Famous female Baroque composers are so rare that this post is of particular importance. Élisabeth Jacquet, French musical prodigy who sang, played harpsichord, organ, and composed beautiful pieces of Baroque, was born on the 17th of March, 1665, in Paris, France, to a musical family. You probably haven’t heard about Élisabeth, but she was such an extraordinary individual, that it behooves us all to remember her, a wonderful Seventeenth Century lady…
When she was a young girl, she sang and played the harpsichord before the Sun King – Louis XIV of France and was much acclaimed, even winning over the King’s Maîtresse-en-titre, Françoise-Athénaïs, Marquise de Montespan, who took the young Élisabeth under her patronage.
“this is a prodigy who has been appearing here for the last four years. She sings the most difficult music on sight. She accompanies herself, and others who wish to sing, at the harpsichord, which she plays in an inimitable manner. She composes pieces and plays them in any key that we ask.” – Mercure galant, 1677.
Unfortunately, Montespan lost her favoured position with the King around the time of the infamous Affair of the Poisons, and perhaps the loss of her patron was the impetus for Élisabeth leaving court in 1680. After this, she threw herself into work, composing music for operas, ballets, sacred works, and her delightful compositions for the harpsichord. We have to remember that she was such a rarity for women at this time in history were not expected or condoned to do what she did, and her music is just as good as her contemporaries. I find her music similar to Marin Marais, another French Baroque composer.
With Céphale et Procris, she became the first French woman to write an opera!
Sir John Hawkins wrote that Jacquet could:
“sing and accompany herself with so rich and exquisite a flow of harmony as captivated all that heard her.”
She married Marin de La Guerre in 1684 and henceforward was known as Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. Marin de La Guerre was also a musician – an organist in the employ of the King. No doubt their passion for music helped fuel the flames of passion between them both, or at least, I like to think so, and they had one son who died aged ten.
My favourite piece by Jacquet de La Guerre is Suonata 2da a violino solo e viola di gamba obligata con organo: I. Grave. I suppose this is because I’m naturally inclined towards music that has a touch of melancholy about it.
Her husband died in 1704, and Jacquet de La Guerre herself died in 1729, leaving behind some of the most under-rated Baroque music. It has to be said, however, that her work has seen a rebirth of interest in recent years and is played with increasing regularity on the Early Music scene. Nevertheless, I have never heard her music played on the radio – which is crazy. After all, she was, as a critic said:
“the marvel of our century.”
And another, Evrard Titon du Tillet, wrote:
“One might say that never has a person of her sex had such great talent for the composition of music, and for the admirable manner in which she played on the harpsichord and on the organ.”
Well, that’s it from me. I hope you enjoyed learning about Jacquet De La Guerre and listening to excerpts of her music. Have a lovely day, and thank you for visiting The Seventeenth Century Lady!
1) Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: Myth or Marvel?
2) Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre biography.
3) Naxos biography.
4) Catherine Cessac, Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, une femme compositeur sous le règne de Louis XIV (1995)
5) James R. Anthony, French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau (1997)