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Jean-Marie Leclair (1697 - 1764)

Jean-Marie Leclair did not settle immediately into his true calling. Born in Lyon in 1697 to a family of lace-makers, he had mastered that craft by the age of nineteen; meanwhile he had met his wife-to-be while both were dancers in the Lyon Opera. In 1722 he was engaged as ballet-master and first dancer in Turin, but by the following year he was in Paris, where the publication of his first set of twelve sonatas for violin and continuo, Op. 1, confirmed his success as a composer and violinist. Apart from a few extended sojourns to patrons in Holland and Spain, Leclair spent the rest of his life in Paris.

The music of Jean-Marie Leclair exemplifies the values and aspirations of the Age of Enlightenment: clarity and rationality; balance, harmony and proportion; and avoidance of excess or exaggeration. From a portrait engraved in 1741, when he was in his mid-forties, Leclair looks out at us with a confident, open gaze; a smile plays about his firmly set mouth; his eyes glint with intelligence. Barring the period dress and the wig, he looks like someone you would gladly sit down with today for conversation, a meal, or a game of chess.

Leclair is generally credited as the founder of the French school of violin playing. He expanded the violin’s technique to include left-hand tremolo (which evolved into what we now call vibrato), double trills, and a meticulously notated variety of articulations; he was renowned for the sweetness of his sound, and for the purity and brilliance of his multiple stops.


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