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celebrating three hundred years of music by women


Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)

wood engraving after a crayon portrait (1855) by J-B Laurens Composer, pianist, teacher and scholar, Farrenc showed musical talent of a very high order at a very early age. When she was seventeeen she married flautist and musical publisher Aristide Farrenc, who published many of her works. Although she wrote orchestral works (symphonies and overtures), her most notable contribution is the corpus of chamber music, uniformly fine in craftsmanship and extremely tasteful and attractive. The two piano quintets established her reputation among critics and cognoscenti. Both in 1861 and 1869, she was awarded the Chartier Prize for her contributions to chamber music. She was the only woman musician at the Paris Conservatoire to hold the rank of professor in the 19th century, and fought for equal pay with her male colleagues. The high proportion of her pupils who won competitions demonstrated the excellence of her teaching. With her husband, she was an ardent advocate and researcher into early music. Le tresor des pianistes, a 23 volume anthology of harpsichord and piano music from the previous 300 years, came from this research. She was a pioneering scholar and forerunner of the French musical renaissance of the 1870s.

Click on these works for more details below: You can download and hear a minute from the Scherzo of the Nonet by clicking here. The whole Nonet, plus the Sextet and Flute Trio are on the Ambache/Farrenc CD (£8), and her Clarinet Trio is on the Ambache Romantic Women Composers CD (£10); these can be bought from the Ambache CD shop.
"A single year younger than Berlioz, who had some good words for her, Louise Farrenc lived through busy times in Paris... everything she writes in these three wind works is beautifully textured, with a range of colour and variety of timbre... She is an unfailingly inventive composer, and one of great wit and charm. These qualities are very much appreciated by the players here, who clearly enjoy the considerable challenges which she can set them... Farrenc is a very sympathetic composer, whose music can give great pleasure in a way that excites intelligent interest without making very serious demands... The recording is suitably lively and colourful." John Warrack, Gramophone

If you want more information on Louise Farrenc from the web, try this link

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Symphony No 3 in G minor, Op 36, 1849
1. Adagio - Allegro. 2. Adagio cantabile. 3. Scherzo: Vivace. 4. Finale: Allegro. E flat. 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bn, 2 hn, timps, strings. 30 mins
The Symphony was a great success at its 1849 premiere at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire. (Their subscription series was known throughout Europe for its Beethoven performances.) It created so vivid a memory that Paris critics were still writing about it 3 years later: "There is no musician who does not remember Mme Farrenc's Symphony performed at the Conservatory, a strong and spirited work in which the brilliance of the melodies contends with the variety of the harmony." It was her last, and her most performed orchestral work. Her love of wind instruments is illustrated in the highly original opening: a solo oboe is joined after a bar by 2 clarinets. Her other hall marks are evident throughout - distictive harmony, elegance and ebullience.
All 3 symphonies are published by Noetzel/di-arezzo: Noetzel/di-arezzo
Recorded by Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR (CPO 999 603-2)


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Deuxième Overture, Op 24, 1834
Andante maestoso - Allegro. E flat. 2 fl, 2 ob, 2 cl, 2 bn, 2 tpt, 4 hn, 2 tbn, timps, strings. 9 mins
Berlioz, never one to dish out compliments lightly, described this 1834 Overture as "orchestrated with a talent rare among women". Pity about the last three words, but quite a compliment from the major orchestrator of the 19th century. The Overture is impressive in many way, including for its colourful wind scoring. It has infectious verve and bold harmonic effects, especially in the central development, where the music moves from the home key of E flat to a dramatic climax in D major.
We gave the UK première in 1997; it was described in The London Times as "a concise and glittering overture."
Published by Hildegard Publishing Company, USA; e-mail mail@hildegard.com


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Nonet in E flat, Op 38, 1850
fl, ob, cl, hn, bn, vn, va, vc, db. 27 mins
1. Adagio - Allegro. 2. Andante con moto - Allegretto. 3. Scherzo: Vivace - Meno mosso. 4. Adagio - Allegro
Despite the limited audience for instrumental music in opera-dominated Paris, the Nonet catapulted Farrenc to near-celebrity, the more so because the young, but already legendary violinist, Joseph Joachim led the premiere. The piece has affinities with Spohr in its romantically tinged but essentailly classical language. The violin has its moments of display, including a florid variation in the second movement and a cadenza in the coda of the first, but the music is well shared among the parts and its instrumental colouring is resourceful. The distinctive character lies partly in flowing lyricism, partly in a sinewy propulsiveness, and also in the sort of quiet wit that ends the scherzo. This is a great performance piece thanks to the way each instrument contributes according to its character.

