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Music By This 19th-Century French Composer Is Getting The Attention It Deserves In Philadelphia

Wikimedia Commons, Artist Unknown
Louise Farrenc (1804-1875)

In the mid-19th century, there were few performance opportunities for large-scale works by women composers. Today, a symphony composed in the 1840s by French pianist, teacher and composer Louise Farrenc is finally getting well-deserved attention on the concert stage in Philadelphia.

Listen to Louise Farrenc's Symphony No. 2 performed by The Philadelphia Orchestra on WRTI, Sunday, April 18th at 1 PM on 90.1 and Monday, April 19th at 7 PM on HD2.

Born in Paris in 1804 into a family of artists, Louise Dumont Farrenc studied piano and composition, and wrote chamber music, piano works and three symphonies.

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin says all of her music reflects "a mixture of influences, [including] Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Hummel, Weber, and Schubert. But I think it's really always Louise Farrenc. There’s a specific color to all her music."

Her second symphony also reflects her studies with French composer Anton Reicha—who also taught Liszt, Berlioz, and Franck—and her love of chamber music, something noted by Philadelphia Orchestra Principal bassoonist Daniel Matsukawa.

He says that Reicha wrote beautifully for the woodwind quintet. "Farrenc also allows the woodwinds to shine. There are many beautiful moments where she uses the woodwinds. ... they're really great soloistic moments.  It is absolutely like chamber music in the middle of this great symphonic work."

A familiar style with a voice that is new to many of today’s musicians and audiences.

"This music is not very different than a lot of the music that we play on a regular basis," says Yannick. "We should be advocates for these 'new' pieces. We need to show that these symphonies are unjustly neglected."

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.