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It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

If you listen to much NPR, you've heard a tune by Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), at least in some sense. I'm not about to accuse Don Voegeli of plagiarizing the theme music he wrote in 1976 for NPR's All Things Considered from Farrenc's second piano quintet, because that quintet had been out of print since 1895 and was not recorded until the 1990s. But the main melody in the catchiest of all radio themes is identical, note for note, to one of the main themes in Farrenc's quintet.

During her lifetime, Louise Farrenc was known mainly as a pianist; she achieved considerable fame on the concert stage by 1830 and in 1842 won an appointment as professor of piano performance at the Paris Conservatory, becoming only the Conservatory's second-ever female professor. But she was arguably an even better composer than performer, producing a considerable number of great chamber works and three symphonies, and was one of only a handful of women who succeeded in having their compositions performed outside their home countries. Unfortunately, even though Farrenc overcame prejudice against women composers to the extent that she became a favorite of many musicians, her music never gained traction among the wider public. Gender was not the only reason; she had the extra handicap of being a French composer who primarily wrote instrumental music at a time when the French public was totally fixated on opera. As her contemporary Saint-Saƫns complained at one point, anyone who wrote instrumental music in Paris had to put on concerts themselves and invite friends and the press! Like many other 19th century French composers of instrumental music, her music fell out of the repertoire by the turn of the 20th century and only began to return to concert halls in the 1990s.

Farrenc composed two piano quintets in 1839-40, both using the "Trout" scoring of violin, viola, cello, double bass, and piano. This week's piece is the first of those quintets. Perhaps not surprisingly, the quintet features a virtuosic piano part, but this is no mere piano show piece! In fact, it may be even more striking how completely the piano is integrated into the ensemble -- Romantic chamber music at its finest. Don't miss the absolutely breathtaking scherzo!

Movements:

I. Allegro
II. Adagio ma non troppo (11:27)
III. Scherzo: Presto (17:46)
IV. Finale: Allegro (21:19)

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Andrew

July 2017

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