Hélène de Montgeroult (1764-1836) was a French composer and pianist who lived an extraordinary life. Though only 8 years younger than Mozart, she wrote in an early Romantic style that was decades ahead of her time and has been described as "the missing link between Mozart and Chopin".
Born into an aristocratic family, Montgeroult fled France during the Revolution and was involved with exiled political factions in the UK. On her return, she joined a diplomatic envoy to Naples, only to be abducted by Austrian soldiers en route and imprisoned. She regained her freedom, but was then put on trial by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror. Montgeroult managed to avoid execution by improvising a set of variations on the Marseillaise that moved the judges to tears.
Her legacy for keyboard comprises 9 extant sonatas, 114 etudes and a host of supplementary pieces. The etudes, in particular, are extraordinary and anticipate the stylistic advances of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin. Montgeroult started writing these etudes in 1788 for her pupil, Johann Baptist Cramer, and the entire set was completed by 1812.
Clare has recorded 29 études for BIS Records, now available on eClassical and all major streaming platforms. Hear Clare discuss Montgeroult's legacy with Donald Macleod in BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week, and watch a trailer for her disc and a performance at the Wigmore Hall below.
The Times wrote that Montgeroult's études "reveal an imagination and vitality that easily lift them onto a higher plane" and The Observer that she "encapsulates the musical journey from classical to romantic, her artistic compass firmly pointing forward." The disc has been praised for Clare's "enchantingly light and sensitive interpretations" (Pizzicato), and the "thoughtful beauty" of her playing (The Times). Europadisc wrote that Montgeroult's music is "unnervingly astonishing... Dip into this disc at any point and you are likely to be amazed... Hélène de Montgeroult is the real deal".
This project was generously supported by the Ambache Charitable Trust, John S Cohen Foundation, Fidelio Charitable Trust, Gemma Classical Music Trust, Golsoncott Foundation, The Stradivari Trust, Miles Dodd, John Wilson, Penny Wright and Andrew Neubauer.