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Happy Birthday Jean-Marie Leclair!

Happy Birthday Jean-Marie Leclair! featured image

Jean-Marie Leclair is a name that is well-known amongst Early Music enthusiasts, but not much further beyond – which is a shame, as his life and musical contribution are both worthy of notice. Leclair came from a family of musicians. He was a spectacular violinist whose performances were requested in Royal courts throughout Europe. Leclair was in fact a triple-threat: musician, dance master and lace maker! The early part of his career was spent as a dancer in the Lyon opera, and quite likely danced for the French Royals.

Meanwhile, he was also writing music for violin of the kind that earned the description of “a kind of algebra capable of rebuffing the most courageous musicians.” He spent time in Italy where he played a sort of musical duel against the local virtuoso, Pietro Locatelli, who left a strong impression on Leclair. But Locatelli’s approach was flashy and scratchy, whereas everywhere Leclair went, his beautiful tone and rhythmic freedom and flare left audiences breathless.

As a composer, he lit the way for a new unification of styles. Back in the 18th century there was a deep divide between the French and Italian styles of music; people tended advocate for one camp or the other. Leclair, along with another French luminary, Francois Couperin, made the bold move of bridging this divide, bringing the two styles together. Leclair filled the violin sonata forms of Corelli with French gestures, and the strong French dance rhythms with Italian filigree.

His life met a tragic and mysterious end one night in 1764: He arrived home and was murdered. There were three suspects: the gardener, his nephew, and his wife Mme Leclair herself. Suspicion fell strongly on the nephew, but he was never brought to trial and the case never solved.

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