Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre
Music of Elisabeth Claude Jacquet de la Guerre
Wednesday, March 18th, 12:00pm – 12:50pm
Temple University Charles Library Event Space
Featuring Dr. Joyce Lindorff and her studio
Light refreshments served. Boyer recital credit given.
Parisian composer and harpsichordist Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) made her mark very early in life. She first performed for Louis XIV at the tender age of five, impressing the “Sun King” with her prodigious abilities. Thereafter the phenom would serve the court of Versailles until the age of nineteen. Jacquet returned to Paris permanently after wedding the organist Marin de La Guerre in 1684. Despite losing her husband and only child in 1704, she continued to compose, perform, and teach until her passing.
Jacquet de La Guerre possessed formidable musicianship in every respect. In addition to accompanying and improvising on the harpsichord and organ, she could sight-sing the most difficult passages and transpose music on command. But Jacquet’s legacy rests primarily on her surviving compositions, including Céphale et Procris (Cephalus and Procris, 1694), the first opera written by a French woman, and two published collections of suites for harpsichord (1687 and 1707). The latter, of course, comprised the various social dances performed at the court of Versailles—to wit, the courante, gigue, and sarabande. Jacquet infused these binary forms with the style brisé (broken style), emulating the lutenists of her day. A hallmark of French style, this technique expanded the expressive potential of chords through arpeggiation.
Dancing at Versailles was serious business, a tool used by Louis XIV to instill qualities such as majesty, grace, and self-discipline in members of the court. Nobles received instruction from dancing masters and practiced the choreography for hours. They were also examined by the king himself, who would banish subjects for poor execution. Based on the following account of 1671, a superlative performance of the sarabande was nuanced, embodying the affect, agréments (ornaments), and rubato of the music:
“Now and then he [the dancer] would let a whole rhythmic unit go by, moving no more than a statue, and then, setting off like an arrow, he would be at the other end of the room before anyone had time to realize that he had departed.
But all this was nothing compared to what was observed when this gallant began to express the emotions of his soul through the motions of his body, and reveal them in his face, his eyes, his steps and all his actions.
Sometimes he would cast languid and passionate glances throughout a low and languid rhythmic unit; and then, as though weary of being obliging, he would avert his eyes, as if he wished to hide his passion; and, with a more precipitous motion, would snatch away the gift he had tendered.
Now and then he would express anger and spite with an impetuous and turbulent rhythmic unit; and then, evoking a sweeter passion by more moderate motions, he would sigh, swoon, let his eyes wander languidly; and certain sinuous movements of the arms and body, nonchalant, disjointed and passionate, made him appear so admirable and so charming that throughout this enchanting dance he won as many hearts as he attracted spectators.” (McClary 2018, 116-118)
Given the proximity of physical movement to music in baroque-era France, this description also sheds light on the ephemeral art of Jacquet de La Guerre: a succession of musical moments in which color and nuance delight the senses. On Wednesday, March 18, Joyce Lindorff and her studio will present an entire program of music by this extraordinary woman. We encourage all to attend.
Consult the following sources for more information:
Borroff, Edith. 1966. An Introduction to Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre. Brooklyn: Institute of Mediæval Music.
Cessac, Catherine. “Jacquet de La Guerre, Elisabeth.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.
Farr, Elizabeth. 2005. Liner notes to Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet De La Guerre: Harpsichord Suites Nos. 1-6, Elizabeth Farr. Naxos 8.557654-55, CD.
McClary, Susan. 2018. “In the Realm of All the Senses: Two Sarabandes by Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre.” In Analytical Essays on Music by Women Composers: Secular and Sacred Music to 1900, edited by Laurel Parson and Brenda Ravenscroft, 109-28. New York: Oxford University Press.
Porter, Cecilia Hopkins. 2012. “Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet De La Guerre: Versailles and Paris in the Twilight of the Ancien Régime.” In Five Lives in Music: Women Performers, Composers, and Impresarios from the Baroque to the Present, 39-77. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.
Gary Sampsell is a second-year PhD student in the Music Studies program at Boyer College. His research interests include the musical culture of baroque-era Saxony and Austro-German reception of early music in the nineteenth century.
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