Simanaitis Says

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TO CALL this item the Leclair Case might confuse it with how Jean-Marie Leclair carried his violin. Indeed, I’m referring to this French composer’s murder. As with any good mystery, there’s a multiplicity of suspects and, even today, 254 years later, it’s not completely clear who’s the culprit.

My thanks, by the way, to Vincent Caruso for his tantalizing introduction of a Leclair violin piece on SiriusXM “Symphony Hall.” Murder? Three suspects? How could I not research this further?

Jean-Marie Leclair, 1697–1764, French violinist and composer of the Baroque Era. Engraving by F. Lugi after Loir, 1741.

A first mystery is purely familial: Jean-Marie Leclair had a younger brother by six years named Jean-Marie Leclair. Had mom and dad already forgotten?

Both Jean-Maries (or is that Jeans-Marie?) grew up to be composers, our Jean-Marie known as l’ainé, the Elder, his brother called le cadet, literally the youngest, though he was actually only the Younger. Along with two other brothers, Pierre and Jean-Benoît, Jean-Marie the Younger has only this brief cameo role in our tale and is heard from no longer.

Our Jean-Marie was born in Lyons. His father Antoine was a cellist and master lacemaker. According to The Concise Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians 8th edition, 1993, by Nick Slonimsky, “Jean-Marie studied violin, dancing, and lacemaking in his youth, excelling in all 3. He then began his career as a dancer with Lyons Opera, where he met Marie-Rose Casthagnié; they were married in 1716.”

For those who care about such things, he was 18 or 19 at the time; her age was unknown, though she was to die some 12 years later.

Around 1722, Leclair served as a ballet master in Turin. A year later in Paris, his opus 1 of sonatas was published and he gained a wealthy patron, crucial for a composer in those days. Leclair returned to Turin, then had gigs in Paris, London, and, notes Slonimsky, he “made a great impression when he played at the Kassel court….” (A hundred years later, Kassel, Germany, was the home of the Brothers Grimm.)

After wife Marie-Rose’s death, Leclair married Louise Roussel, whose engraving business was to print his compositions from Opus 2 onward. Through Leclair’s Opus 15, these total 92 works, many for violin as well as several theatrical productions.

From 1733 to 1737, Leclair served as ordinaire de la musique du roi for French King Louis XV. This particular Louis, who reigned until 1774, is remembered for draining the Royal Treasury and setting the stage for the French Revolution, 1789-1799. Leclair lit out long before, his resignation encouraged by disagreements in the royal court concerning the choice of music.

Louis XV, 1710–1774, King of France from 1715 (he was five) until his death. Portrait by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, 1748.

After the court squabble, Leclair had assignments in the Netherlands (Princess Anne of Orange, 1738), the Hague (François du Liz, “a commoner” Slonimsky notes, 1740), and Chambéry (Spanish Prince Don Philippe, 1744).

In between gigs, Leclair returned to Paris, where his affairs continued to be mixed. He served as music director and composer to a former student, Antoine VII, 7th Duke of Gramont. The duke maintained a private theater in the Parisian suburb of Puteaux (now the site of La Défense, a business district of stunning architecture five miles west of the center of Paris). Leclair contributed to one of the duke’s theatrical productions, Les Dangers des Épreuves, loosely, Tests’ Dangers.

Sound ominous note here.

Coat of Arms of Antoine II de Gramont-Touloujon, the first Duke of Gramont, 1572–1644.

About 1758, Leclair separated from Louise Roussel. Wikipedia cites that he moved into a small house “in a dangerous Parisian neighborhood.” What’s more, notes Slonimsky, Leclair had been on bad terms with nephew and fellow violinist Guillaume-François Vial.

And had Leclair been rude to his gardener? (My conjecture; not Slonimsky’s.)

On October 22 (Wikipedia) or 23, (Slonimsky), 1764, Leclair was found stabbed to death outside his home. Slonimsky notes, “The Paris police report listed 3 suspects, his gardener (who discovered the body), his estranged wife, and his nephew….” The mystery was never solved.

Who’s the culprit? A wild-card suspect might be the Duke of Gramont, the guy who commissioned Les Dangers des Épreuves. What do you suppose those tests were? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

4 comments on “THE LECLAIR CAPER

  1. claudius1889
    March 21, 2018

    Why do you suspect the duke of Gramont? The gardener seemed to have more motives. In fact what would have been the reasons or motives for Gramont to have Leclair murdered?

    • simanaitissays
      March 21, 2018

      Other than those dangerous tests, I have nothing firm. On the other hand, the gardener as culprit somehow seems closer to that old cliche, “the butler did it.” I trust that you and the Gramonts would understand. Thanks for your view.

  2. Ted
    June 1, 2021

    The New Grove stated it is now accepted the nephew was his killer.

    • simanaitissays
      June 1, 2021

      Thanks for this, Ted. Gee, I wonder if the nephew was named Jean-Marie as well.

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