In the time of Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), it was common practice to substitute instruments specified in a work with others, often from different instrument families, based upon what was available. This is still done frequently today with music of this time, although the reason for the substitutions would generally be to achieve different tonal colors from the originals. This is what we have here, performed by the ensemble Pasticcio Barocco, on this Herisson Classics disc of Leclair’s Trio Sonatas for 2 violins and continuo, Op. 4/1-4. The two treble voices are played by a duo of oboes, and the basso continuo is supplied by harpsichord and bassoon, with a supporting double bass. It all works extremely well, and after a cursory search, I didn’t find other recordings available with the same instrumentation.
Jean-Marie Leclair came from a very musical family. He was the most eminent of three musician brothers, and was regarded to be one of the finest violinists and most innovative composers of his day. At a time when numerous distinct schools of composition existed, Leclair wrote music that effectively drew together several of Europe’s national styles. Harmonically fascinating (at times a little daring), richly ornamented, and displaying a remarkable command of counterpoint, Leclair’s alternating slow-fast movements are interesting, buoyant and uplifting.
The program is filled out by Leclair’s Deuxième Recrèation de Musique, Op. 8, which comes from a period some six years after the opus 4 sonatas. Also originally written for two violins with basso continuo, this charming suite begins with an overture followed by six sections, each one based upon a different dance form. The sample from the album that I’ve provided for you to hear is the first of the dance movements, Forlane. It’s about five minutes long and will give you a good idea of what this fresh, cheerful music sounds like.
Jean-Marie Leclair was born in Lyon in 1697. By his nineteenth birthday, he had perfected the arts of violin playing, dance, and lace-making. He was to become the most eminent violinist of his time, traveling throughout Europe. Early in his career he was appreciated not only for his virtuosity, but also for the originality of his compositions. One of his greatest achievements was to combine the two rival national schools of French taste and Italian style.
Jean-Marie Leclair l’aîné, also known as Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder, (10 May 1697 – 22 October 1764) was a Baroque violinist and composer. He is considered to have founded the French violin school. Leclair was renowned as a violinist and as a composer. He successfully drew upon all of Europe’s national styles. Many suites, sonatas, and concertos survive along with his opera, while some vocal works, ballets, and other stage music is lost.