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Les Élémens (Rebel)

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Les Élémens, simphonie nouvelle
by Jean-Féry Rebel
GenreBaroque music
DedicationPrince of Carignano
DurationAbout 25 minutes
ScoringInstrumental ensemble
Date27 September, 1737
LocationPalais des Tuileries

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Les Élémens, simphonie nouvelle (spelling from the engraved score) is a ballet without words composed for instrumental ensemble in 1737 by Jean-Féry Rebel. This work is remarkable for the harmonic daring of its introduction, which was unexpected at the time of its composition.


The theme of the ballet was most likely inspired by the ballet-opera Les elemens, which Rebel conducted in 1721.

The piece consists of ten movements.

  1. Le cahos (spelling from the engraved score) or chaos
    This 127-bar prologue is an undanced instrumental piece. Le cahos is divided into seven parts referring to the seven days of Creation.
    The first chaos, marked "très lent", begins with a cluster which includes all the notes of the D harmonic minor scale (D, E, F, G, A, B, C), the first cluster in musical history, which is held for two measures by the strings, the bassoon and the harpsichord, in dynamics indicated "fort" and "strong" (also known as a decrescendo), followed by a silence. This chord is held in the following bars with rhythmic acceleration of quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes, with a high A held by the piccolo at the end of the 3rd measure. Four themes are presented in the second chaos: "l’eau" (water) in the flutes, represented by a descending melodic movement, which then ascends gradually in regular joint values; "l'air" (air) in the piccolos, represented by a high B trill. This occurs at the same time as "le feu" (fire) in the violins, represented by high jerks. The last theme of the second chaos is "la terre", in the bass instruments, represented in the following measure by long notes. These themes are developed in the following chaoses. The shorter seventh chaos is generally more peaceful, without the harmonic and rhythmic irregularities of previous chaos; it ends with a long cadence in D major.[1]

The rest of the symphony comprises dances and pieces of varied instrumentation, from 2 to 5 parts, including horns and oboes, in which the elements are evoked without the harmonic audacity of the introduction.

  1. Loure I: La terre et l'eau
  2. Chaconne: Le feu
  3. Ramage: L'air
  4. Rossignols
  5. Loure II
  6. Tambourins I & II
  7. Sicilienne
  8. Rondeau: Air pour l'Amour
  9. Caprice
<score raw="1" vorbis="1">

\version "2.18.2" \header {

 tagline = ##f


%%%%%%%%%% KEYS %%%%%%%%%%%%%

global = { \time 4/4 \override Staff.TimeSignature.stencil = ##f } Key = { \key c \major }

%% main droite rhUpper = \relative c {

 < g bes >1

} rhLower = \relative c' {

 < cis e >1


%% main gauche lhUpper = \relative c' {

 < f, a >1

} lhLower = \relative c {

 < d, d' >1


PianoRH = {

 \clef treble
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"acoustic grand"
   \new Voice = "one" \rhUpper
   \new Voice = "two" \rhLower

} PianoLH = {

 \clef bass
 \set Staff.midiInstrument = #"acoustic grand"
   \new Voice = "one" \lhUpper
   \new Voice = "two" \lhLower


piano = {

   \set PianoStaff.instrumentName = #"Orch."
   \new Staff = "upper" \PianoRH
   \new Staff = "lower" \PianoLH


\score {

 \new PianoStaff <<
   \new PianoStaff = "piano" \piano
 \layout {
   \context {
     \remove "Metronome_mark_engraver"
 \midi { }


The chord that opens the ballet Les Élémens.


The engraved edition is presented as a reduction comprising two parts for violins, two for flutes and a bass, but includes indications allowing richer instrumentation. A score and handwritten separate parts that were probably used in the performance indicate the participation of bassoons, hunting horns, oboes, and a double bass. Certain passages are played by piccolos. Parts of trumpets and horns are given for the finale (caprice) of the symphony.

This first edition is preceded by an introduction, Warning, in which the composer describes his approach.

"The elements painted in dance and in music seemed to me susceptible of a pleasant variety, as much in relation to the different genres of music as in relation to the dancers.

The introduction to this symphony was natural, It was Le cahos even, this confusion which reigned between the Elements before the moment when subjected to invariable laws they took the place which is prescribed to them in the order of nature.
To designate, in this confusion, each element in particular I used the most popular conventions.
The bass expresses the earth through notes linked together and which are played by jerks. The Flutes, by lines of song, which go up and down, imitate the course and the murmur of the water. The air is painted by outfits followed by cadences that form the small flutes. Finally, the violins, in lively and brilliant lines, represent the activity of fire.
These distinctive characters are recognized, separated or confused, in whole or in part, in the various occasions, which I call by the name of Cahos and which mark the efforts which the Elemen make to get rid of each other. In the 7th cahos, these efforts decrease in proportion as the entire resourcefulness approaches.
This first idea took me further. I dared to undertake to join to the idea of ​​the confusion of the elements that of Harmony. I hazarded to hear first all the sounds mixed together or rather all the notes of the Octave united in a single sound. These notes then develop while going up in Unison in the progression which is natural for them, and, after a Dissonance, one hears the perfect chord.
I finally believed that this would make the Cahos of harmony even better, if by walking through the different Cahos on different strings, I could without shocking the ear, make the final tone indecisive, until he returned determined at the time of the final examination.[2]"


The work was performed with dancers on September 27, 1737, without Le cahos.

Le cahos was performed by the Royal Academy of Music, alone and not danced, on the 17th and 22nd March 1738, following sung pieces by other composers. According to the brief report of the Mercure de France of March 1739, the harmonic daring of the composition does not seem to have repelled the audience:

The Royal Academy of Music gave two performances of the Cadmus Opera [...] and the Cahos of Sr Rebel, the father, who passes from the admission of the most Connoisseurs, to one of the most beautiful pieces of Symphony there is of its kind[3].

Le chaos and excerpts from the elements were again played in a concert in July 1740[4]."

After two centuries of obscurity, the ballet was performed in 1950 on a choreography by Serge Lifar by an orchestra conducted by Roger Désormière[5]. Since then, the symphony has been periodically performed in instrumental version by baroque ensembles and symphony orchestras.


  1. Cessac, Catherine. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) : musicien des Éléments. pp. 114–118. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  2. Cessac, Catherine. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) : musicien des Éléments. p. 107. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  3. Cessac, Catherine. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) : musicien des Éléments. p. 105. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. Cessac, Catherine. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) : musicien des Éléments. p. 137. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  5. "Spectacle:Les éléments". data.bnf.fr.


Used document for article redaction : document used for this article writing.

  • Catherine Cessac (2007). CNRS Éditions, ed. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) : musicien des Éléments. Paris. ISBN 9 782271 064899. Catherine Cessac. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.pngUsed document for article redaction
  • Catherine Cessac, « Les elemens » (1737–1738) de Jean Fery Rebel : spécificité et nouveauté d'une symphonie de danse (thesis). Université Paris IV, Paris 1990.

External links[edit]

Category:Compositions by Jean-Féry Rebel Category:Creation of the world in music Category:Ballet Category:French Baroque Music

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