Introducing…the child prodigy you’ve probably never heard of.

In this series, we’re discovering the stories of the best composers in Western music history and why their work matters to us today.

This is Elisabeth-Claude’s story.

Who

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre.

(Yes, that is a lot of names. Elisabeth-Claude is her hyphenated first name, Jacquet was her maiden name, and she took on the name de la Guerre after her marriage to her husband, Marin de la Guerre.)

What

A brilliant harpsichordist, organist, talented composer of vocal and instrumental music, and a child prodigy known throughout France and received at the royal court.

When

Mid-March 1665 – June 27, 1729.

Elisabeth lived during the later Baroque period of music history.

She was a contemporary of J.S. Bach, G.F. Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Barabra Strozzi, John Philippe Rameau, John Baptiste Lully, Isabella Leonarda, and Francis Couperin.

Where

Elisabeth Claude was born, and also died, in Paris, France.

She spent years as a musician in the court of “The Sun King”, Louis XIV.

Why It Matters

Elisabeth-Claude’s harpsichord skills were renowned from the time she was a child. Even then, she was skilled enough to perform for the French royal family to great acclaim.

In addition to being a skilled performer, she was an innovative composer. In 1687, she published a collection of harpsichord music. This was very unusual at the time, since the harpsichord was viewed more as an accompaniment than a solo instrument.

Elisabeth-Claude was also the first French woman to write an opera.

She was widely considered to be the best woman composer of her time.

Other Interesting Facts

Elisabeth-Claude came from a family steeped in musical tradition. Many of them were musicians and builders of instruments.

Even after leaving the French court, she dedicated nearly all of her compositions to the king.

Elisabeth-Claude had one son who showed musical talent himself. Sadly, he did not live to reach adulthood.

She was known for her ability to blend the musical styles of France and Italy.

She wrote a setting of Te Deum in honor of French King Louis XV, who had recovered after being sick for some time.

After she died, French musicologist Evrard Titon du Tillet said of her, “One might say that never has a person of her {gender} had such great talent for the composition of music, and for the admirable manner in which she played on the harpsichord and on the organ.”

And that is the story of Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre. What do you think of her?

Other Composers Featured in the Composer’s Corner Series:

Kassia of Constantinople, Antonio Vivaldi, J.S. Bach, George F. Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clara Schumann, Erik Satie, Scott Joplin, Lili Boulanger, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein

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