Piano Quintet No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 30
Louise Farrenc, née Dumont, was born into an artistic family: the Dumonts, extending back to her great-great-grandfather Pierre and including her brother Auguste, were successful sculptors. Louise, however, took up studies on the piano, where her precocious talent was immediately evident. She took keyboard lessons with Cécile Soria, who had been a student of Clementi’s, and studied composition with Anton Reicha. In 1821 she married Aristide Farrenc, a flutist and music publisher who became Louise’s professional partner and supporter, promoting and publishing her compositions.
Farrenc performed prolifically, to such acclaim that in 1842 she was named a professor of piano at the Paris Conservatory. Her reputation as a pedagogue grew as her students consistently won prizes. Meanwhile, she also became active as a scholar, publishing with her husband a 23-volume anthology covering 300 years of keyboard music titled Le trésor des pianistes, thus becoming an important figure in the rebirth of interest in historical music (“la musique ancienne”) that was sweeping through nineteenth-century France. Farrenc’s immensely successful career seems at odds with her contemporary obscurity. Much of this incongruity must be attributed to the sexism of audiences, critics, historians, and even colleagues – Farrenc’s salary at the Conservatory was half that of her male counterparts for much of her tenure there. Neither perhaps did it help her legacy that her compositions were largely instrumental works, which in her time would not have garnered the fame or prestige of opera.
The preponderance of Farrenc’s early compositions were for solo piano; the Piano Quintet No. 1 was Farrenc’s first chamber music work, and she completed another piano quintet within a year of the first. She may have been drawn to the genre by the quintets of the famed Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who had visited Paris in 1830 and given some keyboard lessons to Farrenc.