Louis-Gabriel Guillemain was a French Baroque composer and violinist. He was a pioneer of the Italian instrumental style in France.
Guillemain was born in Paris in late 1705 and raised by the Count de Rochechouart who ensured that Guillemain received a thorough music education early on. Guillemain studied the violin, eventually travelling to Italy to study with Giovanni Battista Somi and Jean-Marie Leclair. He was employed at the royal court in Versailles and became one of the highest paid court musicians.
Upon his return to France, Guillemain was appointed violinist at the Lyon opera and then first violinist at the Royal Academy in Dijon in the spring of 1734. Guillemain later moved to Paris, where he was an active participant in the music community as a violinist and composer of sonatas.
Just two years after his marriage to Catherine Langlais in 1757, Guillemain entered into the service of the king as a violinist. His final compositions date from 1762.
As a violinist, Guillemain was hailed as the best in Paris and described in a letter by Louis-Claude Daquin as ‘a man full of fire, genius and life…he is perhaps the most extraordinary and adroit violinist one can hear play. There are no difficulties that can stump him and he can compose learned pieces which sometimes embarrass his rivals. Among the great Masters, this celebrated artist is one of the most productive. His works are full of touching beauty’.
Despite his great talent, it is rumoured that Guillemain was uncomfortable performing in front of large audiences, which is why he probably did not perform at the Concert Spirituel.
Guillemain’s compositions include at least 18 opuses on the genres of sonatas, symphonies, concertinos, dances and harpsichord sonatas with violin accompaniment. His works show a thorough understanding of the traditional sonata-allegro and symphonic forms in addition to very clear themes. His works exemplify the charming and elegant Italian instrumental style. All of his works were very demanding technically, especially for the violin for which he wrote virtuosic parts. Along with Jean-Marie Leclair, Guillemain contributed the most to the French school of violin.
Guillemain’s most important compositions include the First book of sonatas for violin with basso continuo (1734), Six sonatas for two violins without basso continuo (1739), Six symphonies in the Italian trio style (1740), – Harpsichord sonatas with violin (1745), the episodic comedy La Cabale sur un livret de Saint-Foix (1748) for the Comédie-Italienne in Paris and the Symphonies in the new concerto style for musettes, vielles, flutes or oboes (1752). His final composition was Amusement for solo violin which contains accompaniments of airs by various composers and 12 caprices.
On his way to Versailles in 1770, Guillemain commited suicide by stabbing himself fourteen times with a knife in response to increasingly desperate financial situation.