On Air Now
Cowan's Classics with Rob Cowan 7pm - 9pm
8 March 2018, 12:29
Louise Farrenc’s masterpiece has too often been forgotten in amongst the works of her male counterparts. In 2018, it’s time to remember just how glorious this symphony is.
Women composers should write delicate, flowery tunes for violins and flutes, right? WRONG. Farrenc’s symphony is big and ambitious, with a stonking finale. It's also worth noting at this point that Farrenc wasn't able to attend composition classes at the Paris Conservatoire as the classes were only open to men.
The first movement moves subtly from a soft oboe and clarinet introduction that you almost don’t notice the agitated strings until the timpani comes in alongside them. Then BAM, there's a huge forte. It’s an unexpected epic build-up less than 30 seconds into the Adagio, and it’s just great.
Louise’s work was greatly admired by Robert Schumann – and the two composers' names have become intertwined over the years so much so that some writers and critics have said Farrenc's music is an ‘imitation’ of Schumann's. But it could just as easily be the other way round. Just listen to her chamber music:
Listen out for the feverish semi-quavers towards the end of the finale – the pet hate of many string players, but with the symphonic power to end a cracker of a piece.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was written about 40 years before Farrenc’s Third, and you can hear the influence he had on her work. In fact, Farrenc took composition classes with Anton Reicha, a friend of Beethoven’s – and she started to gain considerable fame not as a composer, but as a pianist, shortly after.
The finale opens with a super-catchy tune in the strings, and it’s just as ear-wormy as Beethoven's famous ‘dun-dun-dun DUUUNN’. It’s bold and tense, and we love it.
See Farrenc’s Symphony No. 3 in concert conducted by the Insula Orchestra and conductor Laurence Equilbey at the Barbican tonight (8 March). Find out more and buy tickets here.