Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a highly influential writer, philosopher, and composer of the 18th century. He is most known for his contributions to the social contract theory, and his overall political philosophy, which most people regard to have highly influenced the French Revolution. Rousseau is also remembered as a composer of music of the late Baroque era. Thanks to his remarkable intelligence, Rousseau also made contributions to music theory.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712, in the City State of Geneva. Nine days after his birth, Rousseau’s mother passed away due to Puerperal Fever, thus, Rousseau grew very close to his father, who was pivotal in his early childhood education. At the age of five, Rousseau’s father sold his home and moved into a smaller apartment; in a neighborhood which was inhabited by many craftsmen and artisans. This was how Rousseau gained significant expertise in watch-making, a craft that he would adopt at the age of thirteen. Around this time, Rousseau’s father had also escaped Geneva in fear of imprisonment due to trespassing. Rousseau’s interaction with his father also diminished severely due to him remarrying. His father’s remarriage, coupled with the fact that Rousseau was extremely unhappy with watch-making, made him run away from his home when he was fifteen years old. When he finally decided to return, he found the city gates locked due to a city curfew, distressed, Rousseau took shelter in a noblewoman’s house, Francoise-Louise de Warens. It was at her house that Rousseau finally took formal instruction in music. Rousseau was already heavily influenced by music due to his aunt Suzanne, who was heavily passionate about music. Louise de Warens housed Rousseau on and off for about thirteen years, and at times she was also instrumental in providing him with jobs and responsibilities.
In 1742, Rousseau developed his own system of musical notation which was numbered and compatible with typography. He presented the invention to the Academie Des Sciences, which politely rejected it, while praising his innovation and creativity. In 1742, Rousseau wrote his first opera, titled “Les Muses Galantes”. His most famous opera titled “Le Devin du Village” was written in 1752. It contained the highly popular duet, “Non, Colette n’est point trompeuse”, which was later rearranged into an entire song by Ludwig van Beethoven. The success of the opera also helped him win a position at the Encyclopedie; the Lettre sur la Musique Francaise, for which he wrote articles on music under Denis Diderot.
However, Rousseau was much more influential as a philosopher and as a writer. In 1762, he published “Emile” which dealt on the topic of citizen’s education. His writings on inequality and the social contract theory, namely, his “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” and “On the Social Contract Theory”, are considered by many to be the very foundation of modern political thought today. He is also credited with many other political ideas, including the idea of a General Will, Positive Liberty, Popular Sovereignty, Civil Religion, Theory of the Natural Human, and Child-Centered Learning. His posthumously published autobiography, “Confessions”, was considered one of the first major autobiographies ever written.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau died on July 2, 1778 due to a hemorrhage. Today, he is celebrated as Geneva’s “Most Celebrated Son”.