Today—all day—is another great reason to tune in to BBC Radio 3 for their fantastic selection of female composers, part of their ongoing commitment to the topic. So much fine music to explore… (for my 2017 post, see here).
Yet another coup this week was their broadcast of Céphale et Procris, a tragédie en musique by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665–1729).
The opera was first staged in 1694—just as a Chinese monk was copying a numinous score of the shengguan ritual ensemble repertoire in Beijing. In Paris, Jacquet kept composing despite losing her young son, her husband, and her brother.
After only a few performances, the opera wasn’t heard again until the 1990s. But it sounds wonderful.
Following Lully, her soundworld often anticipates Rameau, including the tragic final sequence, and this aria from Act IV, Funeste mort:
Where have I been? * (And perhaps you—unless you’re more au fait with the niceties of French baroque than me.) I now find that YouTube is awash with Jacquet’s works. For now I’ll cite from her wiki entry:
Her talent and achievements were acknowledged by Titon du Tillet, who accorded her a place on his Mount Parnassus when she was only 26 years old, next to Lalande and Marais and directly below Lully. A quote from Titon du Tillet describes her
marvellous facility for playing preludes and fantasies off the cuff. Sometimes she improvises one or another for a whole half hour with tunes and harmonies of great variety and in quite the best possible taste, quite charming her listeners.
So let’s all explore Jacquet de La Guerre’s ouevre—harpichord pieces, trio sonatas, cantatas!
* “Nobody tells me anything”—and there was I thinking I’d discovered an unknown singer called Aretha Franklin…