Sunday, January 11, 2015

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre – Pieces de clavecin

   Maybe the biggest lie in the history of music is the one saying women are not able to be composers and creators of music. Of course, this applies to the traditional, old school history excluding not only women, but all kinds of nonacademic musical activity. The problem of such misconception has its roots in deeper cultural mechanisms. It needs an explanation in a separate argumentation. Until than it is need to say the whole history of human culture shows clearly, there are no reasons to disdain woman composers, conductors, instrumentalists, vocalists, musicologists or teachers of music. Contrary to what some may still believe, woman composers were active in every era and with some religious exclusions on any level of musical life. One of well known French baroque artists was Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, composer and virtuoso ranked among creators of the school of French baroque harpsichordists.
   Élisabeth Jacquet was born March 17, 1665 in famous Paris family of musicians and instrument makers. Before she turn 10, she was already known in court of Louis XIV, first as a child prodigy and then as the musical darling. The Sun King favored young Élisabeth as performer and composer, so she was kept on in the entourage of Madame de Montespan, the most celebrated maîtresse en titre on the court of Louis the Great. Her early work Pastorale was frequently performed on the court upon request of the king. She was virtuoso and brilliant improviser, noticed for her capabilities of amusing listeners constantly. As a child she entertained the court playing on demand pieces in any key given by listeners. Support of Louis XIV resulted with Jacquet’s career and prominent position in French musical and societal life. In Mercure Galant she was called “marvel of our century”.

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre – Pieces de clavecin (1982)

   In 1685 Élisabeth Jacquet married Marin de la Guerre organist in Sainte-Chapelle and left the court, although she was still enjoying the support of the king. Following years were first period of her activity as a composer. In 1687 she published Pièces de clavessin, and in 1695 Sonatas for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. In baroque music many compositions didn’t have any precise assignment. Mercure Galant discussed her harpsichord suites as suitable for performances by violin and basso or as imitative style of lute music. In last years of the seventeenth century Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was also active as a composer of stage music. In 1691 she wrote balet Les jeux à l’honneur de la victoire and in 1694 she finished Céphale et Procris, the first French opera written by woman composer.
   Next decade of her life was the string of disasters. She lost her son, and then passed away her husband, her parents and her brother. Deaths in family cut her off from creative work for years. After years of silence she returned and between 1707 and 1715 she had fruitful period when she wrote big part of her creative output. In 1707 she published next two Suites for harpsichord and 6 Sonatas for violin and basso continuo. Next year (1708) and four years later (1711) she published two books of 12 Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l'Ecriture (French Cantatas on Subjects Drawn from the Scripture). In late period she focused on vocal music composing cantatas on both religious and secular contents. In 1713 she composed La musette, ou Les bergers de Suresne, in 1715 next collection of Cantates françoises this time devoted to mythological stories, her Te Deum from 1721 remains lost. Since 1717 she lived in semi-retirement and died June 27th 1929.
   For almost three centuries music of Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was forgotten. Although in last decades we observe real revival of her music. Premiere recording of most popular cycle was published by Harmonia Mundi France (HM 1098) in 1982. Artist Emer Buckley, harpsichordist from Dublin who was specialized in rediscovering masterpieces. Earlier she recorded LP with Toccatas by Michelangelo Rossi. The manuscript of Pieces de clavecin from 1687 was stored in Library of Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello in Venice. Four Suites, D Minor, G Minor, A Minor and F Major in core form prelude-allemande-courante-sarabande-gigue with some extensions like cannaris, chaconne or gavotte closed with menuet. The form she used for suite cycle was supported by French and Italian influences. The cycle recorded by Emer Buckley shows powerful invention and great capabilities of creating inspiring masterpiece. Four stars for artistic quality and for disclosure of great music.

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