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An imaginary tale of misfortune and sorrow

Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and the astonishing rhetorical power in her Trio Sonata in G Minor



When Brossard was on his way back to Strasbourg in 1695 from one of his visits to Paris, he travelled with four trio sonatas by Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre in his baggage. “She was so kind as to lend me her originals in order to copy them. They are enchanting, and if anybody needs evidence, he will find four individual parts in the same folder”. The music is now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Catherine Cessac argues that the scores could very well be the original manuscripts in EJG’s own handwriting. On the back of one of these sonatas, Brossard started to compose his own trio sonata. And if one thing can be said about Brossard’s sonatas: they do not live up to those by his female colleague. By far.


Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was a highly accomplished musician, one of the earliest professional female composers and the first woman to compose an opera in France. Instructed at a very early age by her father, she can be considered a child prodigy.

For most of her life she enjoyed the admiration and patronage of Louis XIV. Her main output is in French style (mostly vocal works and pièces de clavecin) but the four trio sonatas and two sonatas for violin, bass viol and basso continuo, all in manuscript, are clearly inspired by Italian models. In 1707 she published two suites for harpsichord “that can be played on the violin” and six sonatas for violin and continuo. All her sonatas show a very free handling of the Italian and French features and don’t fit into a unified structure.



Especially the Sonata in G Minor is a substantial work and shows a composer with a strikingly bold sense of harmony, motivic inventiveness, and contrapuntal skills. Jacquet de la Guerre composed in the new Italian idiom not only with great dexterity, but managed to produce music of astonishing rhetorical power, and narrated in this sonata an imaginary tale of misfortune and sorrow that is transformed into hope and even joy. The beginning, with its melancholy harmonic modulations and elegantly progressing pulse, is reminiscent of the music of Henry Purcell. Strategically placed dramatic devices – such as an extended section with ascending triplets in contrary motion to a descending line in half notes, a virtuoso récit for the viol that recalls the theatricality of Marin Marais, or an astonishing hovering trio segment in which the bass drops out and the viol assumes the role of a third violin – lend the work its structure. The fugal sections, even if based on very simple motifs, are short contrapuntal masterpieces with mirrored themes and stretto entries.


Listen / buy / stream the complete Paris Album here.

Listen / buy / stream the complete Paris Album here.


#internationalwomensday #womancomposer #jacquetdelaguerre #frenchbaroque #triosonata #diderot #harpsichord #brossard #diapasondor

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