The now elusive Louise Dumont Farrenc (1804-1875) was once a prominent French composer, virtuoso pianist, and teacher, who had received favorable notice from Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and others. The Weston Wind Quintet & Friends will be giving a rare performance of her Nonet in E-flat Major op. 38, for string quartet and wind quintet [listen HERE] in a free one-hour concert in the Plymouth Public Library (132 South Street) Wednesday November 7th at 7pm.
The concert will include a performance by the ensemble and pianist Heeyeon Chi of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in an arrangement by French oboist and conductor David Walter.
Louise Farrenc displayed great talent as a child and was accepted at 15 by the Paris Conservatoire. She wanted to study composition as well as piano, but it was another half-century before women could even enroll in composition classes. Anton Reicha, the Conservatoire’s professor of composition, agreed to teach her privately. (His Conservatoire students included Liszt, Berlioz, Gounod, and Franck.) Reicha was not only a lifelong friend of Beethoven but also one of the early popularizers of the wind quintet, composing more than 20 full-length pieces for the combination.
In 1842, as Farrenc’s musical career blossomed, she became the Conservatoire’s only female professor, although during her 30-year tenure she was allowed to teach piano only (and by the end had become known as a celebrity pianist herself). Regardless, she was paid much less her counterparts.
Her expertise in wind writing is displayed in her Sextet for piano and wind quintet, an immediate success which apparently was the first piece ever written for that combination. A concert recording by the Weston Wind Quintet and pianist Heeyeon Chi may be heard HERE (tracks 8-10).
The Nonet on offer next Wednesday features idiomatic writing for each of the winds and also prominent parts for each of the strings, including an extended cadenza for the violin. At the premiere, the violin part was played by the young but already famous Joseph Joachim. The Gramophone, in a review of a recording of the Nonet, wrote that Farrenc “is an unfailingly inventive composer, and one of great wit and charm. … [The Nonet contains] brilliant part-writing and [a] delightfully original combination of instruments.”
After its hugely successful premiere, Farrenc confronted the director of the Conservatoire, Daniel Auber, about how much less she was being paid. He immediately agreed to raise her salary to parity.
At 17 Louise Dumont had married fellow performer Aristide Farrenc, who turned from touring to publishing, and supported his wife throughout her career. Their daughter, Victorine, also a gifted pianist and composer, died of illness in 1859, at 32. Farrenc never composed again, but she continued teaching to the end of her life, also compiling a pathbreaking multivolume four-century anthology of keyboard music.
Although Farrenc’s music, including three symphonies and other chamber music, fell out of the repertoire, it has been making a comeback in recent years, as musicians look for worthy neglected pieces by talented female composers.
Readers can hear the Weston Wind Quintet and Friends’ live concert recording (from 11/7/18) of Louise Farrenc’s Nonet (and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition) free of charge HERE.