Arguably the greatest female composer in history; Louise Farrenc like so many other female composers, faded into obscurity. If the woman who runs this web site has anything to do with it … you’ll be hearing a lot more from her! http://oboeclassics.com/~oboe3583/ambache/women.htm
(*there is a fair bit on my site already that features female composers, but I was struck today by this piece: And I do love the clarinet!)
Louise Ferrenc – who one critic proclaimed the greatest female composer. I’m listening to her more often these days and always come away with the feeling that she truly is a great composer. Here are 3 complete compositions.
Farrenc Sonata #1 in 3 movements
Farrenc Sonata #2 in 4 movements
Farrenc: Variation concertantes sur une melodie suisse Op. 20 in 8 movements
Consider: What music would someone want to hear when they knew they were dying?
It’s especially fascinating to consider when that someone had devoted their entire life to music. She met and collaborated with some of the 19th Century’s greatest composers: Married and lived with one of those Great composers.
That was Clara Schumann – Robert’s wife – a musical heroine if there ever was one! (Google her to find out why she was such a Heroine, raising 8 children, touring Europe and taking care of her husband – it’s a great story)
She asked to hear this piece on her deathbed.
In March 1896, Clara Schumann suffered a stroke. Her friend Johannes Brahms canceled plans for an Italian vacation to wait for news of her improvement. On her deathbed, she asked her grandson Ferdinand to play her husband’s F-sharp major romance for her. That was the last music Clara Schumann heard. She died May 20, 1896. Brahms attended the funeral. He died eleven months later.
After my last posting “Clara Schumann – the only woman?!” (the next one down the page) my brother sent me an email with a link showing hundreds of female Classical composers. I took this as a sign! I needed to research and listen. How many of these female composers were considered to be very accomplished? On a par with the men? Why weren’t any of them included in that ‘Boy’s Club’ list of “Great Composers”? It was a fantastic journey into territory I knew nothing about.
The two big questions for you dear listener (and for me too; since I haven’t listened really carefully yet after acquiring the pieces – but I will!) 1) Can you hear the same ‘greatness’ in some of the pieces? 2) Can you detect a subtle (or maybe not so subtle) colour/tone/vibe of the Feminine Principle?
Under each composer is a link to Biographical information.
Since a reviewer I used in my research declared: “Madame Farrenc is certainly the greatest woman-composer in the history of classical music.” I’ll save her until last; along with some germain notes on the issue.
Marianne von Martines (Martinez) (May 4, 1744 – December 13, 1812) A student of Haydn. You can certainly hear it!
Besides the wikipedia reference above, I found another review of her life and music in which the author declared: Madame Farrenc is certainly the greatest woman-composer in the history of classical music. In this review it was pointed out how highly regarded she was at the time, and the great composers she was associated with, or who admired her work. (she studied with Hummell, Anton Reicha and was admired by Schumann and Berlioz) SO? Why didn’t she join the ranks of The Greats? Some of the reasons are in the Wikipedia article, about half way down, titled ‘ Why did Farrenc remain unknown as a composer?’
But what about the elephant in the room?! Male Chauvinist attitudes? “…the best known Paris critic of the 19th Century, François-Joseph Fétis (1784–1871) included her name in his important lexicon “Universal Biography of Musicians” and stressed her “quasi masculine gift for musical organisation”. (*”quasi masculine gift”?!) The same critic who proclaimed her the greatest woman composer, in the next breath states: Notwithstanding her evident extraordinary artistic and technical qualities, Madame Farrenc’s works do not show the presence of this invisible and indefinable spark, which marks the difference between the great talent and the genius.”
Aha .. the invisible and indefinable spark.What’s a woman to do?!
Farrenc Long Play 24 minutes long
Sonata No. 1, Op. 37: II. Poco adagio
Etudes opus 26 – No 18 en re bemol majeur
Nonette pour cordes et vents en mi bemol majeur Adagiol
Variations concertantes sur une mélodie suisse, Op. 20
Improptu en Si Menor
Nonette pour cordes et vents en mi bemol majeur Adagio
“I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?”
It never occured to me until today when I began researching Clara’s work; that not a single Classical composer – ranked as a “Great” – was a woman! How very strange. Well Clara Schumann was certainly an accomplished composer, and what a person! She raised 8 children (4 died before her) cared for a husband who became more and more unstable, befriended and grew very close to Brahms and still found time to tour extensively! – acknowledged as a virtuoso pianist.
So here’s to the ‘only woman’ on the site – (so far) Let’s make it a Long Play Selection. (approx. 25 minutes)