The names that dominate Baroque music (readers will know that this is one of my favorite genres) are all male: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, etc. But not every composer in that genre or era (1600-1750) was male. Not by a long shot. This post is part of a short series that will introduce baroque music composers, both male and female.
Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) was possibly the most famous and well-regarded female composer of her day.
Born into a family of prominent French musicians, instructors, masons, composers, and musical instrument makers, Jacquet de La Guerre showed talent and inclination toward the family heritage early by performing before and impressing King Louis XIV at the age of five. She was taken into the king’s court as a teenager and was able to develop her talents for playing, performing, and composing music.
She composed music in a variety of forms—sonatas, cantatas, concertos—and in both vocal and instrumental formats. She wrote what is thought to be the first opera written by a woman in France. Much of her music was published, which added to her international fame.
She was certainly not the only female in the musical world at the time. As Mary Cyr writes in an assessment of her career and her music:
Jacquet de La Guerre distinguished herself from her contemporaries, such as François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, by composing and publishing in many different genres and was duly admired for it. In a highly laudatory summary of Jacquet de La Guerre’s contributions, Pierre-Louis d’Aquin de Château-Lyon praises her vocal music highly as well as her performances as harpsichordist. His account singles out the ‘fertility of her genius’, which may be the highest tribute of all, since it refers to the originality of her compositions in all of the genres in which she wrote.
Cyr, M. (2008). Elisabeth jacquet de la guerre: Myth or marvel? seeking the composer’s individuality. Musical Times, 149, 79-87, 2. Retrieved from https://utk.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/elisabeth-jacquet-de-la-guerre-myth-marvel/docview/1129574/se-2?accountid=14766
Here is a performance of one of her sonatas on YouTube: https://youtu.be/WJvFUeyQYZE
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