Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) Pièces de clavecin A child prodigy, a young girl determined to achieve recognition as a musician, the wife of an organist, a widow gradually withdrawing from the world after reaping success in it: this was, in a nutshell, the destiny of Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, harpsichordist and composer during the reign of Louis XIV. Her father, Claude Jacquet, organist at the church of Saint-Louis en l'Ile in Paris, taught her both the harpsichord and the organ as well as the art of singing, as he did his other three children (Nicolas, Anne, and Pierre), all of whom became musicians. From an early age, she attracted the attention of the king, who recognized her outstanding gifts. Encouraged by this patronage at the highest level, Elizabeth Jacquet enjoyed quite an exceptional career. She spent a few years at the court of Versailles, where she was in the entourage of Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV's mistress and may have benefited from lessons with Jean Henry d'Anglebert, then "spinet player in the King's Chamber". She then went back to Paris, where she married the organist Marin de La Guerre in 1684, adding his name to her maiden name. In 1687, at the age of 22, she published her first book of Pièces de Clavessin. In the text of the long, most touching dedication, Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre reveals her veneration for and gratitude towards the monarch, yet makes it clear that, while pleased with the immeasurable honor given her, she intends to satisfy her own wishes above all: Sir, This is the first work I dare to publish, and I take the liberty to dedicate it to Your Majesty, being indebted to You for everything my genius has produced so far. Indeed, Sir, I recall that, when you found in me, at the age of five, a disposition to play the harpsichord, you commanded that I duly be given lessons. No one could possibly conceive how responsive I was, though a mere child, to the joy such a pressing command aroused in my soul, and with what ardor for the task. My tenderest years I have seen go by in continuous study and, on my occasional appearances before Your Majesty, I had the pleasure of seeing You pay favorable attention to my feeble songs. The felicity I felt on pleasing You have inspired me to go further. I willingly lived in a long seclusion at my father's, where I was always used, Sir, to devote all my studious evenings to You. Yet, twenty years elapsed before, in 1707, she finally published a second volume of music for the harpsichord, Pieces de Clavecin, with a new dedication to Louis XIV: Sir, My willingness to offer my published work to Your Majesty can no longer be counted a merit. A long habit has by now made it a happy necessity. What felicity would I feel, Sir, if my latest work was to receive once again the glorious reception I have enjoyed from Your Majesty, as it were, since the cradle; indeed, Sir, allow me to remind you that you did bestow attention on my youngest years; you took pleasure in witnessing the birth of a talent I devoted to you; even then you honored me with your praise, whose value I was only partially aware of at the time. My feeble talents have subsequently grown. I have attempted, Sir, to be more and more deserving of your approval, which has always meant everything to me. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre had turned to other genres. For the court, she composed several pastorales and ballets, all sadly lost except for the libretto of the Jeux à l'honneur de la victoire, one of the earliest significant examples of an opéra-ballet, written five years before Campra's L'Europe galante. In 1694, her tragic opera, Céphale et Procris, based on a libretto by Joseph-François Duché de Vancy, was performed at the Académie royale de musique. It required some audacity, at the time, to become the first woman in France to write an opera and have it produced on such a prestigious stage. Elizabeth Jacquet also wrote sonatas and cantatas, two Italian-influenced genres which began to spread in France at the turn of the eighteenth century. Around 1695 she wrote her first trio sonatas; in 1707 she published a collection of six sonatas for violin and harpsichord. She was also a pioneer in the genre of the cantata when she published, in 1708, a collection of six pieces which are based on sacred texts. Following the success of this first book of cantatas, she published a second two years later, in 1711, and a third in 1715, this time, however, on secular texts. The first book of Pièces de Clavessin by Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre is one among the few books of harpsichord pieces published in France in the seventeenth century, along with those by Jacques Champion de Chambonnières (1670 and c. 1670-72), Nicolas Lebègue (1677 and 1687) and Jean Henry d'Anglebert (1689). It is arranged in four suites, each of which opens with an unmeasured prelude in the tradition of lute music. In a letter to an English musician, Lebègue explained: "The prelude is nothing else but a preparation for playing pieces of the same Ton, or it is only for tasting [i.e. trying out] the key before ye touch ye pieces, and to space yourself in the Ton ye intend to play upon: for this cause I was not at the pains to separate them by mesure, as the pieces are, because they have...[none] determined in them" (Bruce Gustafson, "A Letter from Mr Lebègue Concerning his Preludes," Recherches sur la musique classique française 17, 1977, p. 9 [translation p. 10]). In Elizabeth Jacquet's preludes, one of which is entitled Tocade (the French translation for the Italian toccata), her use of the art of free-form notation reflects her "marvelous talent" for "improvising preludes and fantasies. At times, for an entire half hour, she would follow a prelude and a fantasy with melodies and chords of the greatest variety and in excellent taste which charmed her listeners." (Titon du Tillet, Le Parnasse François, 1732) The suites are arranged in a nearly perfect dance sequence - still a rarity at the time - with the usual succession of an allemande, courantes (always two), a sarabande, a gigue, and a minuet (followed, in the second suite, by it's double). To introduce some variety into this structure, additional dances are inserted: cannaries, gavottes, and chaconnes alternating refrain and couplets. In this first publication, the harmony, which is usually unadventurous but highly polished at times, the elegance of the melodic lines, the rhythmic variety, and the equilibrium of the formal design testify to the young girl's talent as a composer for the harpsichord. The second book, entitled Pieces de clavecin, with the additional mention qui peuvent se joüer sur le Viollon, is one of the very first examples of accompanied harpsichord music to be performed as written with the violin doubling the higher voice, a practice known to contemporaneous musicians. This close proximity between the two genres of the dance suite and the violin sonata is highly characteristic of the art of Jacquet de La Guerre. She did in fact publish in a single volume these Pieces de clavecin and her six Sonates pour le Viollon et pour le Clavecin. This 1707 book comprises only two sets of pieces, without preludes. The first is highly developed, with two rigaudons added, and also doubles for the allemande La Flamande, the courante and the first gigue, with a view to highlighting the performer's virtuosity. The shorter second suite includes only the traditional dance pieces and ends with a rondeau. These two suites are fully characteristic of the evolution of the form in the eighteenth century. The greater number of movements in the pieces in D minor foreshadows François Couperin's Ordres, whereas the concise form of the ones in G major suggests a parallel with the Italian sonata da camera. Catherine Cessac Versailles, August 2010 Translation: Vincent Giroud.