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Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747)

French composer Jean-Féry Rebel was born in 1666 to a distinguished musical family. His father and uncle were French court musicians, and various siblings were professional musicians in other European centers.

Well connected through both his family and his teacher Jean-Baptiste Lully, Rebel’s success seemed assured from the start. He was the first violinist at the Académie Royale de Musique. In 1705, he joined the prestigious Vingt-quatre Violons du Roi (Twenty-Four Violins of the King). He inherited the position of chamber composer for the king after his brother died in 1718. Rebel went on to serve as batteur de mesure (conductor) at the Académie Royale.

Rebel’s place in musical history rests upon his leading role in developing the French baroque, often by infusing it with Italian elements. He wrote vocal pieces until about 1708, turning then to string sonatas and chamber music. He became particularly known for his music for choreographed dances, which he called “symphonies.” His final major work, Les Elémens (The Elements), involves all the notes on the harmonic D minor scale. An impressive intellectual and musical achievement, the piece portrays the four elements of air, earth, fire, and water, which evolve to a single tone, thus representing the creation of nature.

Rebel died in 1747, leaving behind three books of sonatas and suites for violin, 20 airs, and various compositions for ballet, including Caprice, Les Caractères de la Danse, and La Terpsichore, as well as Les Elémens.