Died: June 26, 1729
Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was one of the first great woman composers known to history, as well as the most renowned, and prolific, of the many female composers of the Baroque era.
She was born into a musical family: both her uncle and great uncle were instrument makers, and her father Claude was an organist at the church of Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile (later, both her brothers likewise became organists). A great prodigy, ElisabethRead more Jacquet made her first appearance at the court of King Louis XIV at Versailles at the age of five. She quickly became a regular there, earning the appellation "la petite merveille" (the small wonder), and enjoyed the King's patronage for years. She also became a particular favorite of the King's then-mistress Madame de Montespan, spending three years or more in her entourage. In September 1684 Jacquet married organist Marin de la Guerre, and the couple moved back to Paris.
By this time Jacquet de la Guerre, as she was now known, had produced several compositions, most of which have not survived. Her first published works were a set of harpsichord pieces, Book I of the Pièces de clavessin (1687). By 1694 she had completed her largest single work, the five-act opera Cephale et Procris. It wasn't well-received, however, and the failure may have led to her abandoning opera composition. Soon thereafter she produced her first set of sonatas, among the earliest such works in history. Bearing the Italian title Sonnata della signora de la guerre, the works (four trio sonatas and a pair of sonatas for violin with basso continuo) reflect her interest in the Italianate style, then all the rage in France, of composers like Arcangelo Corelli.
But the passing of her husband, in 1704, and their only son, who had shown enormous promise musically until his untimely death at age ten, caused her to change her focus. Much of her energy from this point on was directed towards a series of concerts held at her home, which became enormously popular. She cut back substantially on her own public performances, eventually retiring altogether in 1717. But she still composed quite a lot of music. The year 1707 saw the appearance of a pair of suites of "harpsichord pieces which may be performed on the violin," as well as a series of violin sonatas. In 1708 and 1711 she published a set of 12 cantatas, in French, on biblical subjects. They were followed in 1715 with a trio of secular cantatas dedicated to the Elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emanuel (all her previous works had been dedicated to Louis XIV). Her last composition was apparently a Te Deum (1721), now lost, written in thanksgiving for the recovery of Louis XV from smallpox. By this time she was residing in the parish of Saint-Eustache, and it was there that she died in 1729. Read less