entire periods or historical movements, such as his 2013 lectures on the French baroque or 2014’s series the transition from Renaissance to baroque in Italy, England, Germany, and the Low Countries; and he has devoted lecture series to the history of a particular group of instruments, tracing the development of keyboards from the late Renaissance through the early Classical periods, and to the development of chamber music over that same historical span.

September’s five morning course will explore the treasures of Rameau’s music for the church, the stage and the salon. We will learn how he successfully united the suavity of French music with the rhythmic vitality of Italian music. In addition to being the premier composer of the French baroque, Rameau is, in many ways the father of modern music theory. While we revel in the delights of Rameau’s music, we will also discuss his contributions to the modern understanding of chords and harmony and how these concepts played out in his music.

Day 1 will focus on Rameau’s Pièces de Clavecin, his amazing contribution to harpsichord and chamber music; Day 2 will sample the splendor of Rameau’s church music; Day 3 will explore the intimate drama of Rameau’s secular cantatas; Day 4 will showcase Rameau’s operas—his crowning achievement; and Day 5 will consider the great composer’s musical legacy.

You may register for all five days or individually by day. Musical experience or ability to read music are not necessary. Come listen, learn, and join in the adventure! Tuition is $30 per lecture ($25 for SFEMS members) or $125 for the full, five-week course ($110 for SFEMS members). For further information about this course, or to register, contact Britt Ascher at

John Prescott is an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.