Hélène de Montgeroult

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, leading her biographer, Jérôme Dorival, to describe her 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 only 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 will record 31 études on a disc for BIS Records, due for release in autumn 2022. Hear Clare discuss Montgeroult's legacy with Donald Macleod in BBC Radio 3's Composer of the Week here, watch her perform 7 études at the Wigmore Hall below, and view sample programmes here.