Louise Dumont Farrenc was the wife of Arstide Farrenc, a woodwind performer and music publisher who knew good music when he heard it. Louise had become a pianist of professional quality in her adolescence, and by the time she was in her early twenties had published a series of études that became required study for all piano students at the Paris Conservatory.
The Dumont family had a long history of excellence in both music and painting. Louise Farrenc carried on that tradition, and published a number of important orchestral works in addition to her piano compositions. Her work was praised by Robert Schumann, among others.
She was the only woman of the 19th Century to hold the prestigious post of Professor of Piano at the Conservatory, a post she held for more than thirty years until her retirement. Her success at large scale orchestral works such as her three symphonies and overtures was amazing considering the prejudice she had to overcome. Not just prejudice against women composers, but against symphonic music at a time when the musical life of Paris was geared primarily to opera and other theatrical music. Even Berlioz had difficulty overcoming those odds.
There were quite a few notable female composers at that time, but most of them wrote shorter pieces meant for soirees, or private concerts, and most of those composers were, in a sense, part-time composers. The fact that some of them, such as Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn, are better known than Louise Farrenc might be the result of their having far more famous relatives.
Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 is in the traditional four movements, the first of which is in sonata form, as expected. Audiences will very likely notice a similarity to Beethoven, which is not surprising since German music was the dominant genre in Europe at that time. Paris was one of the few musical centers resistant to the German influence, and therefore uninterested in symphonies. If you wanted to get ahead in the musical life of Paris, you had to write operas. Farrenc was very successful in her time, but her works disappeared from the repertoire until recently.
Although the piano was Louise’s instrument of choice, she was remarkably prolific in the area of chamber music. Besides her three symphonies and two overtures for full orchestra, she wrote two quintets, a sextet, a nonet, and, of course, many piano works.
Program Note taken from the Manchester Symphony Orchestra