ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques (1712-1778). Autograph musical manuscript of a song, 'O Bienheureux', n.p., n.d., autograph title, numbered '8' ('1' deleted) on title, 24 staves in five parts, autograph transcription of the remaining five verses, contemporary annotation in another hand 'Air par J.J. Rousseau, écrit et copié de sa main. Paroles De Desportes', 2 pages, oblong 4to, on a bifolium (slight soiling and spotting, two small losses to lower margin of second leaf (restored), slight traces of adhesive on outer margins of both leaves).
'O bienheureux qui peut passer sa vie Entre les siens francs de haine et d'envie Parmi les champs les Vergers et les bois...'. The setting, of words by Philippe Desportes but of a strikingly Rousseauesque character, is a simple 2/4 melody in C major for low voice, with an accompaniment of two violins, viola and bass. Three settings of 'O Bienheureux' are published in Rousseau's posthumous Les consolations des misères de ma vie (Paris, 1781): this is No 34 in the collection, where it is described as an 'Imitation des Chants et du Contrepoint du seizième siècle'.
Though Rousseau received little musical training, he composed throughout his life and was a prominent musical controversialist, in particular espousing the primacy of song over instrumental music. His short opera Le devin du village was a brilliant success, and did much to create the form of opera comique; his later conclusion that the French language was unsuitable for opera led to his revolutionary Pygmalion, a spoken drama with instrumental interludes which originated the genre of melodrama. Philippe Desportes (1546-1606), was a protégé of Henry III and a follower of the Pléiade; his poems were much drawn upon by composers up until the mid-17th Century, though more rarely thereafter. Rousseau's use of a writer of the 16th Century is characteristic: the editor of the Consolations suggests that 'il trouvoit dans leurs ouvrages ... cette philosophie de la nature qui fait consister le bonheur dans le tranquilité, et qui fut toujours la sienne'.