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Jean-Marie Leclair

French Baroque Violinist and Composer Jean-Marie Leclair Born in 1697


The son of a skilled haberdasher and amateur musician, Jean-Marie Leclair was born in Lyon on May 10, 1697.

He was one of six siblings, five of whom also became musicians. He is often called “the elder” to distinguish him from a younger brother who was also named Jean-Marie.

Nothing is known of Elder Jean-Marie Leclair's teachers, though we do know that he performed both as a dancer and a violinist. His debut must have taken place early in his life, because at age nineteen he wedded his first of three wives, Marie-Rose Casthanie, a ballerina of the Lyon Opera.

Throughout his career, Leclair became one of the most travelled French musician of his day, pursing a virtuoso career in France and abroad, in Holland and Spain. His many positions include at the Teatro Regio of Turin (Reun) as premier danseur and ballet master, a regular performer at the Concert Spirituel (France’s first public concert venue) and as he the Premier Symphoniste du Roy.

Leclair published only instrumental music, which includes thirteen opuses of sonatas, violin concerti, and duo and trio sonatas. Although this was considered a modest output for this time period, the high technical and musical level of his writing won him the title of “Corelly de la France.”

Stylistically and formally, however, his twelve concerti – opus 7 number 3 bears the inscription "solos may be performed by the flute or the oboe” – followed closer in Vivaldi’s footsteps. Even though they were not the first of their kind written in France, they represent a significant advance over the adaptations previously essayed by such composers as Jaques Aubert and Boismortier.

On October 22, 1764 – the same year that saw the passing of Locatelli and Rameau – Leclair was found stabbed to death. His murderer, despite a thorough investigation, was never prosecuted. It is believed that the murderer was almost certainly Guillaume-Francois Vial, Leclair’s nephew who unsuccessfully “persecuted his uncle in order that he might cause him to enter into the service of the Duc de Gramont.

Leclair’s death had a powerful impact; a commentator was to write that the murderers were “monsters who belonged neither to their country nor the century.”



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