L'Egyptienne - Jean-Philippe Rameau

.L'Egyptienne by Jean-Philippe Rameau is a highly distinctive piece within the solo piano repertoire, demonstrating the composer's intricate understanding of keyboard music. Composed as part of his collection "Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin" and published in the early 18th century, this piece stands out for its exoticism and innovative harmonic progressions. Rameau's mastery in evoking vivid imagery through musical means has ensured .L'Egyptienne's lasting popularity among pianists and audiences alike.

The Historical Context and Publication

Jean-Philippe Rameau was among the most prominent composers and music theorists of the Baroque era. .L'Egyptienne, part of his "Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin," was published around 1728. This period witnessed Rameau's exploration of character pieces, where music was used to depict various scenes, emotions, or character types. .L'Egyptienne reflects Rameau's fascination with depicting geographical or ethnic characteristics through music, a novelty at the time of its release.

The suite garnered attention not only for its musical inventiveness but also for how it encapsulated the spirit of its time - an era characterized by a burgeoning interest in cultures beyond the European mainstream. This interest was part of the broader cultural phenomenon known as Orientalism, which significantly influenced the arts during the 18th century.

Dissecting .L'Egyptienne: A Music Theory Perspective

From a music theory standpoint, .L'Egyptienne is noteworthy for its use of modal melodies and harmonic structures that deviate from the conventional practices of the time. Rameau employs various scales and modes to evoke the exoticism associated with Egyptian culture, skillfully using harmonic progressions to transport the listener to a different locale.

The piece is constructed around a recurring motif that mimics the sounds and rhythms perceived as "Eastern" to European ears. This is achieved through the use of ornamental turns and trills, alongside a modal harmonic approach that incorporates augmented seconds, a hallmark of what was considered "Oriental" music during the period.

Rameau's innovative use of dissonance and resolution plays a crucial role in the piece's emotive power. The unexpected harmonic shifts contribute to a sense of mystique and allure, perfectly aligning with the piece's thematic inspiration. The structure of the piece, while reflecting the traditional binary form common in Baroque dance movements, is imbued with a unique rhythmic vitality and melodic inventiveness.

What Makes .L'Egyptienne Resonate with Audiences?

The enduring popularity of .L'Egyptienne can be attributed to various factors, chief among them being its vivid musical portrayal of an exotic locale. This piece not only serves as a showcase for Rameau's compositional genius but also offers performers a rich canvas to express their interpretative skills.

Furthermore, the piece's ability to evoke imagery and emotion through its distinctive melodies and harmonies continues to captivate both performers and listeners. Its standing as a staple within the solo piano repertoire is a testament to its timeless appeal and the universal fascination with the allure of the exotic.


Jean-Philippe Rameau's .L'Egyptienne stands as a brilliant example of Baroque keyboard music that transcends its time. It represents a convergence of musical innovation, cultural curiosity, and expressive depth. This piece not only highlights Rameau's prowess as a composer but also offers a window into the broader cultural and musical trends of the 18th century. Its continued relevance and popularity among modern audiences underscore its place in the canon of classical music.

Publication date: 06. 03. 2024