Elisabeth Jacquet was born on 17th March 1665 in Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile in Paris, into a family of masons and musicians. Her uncle and great uncle were renowned instrument makers and her father, Claude, worked as an organist at Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile church. Elisabeth had two brothers who also became organists. Elisabeth got her first music lessons from her father. She was a child prodigy and had her first public appearance before the court of King Louis XIV in Versailles, at the age of five. In the following years, she became a frequent visitor there and was called ‘small wonder’. For many years, Elisabeth enjoyed the patronage of the king. At this court, she became the pet of Madame de Montespan, mistress of King. Elisabeth spent almost three years in this entourage to the royal court.
In September 1684, Elisabeth Jacquet got married to Marin de La Guerre, an organist and the son of the late organist Michel de La Guerre. The couple moved to Paris after marriage and Elisabeth Jacquet took up a new name Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre. After marriage, she started giving concert classes at home and all through Paris, which made her popular. Though Elisabeth was seriously into composing since 1680, most of her works have been lost.
Career And Contributions
By the time she moved to Paris, Elisabeth Jacquet had established herself as a great composer and harpsichordist. Her reputation grew as an improviser with music experts flocking to hear herrich, varied and daring improvisations and harmonies. Her first publication was ‘Premier livre de pièces de clavessin’ which was published in 1687 and is one of the rare collections of harpsichord works and also one of the first harpsichord works printed in France in the 17th century. The year 1694 witnessed the production of her opera, ‘Céphale et Procris at the Académie Royale de Musique’, which was noted for being the first piece ever authored by a woman in France. The work, which was premiered at the Paris Opera in 1694, was not received well by the audience. This might have demoralised her and might have forced her to abandon the composition of operas. The following year saw her composing a set of trio sonatas. These form the earliest form of such works in the history of music. The sonatas which had Italian titles show her interest in Italian style of composition.
In the next few years, Elisabeth Jacquet met with many tragedies. In 1704, she lost her husband and their only son, who showed tremendous talent till his premature death at the age of ten. These disasters might have forced her to shift her focus towards a few concerts which were held at her home and became hugely popular. Restricting to herself, she retired from all the public appearances in 1717 but kept composing. In 1707, she published a pair of suites and violin sonatas. This was followed by ‘six Sonates pour le viollon et pour le clavecin’. The years 1708 and 1711 saw her publish 12 cantatas based on biblical subjects, in French namely, ‘Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l'ecriture’. It was 15 years before her death that her last publication ‘Cantates françoises’ came it was a series of cantatas dedicated to Maximilian II Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria. Elisabeth’s last composition was Te Deum (1721), a thanksgiving piece for Louis XV’s recovery from small pox. In 1729, she passed away in the parish of Saint-Eustache where she had been residing.
In 1776, the famous historian John Hawkins called her one of the greatest women composers France had ever produced saying, “So rich and exquisite a flow of harmony has captivated all that heard her.”
One of the most excellent baroque women composers France has ever produced, Elisabeth left behind a legacy of extraordinary idioms and compositions, which were rich in sensitivity and flair. Her sonatas form a significant leap in French chamber music as her progressiveness, encouraging the perfect blending of Italian and French music styles.
- ‘Les jeux à l’honneur de la victoire’ (Ballet music)
- Céphale et Procris (Opera pieces)
- Cantates françoises sur des sujets tirez de l'Ecriture, livre I
- Cantates françoises, livre II
- Pièces de clavessin
- Pièces de clavecin qui peuvent se jouer sur le viollon