Louise Farrenc: Nonet in Eb Major


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, her chamber music still lives on in a burst of new recordings. 

Farrenc’s Nonet in Eb Major is scored for a string quartet and wind quintet together. It was composed in 1849 and is perhaps one of her more well-known chamber works. Ironically, Farrenc is known for her piano works, but it’s her Nonet, with no piano, that receives the greatest popularity. It is well documented that the Nonet was popular during Farrenc’s life, and actually played a large part in her rising popularity in Europe. 


The Music

Scored in four movements, the Nonet takes the listener on a really exciting classical journey. 


Movement I – Adagio-Allegro

The longest of the four movements, the majestic opening from the first movement sets an interesting tone for the introduction. Farrenc’s rich textures stem from sonorous unison playing, as well as the intricate passing around of the main melodic line. The woody textures from the clarinets against the strings creates a really intriguing timbre. 

After chordal proclamations from the group the switch to an Allegro tempo is full of animation and life. There is character oozing out of this movement, with intricate wind lines adding a playfulness to the music. The seamless integration of the wind and strings is what makes this whole work so effective and also showcases Farrenc’s evident flair for orchestration. The music is tasteful as keeps you on your toes whilst always staying accessible and inviting. 


Movement II – Andante con variazione 

The stately Andante second movement begins with a theme played by the violin. The rest of this movement is presented in a set of variations. The first variation features the oboe, who plays a lyrical and syncopated variation. The flute decorates the melody, with the viola entering near the end of the variation which, mixed with the timbre of the oboe, creates a really special timbre. 

The second variation is led by the violin who plays a set of etude-like scalic runs. The faster pace shown here shows Farrenc’s playful, but also virtuoso style. The third variation is led by the bassoon, who leads the wind quintet in this intricate variation. The horn leads the fourth variation with a charming melody that is accompanied by triplets from the strings. 

The coda brings the group back together before a brief bass interlude before this movement comes to a colourful close. 


Movement III – Scherzo vivace

Opening with pizzicato strings the scherzo theme is quickly passed between the strings and wind. Full of colourful chromatic passages the chase is on between the instruments to catch the melody. The fast pace of the movement adds to the character of the music, making it one of the most exciting of the four. 

The elongated trio section initiates the second theme which is first led by the winds. They play in their upper registers with a melody that is dreamy and sonorous. This trio has been likened to a nursery rhyme with the melody becoming very lyrical. Farrenc’s part writing again is so intricate and intelligent as she gives each instrument an important role to carry out.


Movement IV – Adagio-Allegro

The noble opening to the finale movement creates a real sense of expectation. The block chords from the strings are replied to by the winds and upper strings,l which creates unique timbres. The oboe cadenza brings the introduction to a delicate close as the horn sounds to call the ensemble to attention. 

The Allegro theme is initially introduced by the violin, but is soon passed around the ensemble. Farrenc plays with orchestration even more so in this movement, pairing polar opposite instruments together for different effects. For instance the flute and bassoon play intricate lines together, creating a really open effect within the texture. 

This playful and invigorating movement closes as intricate melodies begin to unite throughout the ensemble. Fast scalic runs lead to block chords played by the entire ensemble before resting back into the home key of Eb major.


Final Thoughts

Louise Farrenc’s Nonet in Eb Major is a real gem of a piece. From her intricate orchestrations to the sonorous textures, the Nonet is a really exciting chamber work that will hopefully step further and further into the spotlight.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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You might also enjoy… Edward Elgar: Serenade for Strings


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