Louise Farrenc: Symphony No.3


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 a number of overtures and a large oeuvre of piano music, Farrenc also composed 3 symphonies during the 1840s. The third was composed in 1847 and is a bold statement from the once piano-exclusive composer. 


The Music

Set into the standard four movement structure, Farrenc’s Third is powerful, exciting and quintessential for the time. 


Movement I

Opening with a solitary oboe, the main theme is presented and then passed to the strings. As the texture becomes full of different voices from around the orchestra, a huge sound from the timpani signals into the exciting ‘Allegro’. Fragments of the opening theme are passed around the ensemble, with the strings taking us into the developmental section. Farrenc’s dramatic changes in both dynamics and textures add to the intensity of the opening movement. 


Movement II

Warm horns open this movement and make way for a solo clarinet. The soft accompaniment is complementary to the soloist, with soft strings and muted timpani keeping the slow tempo moving forward. Farrenc’s melodic writing shines through in this movement, with the principal theme really shining through on both the clarinet solo and as a tutti ensemble. Rich and sonorous strings take this theme far, creating a seamless weave of romantic melodies.

Movement III

The perky scherzo is full of energy. Starting quietly, the theme grows into a glorious full-bodied sound. Coming from the slow second movement, this fizz of energy and drive is very welcome. The intricate music that Farrenc writes is accessible and certainly enjoyable to listen to. As with this whole symphony, Farrenc really utilises the woodwind section. The central trio is based around the woodwind, giving them a great platform to perform. As it began, the third movement concludes with a reprise of the opening scherzo theme. 


Movement IV

The finale opens with a bold statement from the strings, who all play in complete unison. The stately theme is different to everything else we have heard so far. Lots of unison playing shows the uniting of the orchestra, with Farrenc’s quick tempo changes adding interest into the music. Another woodwind interlude plays out which leads back to a previous theme played by the strings. The symphony ends triumphantly, with the orchestra playing strong final chords.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.1


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