Jean-Marie Leclair the Elder (1697, Lyon – 1764, Paris) was a French composer, one of the most celebrated violin virtuosos of his time. His father made a living with basket making (a profession Jean-Marie Leclair also learned), but was an excellent bass gamba player, who encouraged his numerous children to play music, and several of his sons ended up as professionals.
Jean-Marie learned the violin, as well as to dance, and began his career as a dancer and ballet master in his home town. In 1716, at the age of nineteen, he married a colleague, Marie-Rose Casthanie, whom he had met at the Lyon opera house. In 1722 he appeared in Turin as the ballet master of the opera, but the next year already saw him publish his Op. 1 series in Paris. In 1726 he returned to Turin, where he refined his violin playing with Johann Joachim Quantz and Giovanni Battista Somis, a former student of Corelli. He published the Op. 2 sonatas in 1728. From this time on he would live in Paris, where teaching the violin was his main source of income. The same year he appeared at one of the events of the Concert Spirituel series, which was a very high form of recognition; he continued to appear at the series regularly until 1737. Between 1733–1737, he was the leader of the court orchestra of Louis XV, then moved to the Hague, where he lived until 1743. Here he met and cooperated with Locatelli, who was an important source of influence. For two years from 1744, he was employed by Don Felipe, Infante of Spain, and shortly thereafter became musical director and first violinist of Duke Antoine de Gramont’s private theatre in Puteaux, near Paris. It was here, in October 1764, that he was murdered under circumstances still unclear. Leclair is considered as the father of the French school of violin playing.