Les Niais Amoureux (1989) for violin, clarinet, cello and piano was commissioned by the Aeolian Chamber Players and premiered in New York in May, 1989. The quartet is in variation form and is based on two melodies: Les Niais de Sologne, keyboard variations by Jean-Phillipe Rameau (1683-1764), and a fragment from Le Diable Amoureux (1979), my first opera hence the composite title, Les Niais Amoureux ("Innocents in Love").
The quartet begins with a seductive cello melody from a scene in Le Diable Amoureux in which a medieval baron, under the influence of the Devil's spell, makes amorous advances to his son's fiancée. The contour of this rising theme, with its simple hypnotic accompaniment of a trill and a repeated broken chord (D, B-flat, E), figures prominently in the variations to come. The sprightly Rameau, which interrupts, is similarly replete with trills. The ensuing variations also draw from the frequent two-against-three accompaniment patterns and regular sectional divisions of the Rameau, each marked by a pronounced change of texture in the Baroque manner.
These two melodies collide at first, but their styles gradually merge into a synthesis as the colorful music of the Devil's spell serves to initiate (or "deniaiser") the Rameau into a richer, chromatic vocabulary. The spell music is likewise transformed in the process, becoming more "innocent" through a quasi-tonal musical language in which vertical sonorites built in sixths and thirds resolve to simple triads (the previous D, B-flat, E moving, for instance, to D, B-flat, F).
Robert Xavier Rodríguez