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Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre : Suite in Am (arranged by David Sewell) : DOz

Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre

Les Productions D’Oz: 16 pages

This 9-movement suite is by one of the Baroque’s few female composers. She wrote in a wide variety of forms including many vocal works, stage works and also numerous instrumental compositions for a large number of different combinations. This work comes from a publication of 1687, Les Pieces de Clavessin that consisted of 4 full – length suites.

The piece begins with the most problematic movement a Prelude which was unmeasured and largely left to the performer to make any sense out of. There are a couple of pages of Preface, just about this particular problem, and as the arranger has left the matter entirely up to the player to assort out, you find that there are largely semi – breves of notes, occasionally interwoven with the odd semi quaver or quaver run. Listening to a harpsichord performance on YouTube only made things more confusing as it was hard to hear exactly what the performer had done with the original score to create what he played.

There follows an Allemande with a multitude of ornamental writing whilst playing a piece in mostly three voices, a fact that made this a really difficult piece to play successfully, I felt. For example there are 20 ornaments in the first 8 bars of the movement, so players might find themselves having to miss the odd one out to keep the flow of the piece going.

The same situation happens with the two Courantes where the voices are constantly moving, but with a lot of mordents written in, that do make it difficult to keep the flow of the writing going, especially when there are 37 of them in 20 bars of music (Courante 1) That said, if the player found it necessary to miss a few out, the actual musical writing is very good, and the arrangement for guitar very apt and works really well.

There follows a stately but quite short Sarabande, a Gigue, a Chaconne, a Gavotte and finally a Minuet, all heavily ornamented. The suite itself is a substantial one, with enough interesting music here to keep the advanced player very happy indeed. You just need to decide what you can do with all the ornamental writing, and whether your technique is up to putting them all in,, or only some of them.

Chris Dumigan

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