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Louise Farrenc (1804 - 1875)

Louise Farrenc, composer, virtuoso pianist and teacher, was born into what has been described as a Bohemian family (her father and aunt were sculptors) in Paris. She studied piano with Moschelles and Hummel and, at the age of fifteen, began to study composition with Anton Reicha.

In 1821 she married 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. Following her marriage, she interrupted her studies to give concerts throughout France with her husband. He, however, soon grew tired of the concert life and, with her help, opened a publishing house in Paris, which, as Éditions Farrenc, became one of France's leading music publishers for nearly 40 years.

In the 1830s Farrenc gained considerable fame as a performer and 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. Accounts of the time record that she was an excellent instructor, with many of her students graduating with Premier Prix and becoming professional musicians.

At first, during the 1820s and 1830s, she composed exclusively for the piano. Several of these pieces drew high praise from critics, including Robert 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.

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.

In addition to chamber music and works for solo piano, she wrote two overtures and three symphonies. She heard 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 gap as opera was at the time the central musical form in France.

Farrenc died in Paris on the 15th September 1875. 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 were largely forgotten until, in the late 20th century, an interest in women composers led to the rediscovery – and thence to the performance and recording – of many of her works.

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