Acclaimed in her own time as ‘the wonder of our century’, Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729) occupies a place of outstanding importance in the cultural history of 17th and 18th-century France as a composer and harpsichordist. Her prodigious talents were recognised from when she played and sang to the court of King Louis XIV at the tender age of five years old.
Her first book of harpsichord suites was published in 1687 and dedicated to her patron the king. The style of their brief dance movements inherits the characteristics of lute music, including the unbarred preludes which evoke a refined taste for improvisation. By the time that her second book of suites was published 20 years later, her life had been marked by the deaths of her only son, her father and her husband at the age of only 46; Jacquet de la Guerre took up composing once again as a wealthy, lonely widow.
These later suites omit the preludes, but the writing within them is more florid and complex, offering a stiff challenge both to the technique and the imagination of the performer. The D minor Suite is conceived on the grandest scale, opening with a poignantly rhetorical piece entitled ‘La Flamande’ and closing ten movements later with a grand Chaconne.
The suites are recorded anew here on a 1982 Fernando Granziera instrument after a 1736 model by Jena-Henri Hemsch; the soloist is the Italian harpsichordist Francesca Lanfranco, who also contributes a booklet essay on the career of Jacquet de la Guerre. Lanfranco studied with Bob van Asperen, Kenneth Gilbert and Christine Jacottet and is herself a noted teacher of harpsichord.
Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre, called “The wonder of our age”, is one of the most remarkable female composers of all time. She was born in Paris in 1665, daughter of an organist and harpsichord maker. A prodigy girl, her personality caught everyone by surprise when her father introduced her to the Court when she was just 5 years old, she played and sang for Louis XIV who was very impressed and became her strong supporter and benefactor.
Jacquet de la Guerre dedicated her suites for the harpsichord to Louis XIV, the Sun King. Her style, a mixture of French taste and Italian brilliance, shows elements of lute music, like the “brisé o luthé” writing, imitating the sound of the lute. The Suites are composed of dance movements, of which the preludes are unmeasured, leaving ample room for freedom of expression and improvisation. She lived a long, successful and fruitful life, performing, teaching and composing instrumental music as well as vocal cantatas and even operas. She died in 1729.
Italian harpsichordist Francesca Lanfranco studied with Bob van Asperen, Kenneth Gilbert and Christian Jaccottet. She enjoys an active career as soloist and chamber music partner.