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 Cecile Soria, a former student of Muzio Clementi. When it became clear she had the ability to become a professional pianist she was given lessons by such masters as Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and, given the talent she showed as a composer, her parents decided to let her, in 1819 at the age of fifteen, study composition with Anton Reicha, the composition teacher at the Conservatoire, although it is unclear if the young Louise Dumont followed his classes there, since at that time the composition class was open only to men. 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 Paris, Farrenc returned to her studies with Reicha, after which she reembarked on a concert career, briefly interrupted in 1826 when she gave birth to a daughter, Victorine, who also became a concert pianist but who died in 1859 aged thirty-three. 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. 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, Le Trésor des Pianistes, about early music performance style, and was twice awarded the Prix Chartier of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in 1861 and 1869.
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 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 her works. In December 2013, Farrenc was the subject of the long-running BBC Radio Three programme Composer of the Week.
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.
Why did Farrenc remain unknown as a composer?
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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.
List of compositions
Louise Farrenc wrote exclusively for the piano from 1820 to 1830, expanding her range to include works for orchestra beginning in 1834. Her work includes 49 compositions with opus numbers.
- Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 32 (1842)
- Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 35 (1845)
- Symphony No. 3 in G minor, op. 36 (1847)
- Overture in E minor, op. 23 (1834)
- Overture in E♭, op. 24 (1834)
- Grand variations on the song Le premier pas, for piano and orchestra, op. 4
- Grand variations on a theme by Count Gallenberg, for piano and orchestra, op. 25
- Andréa la folle, Ballade
- Je me taisais, Romance
- La tourterelle, Romance
- La madone
- Le berger fidèle, Romance
- Le prisonnier de guerre, Scène dramatique
- Le suicide, scène et air (Composition identique au prisonnier de guerre)
- Toi que j'appelle
- O père qu'adore mon père (Hymne de Lamartine), (unaccompanied choir)
- O père qu'adore mon père (Hymne de Lamartine), (choir and piano)
- O salutaris hostia, (soprano, alto and tenor)
- Nonet in E♭, op. 38 (1849; string quartet and wind quintet)
- Sextet in C minor, op. 40 (1852; piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn)
- Piano Quintet No. 1 in A minor, op. 30 (1839; piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass)
- Piano Quintet No. 2 in E, op. 31 (1840; piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass)
- Trio in E♭, op. 33 (1841–44; piano, violin and cello)
- Trio in D, op. 34 (1844; piano, violin and cello)
- Trio in E♭, op. 44 (1854–56; piano, clarinet and cello)
- Trio in E minor, op. 45 (1854–56; piano, flute and cello)
- Concertante Variations on a Swiss tune, op. 20 (piano and violin)
- Sonata for violin and piano in C minor, op. 37 (1848)
- Sonata for violin and piano in A, op. 39 (1850)
- Sonate for cello and piano in B♭, op. 46 (1857)
- Grand Variations on the song Le premier pas, op. 4
- Variations (Aristide Farrenc), op. 2
- Grandes variations Le premier pas, op. 4 (piano solo)
- Variations brillantes sur un thème de La Cenerentola de Rossini, op. 5
- Variations sur l'air favori O ma tendre musette!, op. 6
- Air suisse varié, op. 7
- Trois rondeaux, op. 8
- Rondeau sur un air du pirate de Bellini, op. 9
- Variations (George Onslow), op. 10
- Rondeau sur des thèmes d'Euryanthe de Carl Maria von Weber, op. 11
- Variations (Galopade favorite), op. 12
- Rondeau (Rossini), op. 13
- Les italiennes, op. 14
- Variations brillantes (Donizetti), op. 15
- Les allemandes, op. 16
- Air russe varié, op. 17
- La Sylphide, op. 18
- Souvenir des Huguenots, op. 19
- Les jours heureux, op. 21
- Fugues, op. 22
- Trente études dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs, op. 26 (1838)
- Hymne russe varié, op. 27
- Variations sur un thème allemand, op. 28
- Variations (Bellini,) op. 29 (Piano à quatre mains, arrangements pour 2 ou 3 pianos)
- Douze études brillantes, op. 41 (1853)
- Vingt études de moyenne difficulté, op. 42 (1854)
- Trois mélodies, op. 43
- Scherzo, op. 47
- Valse brillante, op. 48
- 1er nocturne, op. 49
- Vingt cinq études faciles, op. 50
- Deuxième valse brillante, op. 51
- Diverses œuvres pour le piano, sans numéros d'opus
- Mélodie, sans numéro d'opus
- Bea Friedland. Louise Farrenc, 1804-1875: Composer, Performer, Scholar. The Musical Quarterly. Vol. 60, No. 2 (Apr., 1974), pp. 257–274. Oxford University Press.
- R.H.R. Silvertrust, "The Chamber Music of Louise Farrenc", The Chamber Music Journal 14.3, 2003, Riverwoods, Illinois ISSN 1535 1726. Note: The copyright holders (the author & The Chamber Music Journal) have granted permission to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of GFDL and the GNU Free Documentation License.
- F. Launay, "Les Compositrices en France au XIXe siècle", Fayard, Paris, 2006.
- James R. Briscoe (editor). New Historical Anthology of Music by Women. Indiana University Press, 2004. Vol. 1, p.170. ISBN 9780253216830
- James R. Briscoe (editor). New Historical Anthology of Music by Women. Indiana University Press, 2004. Vol. 1, p.171
- Bea Friedland. Louise Farrenc, 1804-1875: Composer, Performer, Scholar. The Musical Quarterly. Vol. 60, No. 2 (Apr., 1974), pp. 257-274. Oxford University Press
- Pendle, Karin (editor) Women & Music: A History. Indiana University Press, 1991
- "Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)". Retrieved 2013-12-17.
- Free scores by Louise Farrenc at the International Music Score Library Project
- Sound-bites from Op.45, Trio in e for Flute (Vln), Cello & Piano
- Louise Farrenc, Classical Composer: A Biography for Young Readers