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Piano Quintet no. 2 in E major op. 31

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1. Andante sostenuto – Allegro grazioso – 2. Grave – 3. Vivace – 4. Finale : Allegro

In the wake of the success met by her Quintet No. 1 (1839), Louise Farrenc composed a second piece for the same ensemble: piano, violin, viola, cello and double-bass (a traditional scoring before 1850, already employed by Hummel and Schubert, among others). The double-bass, with its rare melodic elements, is in fact used to reinforce the harmonic foundation. The work was premiered on 28 October 1840 during a matinée organized by the composer’s husband, whose publishing house then had it appear in print. It fired Henri Blanchard with enthusiasm, though his review, in the Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris, nevertheless indulges in the then current prejudices against women musicians. Indeed, he praises a “female composer who has all the grace of her sex with her melodies, and all the vigour of ours with her contrapuntal knowledge”. Nevertheless, it is not so much the polyphonic development that impresses as the rich tonal structure: the opening movement (whose introduction recalls the spirit of a French overture) and the finale venture into heavily flatted keys, as far as D flat major in the development section of the Allegro grazioso. Blanchard noted that “nothing is more scholastic, and yet more ingeniously elaborated than the first and last pieces”. The piano part is divided between massive chords and nimble, mercurial lines (in this, the scherzo in third position recalls Mendelssohn). If the Quintet as a whole is generally in a fiery mood, the second movement is lofty in tone, as Farrenc avoids the superficial charm of a pleasant cantabile


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