The story of Louise Farrenc is one of the most remarkable in classical music history

31 August 2018, 12:08 | Updated: 10 September 2018, 12:01

Louise Farrenc
Louise Farrenc. Picture: Getty

Inspired by the new ITV drama 'Vanity Fair', we're shining a light on one of the most brilliant women of the 19th-century, French composer and pianist Louise Farrenc. The 19th-century maestro battled for equality and was driven to make her tomorrow better than today, much like Becky Sharp in Thackeray's masterpiece.

Who was Louise Farrenc?

Farrenc was a French composer, pianist and teacher everyone needs to know about. She was born in 1804 into a thoroughly bohemian family in Paris and grew up surrounded by sculptors, painters and artistic women. She studied piano from a young age, with her talents picked up and encouraged by the likes of Clementi and Hummel. After becoming interested in composing she applied for the prestigious Paris Conservatory, aged 15.

She became a professor at the Paris Conservatory

After completing her studies, Farrenc started her career as a concert pianist, becoming quite famous in the 1830s. In 1842 she became the only woman to be appointed to the position of professor at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th century – the only such appointment for a woman for the entire 19th century. She stayed at the conservatory for 30 years, over which time she became one of the greatest piano professors in Europe.

And her music was extraordinary

Despite not having the popular profile of her male composer counterparts, Louise Farrenc never gave up writing music. She penned orchestral symphonies and overtures (of which Hector Berlioz was a big fan). But it was her chamber music that made the biggest impact, and her two piano quintets were held in particularly high regard amongst the Parisian critics. She won the chartier prize in 1861 and in 1869.

She battled for equality

And she won. Although she was writing all this acclaimed music, Farrenc was paid far less than the male professors at the conservatory. She wanted to change this and often protested to the authorities, trying to gain equality for nearly a decade. She also let her music do the talking, and after the very successful premiere of her nonet she once again demanded equal play to her male counterparts, and it was granted. Go her.

Why we love her

Virtuoso, performer, composer, and equality campaigner. As a composer, she never got the popular recognition she deserved during her lifetime, but she kept writing her music and fighting for fairness. What a legend.

Want to know more stories about incredible women of the 19th century? Watch ITV’s new drama Vanity Fair Sunday nights at 9pm or catch up on what you missed on the ITV hub. And here's your change to win a luxury four-night break in Brussels, where the drama is filmed.