MARK MURPHY (b 1932 )
When Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre was only thirteen, she was described
by one critic as "the marvel of our century." Less than a year earlier,
her incredible abilities as a performer, composer, and improviser had been reported,
noting that "for four years she has been appearing with these extraordinary
qualities." Her talent was rewarded by the patronage of King Louis XIV, who
saw to her financial needs and encouraged her work.
After the death of her husband in 1704, she put her energies into a series
of concerts held in her home. These were, by all accounts, eagerly anticipated
and well received. A contemporary noted that it was her ability to improvise
that most astonished her listeners. She retired from public performance in 1717.
Jacquet de la Guerre composed in all the standard genres of the time. Most
notable are her two larger works, an opera-ballet, Les jeux à l'honneur
de la victoire (1685, now lost), and her five-act opera, Cephale et Procris
(performed at the Académie Royale de Musique in 1694). Also of note are
her two books of pieces for solo keyboard (1687 and 1707, the first to be published
by a woman) and her 1707 collection of sonatas for harpsichord with an optional
The music of Jacquet de la Guerre is typical of the French style of the time.
Particularly appealing is the music of her first book of keyboard pieces, especially
the free, unmeasured preludes, which reflect the influence of an earlier generation
of composers, led by Louis Couperin (c. 16261661). Her second book is
in the more modern style of François Couperin (16681733). With
the growing interest in female composers of the past, her music is gaining a
justifiable place in performances and recordings.