Here's my Ensemble with the opening of the Scherzo Nonet from the Farrenc CD on the Ambache Recordings Farrenc, including the Sextet and Flute Trio. The Gramophone commented "She is an unfailingly inventive composer, and one of great wit and charm. These qualities are very much appreciated by the players here, who clearly enjoy the considerable challenges which she can set them as well as relishing the brilliant part-writing and the delightfully original combination of instruments."
Published by Phylloscopus Publications (PP125), e-mail enquiries@phylloscupus.co.uk


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Sextet for piano & winds winds in C minor, Op 40. 1851-2
Piano, fl, ob, cl, bn, hn. 23 mins
1. Allegro, C minor. 2. Andante sostenuto, E flat. 3. Allegro vivace, C minor. 23 mins
The combination of instruments, wind quintet and piano, is used here for the first time, some 90 years before the more famous Poulenc Sextet. Farrenc characterises each of her wind instruments with flair. She is particularly fond of letting the horn have its moments, with bold flourishes and a magical few moments in the finale when the horn holds firm as the music pivots off into unknown regions. There is a sensuous, Mozartian wind serenade flavour to the start of the slow movement, which also shows that she knew her Beethoven. In the outer movements Farrenc alternates a firm grasp of thematic development with a pianistic sparkle reminiscent of Hummel's concertos.
We gave the UK premiere in 1993, and recorded this with my Ensemble, The Ambache, for Carlton Classics in 1995. For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button. The BBC Music Magazine described the Sextet as "a bold and purposeful work, with an almost Beethovenian rigour and urgency, played with panache and insight by the Ambache."
Published by Furore (fue 198), Naumberger Str 40, D-34127 Kassel, Germany; e-mail info@furore-verlag.de


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Trio for clarinet, cello & piano in E flat, Op 44, 1861
1. Andante - Allegro moderato, E flat. 2. Adagio, A flat. 3. Minuetto: Allegro, E flat. 4. Allegro, E flat. 25 mins
A sonorous opening sets up the atmosphere for the flowing melodious first Allegro. You can hear that she loved her Beethoven, however, the unusual harmonic twists are uniquely part of Farrenc's musical language. She has a real taste for tonal adventure and intriging chord switches. The Adagio's noble cello theme becomes increasingly embellished in the piano versions, and surrounds some atmospheric minore writing in the middle section. A scherzo-like Minuet contrasts beautifully with a meditative rolling Trio, and the whole comes to a very satisfying conclusion with an upbeat Finale.
I gave the UK première in 1995 and then recorded it with my Ensemble, The Ambache, for the BBC Music Magazine (Vol IV No 9). For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button.
Published by Furore Verlag (fue 311), Naumberger Str. 40, D-34127 Kassel, Germany; e-mail info@furore-verlag.de
Also by Rosewood Publications (RP2) Rosewood


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Trio for flute, cello & piano in E minor, Op 45, 1862
1. Allegro deciso, E minor. 2. Andante, 3. Scherzo: Vivace, 4. Finale: Presto, E minor. 23 mins
The flute Trio is both bold and subtle. Again it possesses that elusive quality of freshness. Her scherzos always catch fire, this time it's from pace and cross-rhythmic exuberance. She has an ear for haunting sequences of harmonies. The slow movement travels a long way from its deceptively simple flute tune, through aggressive interruptions in the bass, to its shadowy conclusion. At the end of the finale she uses little touches of darker harmonic colour to deepen the effect of a far-from-conventional turn from minor to major.
We recorded this with my Ensemble, The Ambache, for Carlton Classics in 1995. For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button. Classic CD wrote "the music is always charming and well written, and at its best compelling. The marvellous Flute Trio shows Farrenc was a virtuoso pianist."
Published by Hildegard Publishing Company (Cat No 494-02616), e-mail mail@hildegard.com


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Sonata for cello & piano in B flat, Op 46, 1861
1. Allegro moderato, B flat. 2. Andante sostenuto, E flat. 3. Allegro, B flat. 22 mins
This is a good duo piece, with a satisfyingly equal conversation and it is eminently suitable as a rare addition to a recital. It was the last chamber work she wrote and shows refinement and elegance. The barcarolle-style Andante is contrasted with a slightly impish finale
Published by Hildeguard Publishing Company (Cat No 494-02602), e-mail mail@hildegard.com
Knight/Ambache CD recording on Liberté, Egalité, Sororité. it can be bought on Ambache Recordings Liberté, Egalité, Sororité.

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