Louise Farrenc (31 May 1804 – 15 September 1875) was a French composer, virtuosa pianist and teacher. Born Jeanne-Louise Dumont in Paris, she was the daughter of Jacques-Edme Dumont, a successful sculptor, and sister to Auguste Dumont.
Louise Farrenc enjoyed a considerable reputation during her own lifetime, as a composer, a performer and a teacher. She began piano studies at an early age with someone called “señora (Mrs) Soria”, a former student of Muzio Clementi, but when it became clear she had the talent of a professional pianist, she was also given lessons by such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Because she also showed great promise as a composer, her parents decided to let her study composition with Anton Reicha, at the time composition teacher at the Conservatoire. It is not yet clear if Louise Farrenc followed his classes there, as the composition class was at the time one of the classes opened only to men. She met Aristide Farrenc, a flute student ten years her senior, who performed at some of the concerts regularly given at the artists’ colony of the Sorbonne, where Louise’s family lived. She married him in 1821. She then interrupted her studies to concertize throughout France with her husband. He soon grew tired of the concert life and decided to open a publishing house in Paris, which as Éditions Farrenc, was one of France’s leading music publishers for nearly 40 years.
Farrenc returned to her studies with Reicha. After completing her studies, she reembarked on a concert career and gained considerable fame as a performer during the 1830s. By the early 1840s, her reputation was such that in 1842 she was appointed to the permanent position of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory, a position she held for thirty years and one which was among the most prestigious in Europe. Despite this, Farrenc was paid less than her male counterparts for nearly a decade. Only after the triumphant premiere of her nonet, at which the famous violinist Joseph Joachim took part, did she demand and receive equal pay. Beside her teaching and performing career, she also produced and edited an influential book about early music performance style.
Farrenc died in Paris. For several decades after her death, her reputation as a performer survived and her name continued to appear in such books as Antoine François Marmontel’s Pianistes célèbres. Her nonet had achieved around 1850 some popularity, as did her two piano quintets and her trios. But, despite some new editions of her chamber music after her death, her works fell into oblivion.
At first, during the 1820s and 1830s, she composed exclusively for the piano. Several of these pieces drew high praise from critics, including Schumann. In the 1830s, she tried her hand at larger compositions for both chamber ensemble and orchestra. It was during the 1840s that much of her chamber music was written. While the great bulk of Farrenc’s compositions were for the piano alone, her chamber music is generally regarded as her best work. The claim can be made that Farrenc’s chamber music works are on a par with most of her well-known male contemporaries.
Throughout her life, chamber music remained of great interest. She wrote works for various combinations of winds and or strings and piano. These include two piano quintets Opp.30 & 31, a sextet for piano and winds Op.40, which later appeared in an arrangement for piano quintet, two piano trios Opp.33 & 34, the nonet for winds and strings Op.38, a trio for clarinet (or violin), cello and piano Op.44, a trio for flute (or violin), cello and piano Op.45, and several instrumental sonatas (a string quartet sometimes attributed to her is regarded by specialists as the work of another composer, not yet identified).
In addition to chamber music and works for solo piano, she wrote two overtures and three symphonies. She had the great honour to hear her third symphony Op.36 performed at the Société des concerts du Conservatoire in 1849. The one area which is conspicuously missing from her output is opera, an important lacuna as opera was at the time the central musical form in France. Several sources, however, indicate that she was also ambitious in that field, but did not succeed in being given a libretto to set to music by the Théâtre de l’Opéra or the Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique, for reasons still to be discovered.
For nearly the entire 19th century, French musical opinion was completely dominated by opera, be it lyrique, comique or grand opera. A French composer could not gain any reputation without having first had a success at the opera. Indeed, commenting on this sorry state of affairs, Saint-Saëns lamented, “The composer who was bold enough to venture out into the field of instrumental music had only one forum for the performance of his works: a concert which he had to organize himself and to which he invited his friends and the press. One could not even think of attracting the public, the general public; the very mention of the name of a French composer on a placard—especially that of a living French composer—was enough to send everyone running.” Saint-Saëns found himself forced to create an organization whose sole purpose was to remedy this problem, but it was not until the 20th century that the general public began to frequent the concerts of the Société Nationale de Musique in any number.
François-Joseph Fétis, perhaps France’s greatest 19th century music biographer and critic, wrote in his new edition of the Biographie universelle des musiciens of Louise Farrenc, only three years after her death, as follows: “Unfortunately, the genre of large scale instrumental music to which Madame Farrenc, by nature and formation, felt herself called involves performance resources which a composer can acquire for herself or himself only with enormous effort. Another factor here is the public, as a rule not a very knowledgeable one, whose only standard for measuring the quality of a work is the name of its author. If the composer is unknown, the audience remains unreceptive, and the publishers, especially in France, close their ears anyway when someone offers them a halfway decent work…Such were the obstacles that Madame Farrenc met along the way and which caused her to despair. This is the reason why her work has fallen into oblivion today, when at any other epoch her works would have brought her great esteem.”
Her works were recognized by the savants and connoisseurs of the time as first rate, but this was not enough to gain her any lasting fame as a composer. Similar oblivion obscures the career of George Onslow, another important 19th-century French composer, primarily of chamber music. Unlike Onslow, Louise Farrenc never tried her hand at opera. This sealed her fate. If one looks at those French composers who were known during most of the 19th century, they are all opera composers to a man. (by wikipedia)
And now you should enjoy a great piece of music writte by a great, forgotten composer A great, forgotten composer … Go and discover, you are in for a delightful surprise!
Mario Blaumer (violoncello)
Konstanze Eickhorst (piano)
Jörg Linowitzki (bass)
Winfried Rademacher (violin)
Barbara Westphal (viola)
Piano quintet No 1 in A Minor, Op 30:
01. Allegro 11.37
02. Adagio non troppo 6.52
03. Scherzo. Presto 3.24
04. Finale. Allegro 6.55
Piano quintet No 2 in E Major, Op 31:
05. Andante sostenuto – Allegro grazioso 10.40
06. Grave 7.21
07. Scherzo. Vivace 3.27
08. Finale. Allegro 6.48
Composed by Jeanne-Louise Farrenc