Louise Farrenc was born in Paris on May 31st, 1804, in a family of painters and sculptors, the Dumonts. This artistic and bohemian milieu, where a number of women were able to develop their gifts as painters, certainly helped her musical talent blossom. Already an excellent pianist, she started composition lessons at the age of fifteen with Antonin Reicha (1770-1836), professor of composition at the Paris Conservatoire. Her marriage at the age of seventeen with the flautist, composer and music editor Aristide Farrenc (1794-1865) interrupted only briefly her studies with Reicha. Aristide Farrenc soon became the most ardent supporter of his wife’s music and later tried to have her symphonies performed in Germany. In 19th century France, where in order to become well known, a composer had to write operas, Louise Farrenc is an exceptional figure, as her production, apart from a few romances, is exclusively instrumental. Along with three symphonies, performed with success in Paris and Brussels, she composed a quantity of chamber music, among which a Nonetto of exceptional quality, very much appreciated in its time.
Her chamber music twice won the Prix Chartier, awarded by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in 1861 and 1869. Louise Farrenc was impregnated by classicism and her music reflects her taste for the German style and the influence of Haydn, Beethoven and most of all Mendelssohn. She composed all her life for her instrument: her Air russe varié, op. 17 (1835) was very favourably reviewed by Robert Schumann. In 1842 she became professor of piano at the Paris Conservatoire. She left this position in 1873 and died in Paris on September 15th, 1875, after completing a monumental edition of keyboard music covering over two centuries, the Trésor des Pianistes, started in collaboration with her husband.
The Hymne russe varié, op. 27 (1838), is the most elaborate piece of the present selection. It was composed shortly before the two piano quintets, op. 30 and 31. The first Nocturne, op. 49, was probably composed in the 1850’s. With this piece, with its elegant simplicity of expression, Louise Farrenc pays her tribute to the musical form created by the Irish composer John Field (1782-1837).
The Variations brillantes sur un thème d’Aristide Farrenc , op. 2, date from 1824 at the latest. This was the first piece of hers to be published. It inaugurates an abundant production in this form so appreciated in the 19th century.
Translation Michael Cook