Early 18th-century French composer, violinist, teacher and dancer Jean-Marie Leclair was one of the most pivotal figures in violin technique and is considered to have founded the French violin school.
Not much is known about Leclair’s childhood, except that he was born in Lyons on 10 May 1697. By the age of 19, Leclair was already successful as a violinist, dancer and even at lacemaking. In 1716 Leclair’s name could be found among the list of dancers of the Lyons Opera. He married one of the other dancers, Marie-Rose Casthagnié the same year. It is also quite possible that Leclair performed as both a violinist and dancer in Rouen under the Patron Mme Mezangère, though some scholars are skeptical of this.
Evidence exists of Leclair’s activities in Turin in 1722. It is possible that he travelled to Turin to gain employment at the royal wedding festivities. In addition, while in Turin he acted as a ballet master, despite not holding an official position. While still uncertain, it seems that Leclair studied violin with G.B. Somis at this time, based on a 1726 entry in J.J. Quantz’s diary regarding a visit to Turin in which he wrote that the violinist Leclair was studying with Somis.
The next year, Leclair left Turin for Paris, where he was fortunate to receive the patronage of Joseph Bonnier, one of the richest Frenchmen. Leclair was working on his Sonatas Op. 1 at this time, a set of works noted for their originality. One of his contemporaries stated of his sonatas that they ‘appeared at first a kind of algebra capable of rebuffing the most courageous musicians’. This is likely in reference to the demanding technique which the works required. Leclair was also described as ‘the first person who, without imitating anything, created beautiful and new things, which he could call his own’.