• 1666 — 1747
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A leading composer of the fascinatingly ingrown French Baroque, Jean-Baptiste-Féry Rebel was, comparatively speaking, a musical progressive. He was baptized on April 18, 1666 into a musical Parisian family. His father, Jean Rebel, was a singer and probably a dancer in the court of Louis XIV, and his uncle was one of the King¹s chamber musicians. His elder sister Anne-Renée was also a singer (who married Michel-Richard de Lalande), and his younger half-brother was a musician to the Prince of Monaco. Jean-Féry was the most famous of Jean¹s children. No doubt he was educated in music by his family.
By the age of eight he was taken to play violin before the King and his favorite composer, Lully, who were amazed at his abilities. It is also said that Lully played through and praised his first attempt at an opera. Rebel became a first violinist at the Académie Royale de Musique. In 1700 he was selected to join a group of musicians sent by the Count of Ayen to entertain at the wedding of Philip of Anjou in Spain, and five years later he was appointed a member of the select orchestra known as the Vingt-quatre violons du roi--The Twenty-Four Violins of the King.
He was also awarded the right to inherit the position of chamber composer for the king, which was held by his brother-in-law de Lalande, and did in fact assume it on de Lalande¹s death in 1718. He became the administrator of the Twenty-Four Violins, and often presided over larger groups that were sometimes employed for special occasions and ceremonies. In addition to his skill as a violinist, he was also a respected harpsichordist, and often played the continuo part in concerts of the Royal Académie. He became its maître de musique in 1716. In 1734 and 1735 he served as conductor for the leading Parisian concert series known as the Concerts Spirituels. After that he retired from active musical life. He died in Paris on January 2, 1747.
During his long life Rebel kept up with changes in musical style, and took note of the new instrumental genres emerging from Italy. He wrote mostly small vocal works up to about 1708. He then turned to chamber music, writing generally graceful pieces without extremely virtuosic demands. During this period he began writing string sonatas, making him one of the first French composers to do so.
In the final part of his career the wrote works he called "symphonies," which are actually works written to be choreographed and danced. Prince Carignan (Victor-Amadée of Savoy) coaxed him out of retirement in 1737 to write his most noteworthy composition, "Les Elemens" (The Elements). It begins with a striking idea, the playing of all the notes of the harmonic D minor scale. This, Rebel explained, was a representation of chaos. The music coalesces into a single tone, representing Earth. Each of the other three traditional elements has its own motive, and the entire work is organized around them.
In 1740 Rebel's son François conducted a retrospective concert of his father¹s work. He was considered an innovator in instrumental style and praised during his lifetime for having a good mixture of Italian fire and French tastefulness.