The Shock of the Elements....

"Between the noise of the hell and the celestial music, between the primitive instinct and the soul, the beating of the drum reveals the life's first attempt to free itself from the blind matter" (***)

When I read the phrase, Jean-Philippe Rameau's overture to Zaïs (1757) and his use of a muffled drum in his depiction of the Creation immediately came to my mind.
I checked my dictionnaries of symbols, which confirmed that the sound of the drum is associated with the emission of the primordial sound, but in the Indian, Chinese or African traditions. So, where did Rameau find the idea of drums in the depiction of life freeing itself from the matter ?
In the French tradition, the most famous example of a piece of music on the same theme is Les Éléments by Rebel, composed in 1748. It's very impressive piece of music using dissonances, and several instruments and musical lines to symbolize the emerging elements, but no drum was involved.

The drum used by Rameau is an illustration of his deep understanding of the musical language, or/and an evidence of his incredibly wide knowledge of the various musical traditions. His interest in all kind of musics, from the ancient Greek traditions to the contemporary oriental music is documented. Rameau owned a javanese gambang.

If you have never heard the overture of Zaïs, it's time now : here it is on YouTube .
(***) Entre le bruit de l'enfer et la musique céleste, entre l'instinctualité primitive et l'âme, la batterie de tambour témoigne du premier effort de la vie pour se dégager de la matière aveugle.
(entry "Tambour", Georges Romey, Encyclopédie de la Symbolique des rêves).

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