Louise Farrenc: Overture No. 1 in E minor

Context

Born in May 1804, French composer, pedagogue and concert pianist Louise Farrenc enjoyed a fruitful reputation during her lifetime. She learned under some of the best including Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles.She also received composition lessons from Anton Reicha – a professor at the prestigious Paris Conservatoire. The classes were private at the time, this was because women weren’t allowed to attend the Conservatoire for composition lessons. 

In 1821 she married flautist Aristide Farrenc. The couple gave many concerts together around Europe, however he became tired of the constant travelling that, with Louise’s help, they opened a popular publishing house in Paris that became one of France’s leading music publishers. 

At the start of her professional career as a composer, Farrenc nearly exclusively wrote piano music. A few of the works garnered some attention from critics and other composers, however now her works are largely hidden from the public ear. In the 1830s, Farrenc began to pen larger works for orchestra and chamber ensembles. Although a large amount of Farrenc’s archive consists of solo piano music, it’s her orchestral works that have stood the test of time.

Alongside three symphonies, Farrenc also composed two orchestral overtures. Her first overture was composed in 1834, and was inspired by Viennese classicism. The work has received little attention, even though it is a wonderfully powerful overture, with some really musically fruitful writing.

 

The Music

Opening with big unison chords, interjected by sweet woodwind writing certainly makes a for a dazzling entry. The trombones in particular add lots of colour to chords that Farrenc builds from the tonic upwards. The impending opening is then turned into fast and spritely burst of the main melody, which is led by the violins. 

The brass keep the drama with their powerful chords and fanfare-like kernels of music, whilst the strings play fast and exciting passages. Farrenc’s woodwind writing is also a highlight here as she uses the flute and clarinet for solo lines. 

The drive and excitement of the piece is kept alive by the strings who are constantly chugging away and pushing the melodic material on. Through the development section, marked by a rather sudden key change, the music takes various twists and turns before fragments of the original melody are pieced back together for the recapitulation. 

 Drama is at the centre of this overture with silent bars adding to the tension. A triumphant ending brings together all the melodic fragments, which creates a truly electrifying atmosphere. The chromatic movement towards the end also adds to the build up towards the final climax, which sees cascading strings finally come together with the brass and winds for a final fanfare statement before a rousing finish.

 

Final Thoughts

A multi-talented composer and teacher, Louise Farrenc has left a legacy of dynamic works that deserve much more attention. Although popular during her lifetime, sadly this was not enough for her works to stand the test of time. 

 

Happy Reading!

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