Tom asserts that "Farrenc’s symphony is as impressively energetic and structurally satisfying as any of Mendelssohn’s or Schumann’s symphonies." Well, perhaps, but in my book that still puts it into the second rank as neither Mendelssohn nor Schumann wrote symphonies that quite match up to their immediate predecessors Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, nor their successors Brahms and Bruckner. But never mind, it was a pleasure to listen to a composer I had previously been completely unfamiliar with. Let's listen to Louis Farrenc's Symphony No. 3:
Oddly, YouTube refuses to find the clip of the whole work that Tom embeds in his article, so I suggest you go there and listen to the whole piece. But here is the link in any case:
In trying to hit the correct feminist points, Tom gets rather more incoherent than usual:
the performance of gender in the symphony in the 19 century is much more complicated and contingent than those labels might make you think. The symphony as transgender interzone of gender representation.Would anyone care to translate that into some form of English?
Farrenc's Symphony No. 3 seems quite a decent piece to me. I'm not sure if it directly reminds me of anyone. Perhaps, as Tom suggests, the scherzo is rather Mendelssohnesque. In terms of quality I would put this alongside one of the earlier Schubert symphonies. If there is a problem with the piece it might be something that Tom briefly glances at:
What this piece is not is an heir to Berlioz’s 1829 Symphonie Fantastique– music that was heard, for better and for worse, as a crazed aberration, the insane musings of a drug-addled weirdo (but more of that in a later instalment of this series!). Instead, Farrenc’s musical gods are those of symphonic seriousness and self-referential musical integrity.The 19th century in music was in part a battle between the conservatives and the progressives, between Brahms on the one hand and Liszt and Wagner on the other. In France, a lot of Berlioz' fame rests on his innovations, such as in the Symphonie fantastique. Brahms was able, through truly heroic efforts, to reestablish the symphony in its most classical form against the burgeoning "tone poems" and other loose forms. But this was an exceptional achievement and he made it work through reimagining the texture in a much denser way. Composers like Farrenc and many others did not quite manage this so their works are neglected because they are simply conservative. At least that is a theory you could argue for!
Let's listen to the Symphony No. 1 by Brahms to see if it gives any support to the theory. This was premiered in 1876 but Brahms had written and thrown away several previous attempts.