Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre: Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Continuo

Context

Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre was born in Paris, 1665. She was born into a family full of musicians and she was deemed a child prodigy when she began learning to play the harpsichord at a very young age. Whilst still a child she performed for King Louis XIV on the harpsichord. When Jacquet de La Guerre was a teenager she was accepted into the French court, where she pursued her musical education. She stayed in the Royal Court until 1684, when she moved to Versailles to marry organist, Marin de La Guerre. From this point, Jacquet de La Guerre composed and gave public and private concerts on the harpsichord both in Versailles and in and around Paris. She was a popular musician and composer in her time and she was one of the few more well-known female composers of her era.

It has been noted that Jacquet de La Guerre was a versatile musician who composed in a wealth of different forms. In the 1690s, she composed a ballet called Les Jeux á l’honneur de la victoire. Also in this decade, she wrote a popular opera entitled Céphale et Procris, and this was the first opera to be composed and premiered by a French female composer. As well as this, Jacquet de La Guerre, alongside her contemporaries, experimented with Italian forms of music such as cantatas and sonatas. In the early 1700s, Jacquet de La Guerre continued to compose extensively for the harpsichord. Her works were published to great acclaim. Her last published work was when she was experimenting with vocal music, most notably cantatas.

 

The Music

Jacquet de La Guerre’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Continuo was composed around the year of 1707, and is in four movements:

I. Presto

II. Adagio

III. Presto 

IV. Presto Finale 

There are no records (that I could find) of why this sonata was composed. It could have been for a commission, or it could just be a stand-alone composition. Either way, this work is quintessentially baroque. Each movement is diverse, and really emphasises the violin as a versatile instrument. In total, Jacquet de La Guerre composed six sonatas in her lifetime, most of which were published between 1705-1713. All six have been recovered and recorded, and the Second is certainly one of the more lively of the set.

 

I. Presto

The first section is fast-paced and starts with the violin announcing the first theme. Soon after, the harpsichord enters with a variation of the theme. From here the two work together in musical dialogue to create a range of variations of the first theme. There is a lot of fast scalic work from both parts within this movement. At times, the parts are together in unison, which is incredibly effective, however, at other times they are both playing completely different lines. Jacquet de La Guerre’s use of unison is rather effective, as she uses it sparingly.

The violin also emphasises the use of ornaments and embellishments such as trills and turns, which give the melody more of a flourish in a new variation. This movement ends with a satifying tonic resolution.

 

II. Adagio

The second movement is the slowest, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in beauty. This time the violin takes the solo line, with the harpsichord acting as an accompaniment. The sparse arpeggiated chords from the accompaniment really emphasise the simple melody the violin is playing above. This movement has some sadness within it, but it is extremely expressive, and the resolution at the end of the movement is very touching.

 

III. Presto

The third movement picks up tempo again, and this section is based on dance movements. The continuo plays a fast-paced accompaniment, whilst the violin comes in with parts of a melody. The theme is based on a dotted rhythm, which makes creates similarities with a Gavotte. There are some interesting changes in harmony in this movement, where it goes from the chirpy D major to the relative minor. The violin soars above the accompaniment within this movement and when they do resolve at the end, there is definitely a sense of fulfilment.

 

IV. Presto Finale 

The final movement of this short sonata is definitely the fastest in tempo. The harpsichord starts this movement, with the violin joining in soon with a variation of the first theme. The interaction between the violin and harpsichord within this movement is intricate and disciplined, and you can sense this close communication and musicality between the instruments. The counter-melodies heard are fast-paced and based on the D major scale. Jacquet de La Guerre uses embellishments once more to create variation and a different timbre. The final movement ends with a strong tonic chord.

Jacquet de La Guerre’s determination to succeed, and her shrewd risk-taking when it came to composition certainly aided her successful career. She was an exceptional composer of her time and was described as “a marvel of our century.” It is definitely worth noting that Jacquet de La Guerre self-published all of her sonatas, so she could push the new form out into the French classical music world. It is assured that Jacquet de La Guerre was an influential figure of her time.

Happy Reading!

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