Friday, June 10, 2011

Jean-Marie Leclair

Jean-Marie Leclair (Jean-Marie Leclair, the Elder) was a French violinist, composer, dancer, lace maker, and teacher born (in Lyon) on May 10, 1697 (Bach was 12 years old.)  He is frequently mentioned as having founded the French violin school of violin playing, whatever that may be.  His three younger brothers were also musicians.  Leclair is now remembered as one of the very, very few violinists who died a violent death – he was assassinated at age 67.  The culprit was never found out.  He studied dance and violin in Turin but also made a living as a lace or braid maker, his father’s profession.  Little is otherwise known about his early years.  In 1716, he was a dancer with the Lyons Opera and married a fellow dancer in the same opera company (Marie Rose Casthanie) on the first of February that same year.  He was 19 years old.  He became a principal dancer with the Turin Opera in 1722.  In October of 1723, he returned to Paris – which he had previously visited on and off - and played at the Concerts Spirituel, where he was well-received.  He also published his Opus 1, a set of violin sonatas that same year.  The publication was sponsored by a wealthy patron (Joseph Bonnier) to whom the works were, understandably, dedicated.  In 1726 he again visited Turin where he worked as a dancer and choreographer with the Turin Opera and took violin lessons from Giovanni Battista Somis.  In 1728, he returned to Paris.  Leclair’s wife died in that year and he remarried in 1730.  She (Louise Roussel) was an engraver who, beginning with his Opus 2, published all of Leclair’s works from that point forward.  In 1733, he was hired by Louis XV (to whom Leclair dedicated his Opus 3) as a court musician.  He gave up that post in 1737 after quarreling with a colleague (someone named Jean-Pierre Guignon, also known as Giovanni Pietro Ghignone.)  From 1738 until 1743, he worked three months out of the year at The Hague for the Princess (Anne) of Orange, a former harpsichord pupil of Handel.  He dedicated his Opus 9 to her.  (Some sources give these years as 1737 to 1742.)  In Holland, he also met and probably took lessons from the great (and mysterious) violinist Pietro Locatelli.  From 1740 until he died, Leclair worked for the Duke of Gramont as principal violinist and director of his private orchestra, although he spent a few months in Spain in 1743 where he played for some aristocrat called Infante Don Felipe, a fan of French music.  Leclair dedicated his Opus 10 to Don Felipe.  Although his output was comparatively small, he has on occasion been referred to as the French Corelli, the French Vivaldi, and even the French Bach.  He broke up with his wife in 1758 and went to live in an unsavory and dangerous neighborhood in the outskirts of Paris, where he had purchased a small house.  He was 61 years old.  It has been suggested that the Duke of Gramont would certainly have provided comfortable lodgings for him so the reason he chose these undesirable circumstances for himself remains a mystery.  On the morning of October 23, 1764, Leclair’s gardener found him in a pool of blood, dead from three stab wounds in the back.  Since the stabbing probably took place the prior evening, his date of death is usually given as October 22, 1764.  He was 67 years old.  An investigation produced three suspects but nothing was ever proved against anyone.  Many consider Leclair the first French violin virtuoso.  His best known pupil is probably Pierre Gavinies.  Although he composed almost exclusively for the violin, he did write an opera (1746) which is even now occasionally performed.  Much of his music is available through numerous recordings.  Many of his ballets and works for voice and for the stage were either lost or destroyed by Leclair himself. 

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