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Jean-Marie Leclair: Seduction and Rococo Art

François Boucher whose skin tones and dream like gardens infuriated Diderot.

François Boucher whose skin tones and dream like gardens infuriated Diderot.

Today, our assessment of Rococo art, whether musical or visual, is a faulty one. Thinking it benign, and prettified, even insipid, we recognize the agreeable but overlook about seductive. Do we not run the dangerous of allowing the basic tenets of our existence to drift permanently from sight as filigree obscures virtue? So the 18th-century French philosopher Denis Diderot warned us when he wrote that the great Rococo artist François Boucher might be the greatest painter of the time—but he was also the most dishonest. #

All the moral entitlement of the French court perfumes this 18th century erotic scene.

All the moral entitlement of the French court perfumes this 18th century erotic scene.

In this context, consider, then, the elaborated melodies of 18th-century violinist and composer Jean-Marie Leclair. A dictionary of Rococo elegance, they provide an aural manifestation of the fabrics he knew as the young son of a lace-maker. Leclair’s decorated melodies supply an opportunity for the violinist or flautist to entice and seduce his audience. When well performed, his ornaments conjure up sighs and giggles, pinches and feathers, tears of melancholy and moans of pleasure. And Leclair, dedicating these works to “people of good taste,” expects that the energy and tempo of each ornament will be varied to enliven an expressive intention. He is as demanding of refined interpretation as is his harpsichordist colleague François Couperin. Leclair’s musical narrative offers an exquisite balance of instrumental virtuosity and sensitive rhetoric. #

Comments

  1. Orange Pekeo says:

    This is a wonderful article, which captures the allure of the old regime arts, but acknowledges the costs of decadence.

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