Groundbreaking Female Composer: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

Groundbreaking Female Composer: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

Groundbreaking Female Composer: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was a musical pioneer, rising from a young performer to one of the most prolific musicians in the court of Louis XIV. Following in the footsteps of Francesca Caccini, Elisabeth became the first French woman to compose an opera, which was performed at the Paris Opera and later published. Working in a field dominated by Louis’ favorite opera composer, Jean-Baptiste Lully, this was no small feat, especially for a woman. Though it is important to note her operatic legacy, I am especially excited about her other achievements, including her contribution to the development of the French sonata and taking the salon performance from the royal setting into the home.

Published in 1707, her Sonates pour le violon et pour le clavecin represent a daring new direction in music. They combine the delicate character of French Baroque with elements of the Italian sonata, the latter showcasing Arcangelo Corelli’s advances in violin writing. She was one of the earliest French composers in a movement to fuse the best of French and Italian composition. This development elevated the form to a new level of compositional sophistication with more depth and variation of character. When I listen to Haydn sonatas, I hear glimpses of her influence.

After marrying a fellow musician, Elisabeth left the court and brought the idea of a musical salon to new places. In the noble salon setting, the social element of royal mingling was of primary importance, while the music stayed in the background. But in her home, the music became the centerpiece of the evening. That development was a path-breaking step that brought us the concert hall experience. There, the patrons cease their conversations (and maybe even turn off their phones) to devote an evening to music.  

Connecting To The Childlike Innocence In Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15

I have been revisiting pieces that I played as a child, and Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Op. 15 is one that has brought me both immense joy and different challenges at different stages of my musical life. It requires of the performer a frustratingly delicate balance of childlike innocence and refinement of a great artist. Robert dedicated the work to Clara, writing “You once said to me that I often seemed like a child, and I suddenly got inspired and knocked off around 30 quaint little pieces... I selected several and titled them Kinderszenen. You will enjoy them, though you will need to forget that you are a virtuoso when you play them."

Presenting Great Works by Female Composers at the Smithsonian American art Museum

My August 11th Steinway Series recital at the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature rarely performed gems by trailblazing female composers. This concert is especially meaningful to me because my first concert after moving to DC in 2017 was part of the Steinway Series, my first opportunity to show my art to this city. This time, I am using this opportunity to showcase works that have not been performed as often as their artistry deserves—because women composed them. They also represent a wide variety of styles that showcase the range of women’s compositional creativity across time, fitting well with the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative: “Because of Her Story”

Groundbreaking Female Composer: Francesca Caccini

Francesca Caccini was a uniquely gifted musician and composer, the first woman to ever compose and publish an opera. Thankfully for us, Florence in the early 1600s was ruled by two women.  Though composition was a field reserved for men, the women in power recognized her talents and raised eyebrows by promoting her to the highest paid musical position at court. I was immediately drawn to her music, particularly the aria for voice and lute, Lasciatemi qui solo, for its depth of emotion and surprising freshness of harmonies. The haunting melody and the darkness of the text are daring for this period. Four hundred years later, her music is still moving.

Visiting the Villa d’Este

I’m preparing one of my favorite pieces, Ravel’s "Une barque sur l’océan” from Miroirs, for a recital in Florence. The work evokes a small boat on the ocean being swept by waves and currents. It is a source of endless beauty and joy to perform, as well as a pianistic challenge. But this masterpiece might have never been composed without a pioneering work Liszt, an earlier composer, composed at the Villa d’Este in the hills near Rome a few decades before. I visited the villa on my way to Florence and discovered a chain of inspiration that led from a 2nd century emperor looking for respite from the oppressive heat and politics of Rome, to a renaissance cardinal with grand ambitions, to Liszt seeking sanctuary, and then to Ravel’s quest for a new musical language.

My Musical Life: United States, France, Spain (Part2)

Though my parents had enrolled me in English lessons in Georgia, I had to look up every other word in my textbooks to complete my first high school assignments in the U.S. I didn’t sleep very much in those first months, but I soon caught up, finishing high school a year early, and never let my work at the piano slip. After winning a few local competitions, Logan Skelton, a professor at the University of Michigan, took me on as a student and prepared me for the grueling work needed to play at the level demanded at international competitions and conservatory auditions. In my senior year I went to New York alone, and came back with an admissions offer and a full scholarship at Juilliard. Though I had no connections, I became the first person from Georgia ever to gain admission.