Though her name has fallen into obscurity among contemporary audiences, Louise Farrenc (nee Dumont) (1804-1875) was a well-known and highly respected composer, pianist, and educator throughout her lifetime. A pupil of Muzio Clementi and Anton Reicha, Farrenc had the opportunity to receive what few women of her generation had the privilege to receive: a formal music education. A highly accomplished performer, Farrenc was the first woman appointed to an instrumental faculty position at the Paris Conservatory – a position she held for thirty years.
Her compositional output, which was first primarily for solo piano, expanded to include chamber works as well as two overtures and three symphonies. Louise Farrenc stood apart from her fellow composers during her lifetime not just because of her gender but also due to the genres she chose to write for. While mid-19th century France celebrated opera, Farrenc chose to write absolute music and only for instruments; Farrenc is one of the few women composers that never composed for voice, perhaps the only genre that was considered acceptable for the “lady composers” of the time. However, her work was well noted among the musically elite. Robert Schumann favorably reviewed her Air Russe Varié, op. 17 for piano in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in 1836, and Hector Berlioz praised her talent for orchestration.
All of her symphonies had the honor of being performed at the Société des concerts du Conservatoire, which specialized in the works of Beethoven and rarely performed works by contemporary composers, or French composers. Her symphonies were also performed in Paris, Burssels, Geneva and Copenhagen during Farrenc’s lifetime.
Below is the first movement of her Third symphony: