musical talents of Elizabeth-Claude Jacquet, who became Jacquet
de La Guerre at her marriage in 1684 to the organist Marin de
la Guerre, attracted the patronage of Louis XIV’s court while
she was still little more than a child. She was an admired singer,
virtuoso player of the harpsichord and composer of at least
one opera (Céphale et Procris, 1694), a number of cantatas
both secular and sacred, trio sonatas – and the harpsichord
works recorded here.
are fortunate, in at least two senses, to have these harpsichord
suites. Fortunate, first, because they contain much fine and
rewarding music and secondly, because until modern times the
collection of 1687 was presumed lost. A unique surviving copy
was found by Carl Henry Bates, in Venice, and formed the basis of an edition published in 1986.
According to the booklet notes by Elizabeth Farr, the 1707 collection
also survives in only a single copy.
de La Guerre’s music belongs firmly in the great tradition of
French harpsichord music, and deserves an honourable place in
that tradition. Her use of unmeasured preludes is reminiscent
of Louis Couperin; it was perhaps through her evident familiarity
with at least some of Couperin’s music that she absorbed something
of the influence of Froberger. This is particularly true of
the 1687 suites. In the later suites – to which she also wrote
optional parts for the violin – it is perhaps of François Couperin,
her close contemporary, that one is most likely to think, or
even of the Italian tradition in, for example, the beautiful
Tocade which opens Suite No. 4. I mention these affinities merely
as a way of ‘locating’ Jacquet de La Guerre’s work, and intend
no suggestion that that work is in any sense merely derivative.
de La Guerre’s unmeasured preludes are perhaps best seen as
attempts to record something of the quality of her improvisations
at the keyboard. The nature of the score leaves much to the
skill, judgement and imagination of the player and Elizabeth
Farr displays finesse and stylistic understanding in her interpretation
of the preludes to the first three of these suites. Just occasionally
one might have wishes for slightly more passion, but Farr’s
reading is convincing and consistent. Her playing of the arpeggiated
chords in the Prelude to Suite no. 3 is particularly attractive
and persuasive, rich in its employment of the instrument’s range.
Indeed, this third Suite is perhaps the most consistently interesting
of the 1687 suites and brings out the best in Farr. She brings
out the relative delicacy of the Gavotte in playing of real
sensitivity, and in the Menuet she responds well to Jacquet
de La Guerre’s stylised ‘naiveté’. Farr’s playing of the Chaconne,
structured as rondeau with a recurrent main theme alternating
with a variety of contrasting material, makes impressive use
of instrumental contrast and shows off to great effect the lower
registers of her instrument – built in 2003 by Keith Hill and
very much in the French style. There is much that is lute-like
in Jacquet de La Guerre’s music and Hill’s instrument is well
suited to such demands.
first three Suites all have nine movements; the fourth has eight.
Jacquet de la Guerre distinguishes the various dance forms without
exaggeration; under Farr’s hands her sarabandes are particularly
striking. In the suites from 1707 the use of syncopation is
more pronounced and some of the harmonies are more adventurous;
more use is made of contrasting keys. Again Farr serves the
music well. Her intelligence is evident in all that she does
here, as is her real understanding of the questions which Jacquet
de La Guerre’s music raises. She is completely at home with
this music and its characteristic idioms.
who love the French harpsichord tradition will surely find much
to enjoy here. Jacquet de La Guerre’s extensive use of the style
brisé means that no performance can ever be thought of as
in any way definitive. But these readings are certainly convincingly
idiomatic and thoroughly enjoyable.