We’re highlighting the life and music of pioneering women in classical music every weekday during March for Women's History Month.
Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre was born in Paris, France, in 1665 to a wealthy family of musicians and instrument manufacturers, especially harpsichords. A child prodigy, by the age of five she performed at the court of Louis XIV and at about 15 became a member of the court orchestra. At 19 she left the court to be married and now began to compose, dedicating her music to the King with whom she retained favorable ties.
At the age of 22 in 1687 she published her first work, a collection of harpsichord pieces; a rare production for any composer in 17th century France. Her next published work didn’t appear until after the death of her husband in 1704; that collection of 1707 demonstrated various styles of music and performance techniques. Publication of cantatas on sacred themes followed in 1708 and 1711, then in 1715 cantatas on secular themes.
One of de la Guerre’s most notable accomplishments came in 1694 when she became the first woman in France to publish an opera. Lasting no more than six performances, the failure could be attributed to the libretto which was poorly structured and complicated. However, the music was well received and published.
Jacquet de la Guerre’s reputation of excellence as a performer and composer was widely known during her lifetime, and soon after her death her status was committed to print by a notable scholar who even ignored cultural feelings of the time about female composers and praised her without reservation or qualification.
Much of this bio was based on an article at Brittanica.com; click to read more.
Wikipedia also has a fine and detailed account of her life with some works listed.