Louise Farrenc, a fine
early romantic-era composer, led a charmed
life as a youngster. Born into a ‘high
art’ family, she also had the advantage
of coming into contact with dozens of
other artistic families at the Sorbonne.
With an impeccable cultural background
and artistic bloodline, Farrenc was
certainly in excellent position to learn
piano and music composition. She also
was trained by some of the most esteemed
musical artists of the time: Antoine
Reicha, Johann Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles.
Although Farrenc had
to deal with restrictive views concerning
acceptable female roles in life, she
always considered herself first and
foremost a composer of music. Her works
were widely performed in Europe during
her lifetime, but her current reputation
is slim indeed. Her obscurity likely
derives from two considerations. First,
unlike Clara Schumann or Fanny Hensel,
Farrenc was not aligned with a famous
relative. Second, Farrenc’s music was
of the Germanic tradition, and this
style was not popular in 19th
Of the best composers
of Farrenc’s era, her music most reminds
me of Beethoven’s with a dash of Chopin
added into the mix. Her works display
an expert sense of construction, ample
variety of form and emotional content,
and a fine penchant for attractive melodies.
However, readers should not think that
Farrenc possessed the musical inspiration
of a Beethoven or Chopin. Farrenc’s
musical magic is more in the range of
Hummel and Reicha, which makes her music
highly desirable as opposed to essential.
This is not CPO’s first
Farrenc recording. The company has already
issued a disc of Farrenc symphonies
and another of her large-scale chamber
works. Those recordings were well received,
and I have no doubt that this new solo
piano disc will also garner fine reviews.
I should also relate that being a pianist,
Farrenc’s early compositions consisted
primarily of piano music, and that the
works on the new disc are from her early
has the honor of performing Farrenc’s
piano music. Ms. Eickhorst is no stranger
to Farrenc’s music, performing the piano
parts of CPO’s previous chamber music
disc mentioned above. Eickhorst currently
enjoys a busy concert schedule that
started with winning the Clara Haskil
Competition in 1981 at the age of twenty.
She has also won other piano competitions
and performed with many of the most
prestigious orchestras and conductors
in Europe in addition to chamber music
groups such as the Melos Quartet, Carmina
Quartet, and the Linos Ensemble. Eickhorst
has played a wide range of keyboard
music from the Baroque period up to
contemporary pieces. Her recordings
include Bach’s Goldberg Variations for
Bella Musica and Clara Schumann’s piano
works on CPO.
three types of Farrenc’s piano music:
works based on a basic theme with variations,
character pieces and Études.
Of the two variation works, the Air
russe varié is the more contemplative
and consists of a Preludio, Theme, eight
short variations and a Finale. This
expansive structure is expertly crafted
by Farrenc and quite distinctive. The
Preludio is a serious Moderato of a
pleading and compelling nature that
is followed by the basic theme that
I must admit is rather simple in the
manner of the Diabelli theme that Beethoven
made into a marvel of variation technique.
Although not at Beethoven’s exalted
level, Farrenc gives us eight inventive
variations. The Finale is rather special,
having a first section of Bachian fugue
proportion with overlapping voices and
a second section of exuberance and triumph.
The other variation
work, the Variations brillantes, takes
its basic theme from the cavatina "Nel
veder la tua costanza" from Gaetano
Donizetti’s Opera "Anna Bolena".
Although of equal length to the Air
russe varié, there are only four
variations, which does lead to greater
thematic development. Further, the Variations
brillantes is very much a work for public
display with its virtuosic requirements
and exhilarating nature.
The two character pieces
on the disc, the Valse brillante and
the Nocturne, were both published in
the early 1860s but may well have been
composed in the early years of Farrenc’s
musical career. Neither piece displays
the brilliant artistry of Chopin’s character
pieces, but both are rewarding in their
own right. The Valse brillante is true
to its title and consists of a series
of contrasting dance themes of a generally
upbeat and vivacious nature. The Nocturne
is in the style of Chopin’s works in
this genre and is quite lovely and poignant.
I have left the best
for last: Eickhorst’s selection of nine
of the thirty Études of Opus
26. With this body of music, Farrenc
shows her expertise in conveying a compendium
of the piano techniques used during
the first decades of the 19th
Century, employing the extended ‘circle
of fifths’ as her structural guide.
Of course, we are not able to follow
the architectural path when only given
selections, but Farrenc often programmed
just a few of her Opus 26 Études
in piano recitals. Each of the pieces
is in ABA form and ranges in length
from under two minutes to over four
The Études Nos.
22 and 19 are so propulsive and concentrated
that they take on a relentless quality
that is compelling. No. 7 is a gorgeous
and uplifting Andante, while No. 4 is
thoroughly invigorating. Contemplation
and melancholy pervade No. 10, and No.
11 has the relentless qualities mentioned
for Nos. 22 and 19. My personal favorite
is No. 12, another Bachian style fugue
that clearly reveals Farrenc’s affinity
for baroque form and counterpoint.
In summary, the new
CPO disc of Farrenc solo piano music
is a highly rewarding effort having
both excellent music and performances.
The recorded sound is fine, although
a little thin compared to current standards
of piano richness in recordings. This
enjoyable disc represents great entertainment
value and should appeal to piano enthusiasts
and anyone wanting to travel the byways
of the early romantic period.