The son of a lacemaker and cellist, Leclair was the most famous member of a very artistic family. He was trained as a lacemaker himself and found early employment as a dancer, before becoming known for his violin playing and compositions. Three of his brothers were also notable violinists and composers (one was also named Jean-Marie, “le cadet”). Leclair’s first wife was another dancer and his second wife was an engraver, who engraved all of his published works from Op. 2 to Op. 15. Their daughter Louise was also an engraver and she married the painter Louis Quenet. Leclair was murdered, with evidence pointing to his nephew Guillaume-François Vial, yet another violinist, although nobody was ever charged with the crime.
Although he is considered the father of the French school of violin playing, in his own time Leclair was noted for uniting the current French and Italian styles and forms. His fourth book of violin sonatas, Op. 9 was dedicated to Princess Anne of Orange in the Netherlands, where Leclair was employed seasonally for several years. The third sonata in the book (the sixth is also in D major) is his most famous work, displaying both Leclair’s rapprochement of national styles and his virtuosity. There is plenty of double-stopping throughout (except in the lavishly embellished D-minor Sarabanda) and a sophisticated range of articulation. The Tambourin is a folk dance imitating the sound of pipe (whirling violin figures) and drum (a steady eight-note pulse in the bass of the keyboard part – almost the entire movement is played over the tonic D).
John Henken is Director of Publication for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.