An unexpected find: “Le Pêcheur Catalan” WoO II.2, No. 9 by Louise Farrenc

Christin Heitmann

Friday, September 9, 2022

The following is a guest post by Christin Heitmann (author of “Louise Farrenc. Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis” and co-editor of the Farrenc Critical Edition published by Noetzel-Verlag), Beethoven-Haus Bonn (see the full post on the German version of this page):

Many can relate to the phenomenon of finding additional sources after wrapping up a research project such as a catalog of works. In the case of the French composer Louise Farrenc (1804–1875), however, I thought it would be unlikely to find further unknown manuscripts of her works after I had finished the Farrenc Edition (2003) and the catalog of works (2005), mainly because the source situation is quite manageable and is essentially—at least with regards to her autograph manuscripts—concentrated in the Département de la Musique of the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris.

Louise Farrenc’s artistic legacy has been preserved at the BnF since the historical collections of the Paris Conservatoire were absorbed in the second half of the 20th century. But recently, it was exactly there that uncataloged collections were entered into the library’s catalog (with many thanks to François-Pierre Goy) and quite a number of autographs by Louise Farrenc are now accessible through the catalogs of the BnF and also RISM (RISM Catalog | RISM Online). Among these are autographs of important works, especially of all four piano trios.

Alongside all of this, completely unexpected was the discovery of not one but two sources of a mélodie that was known only by its title up to this point: ­Le Pêcheur Catalan WoO II.2, No. 9. In December 2021 I received an email from Prof. Dr. Tom Moore of Florida International University in Miami saying he had found an unknown song by Louise Farrenc and wanted to know if it was authentic. The title “Le Pêcheur Catalan” had only been known though a catalog of the publisher Aristide Farrenc (Catalogue des ouvrages de musique composant le fonds d’A[risti]de Farrenc, en dépôt chez Colombier, Paris 1841, p. 112) and was listed in Farrenc’s catalog of works without any known sources. Given this background, I was all the more interested in this find, which turned out to be—as confirmed by examining scans—an original edition published by Aristide Farrenc.

The autograph manuscript had thus far eluded discovery because it lacked a composer’s name on it and was not identified in the course of cataloging. A search by title in the BnF catalog led to a manuscript with the shelfmark VM7-25919, whose description matched the mélodie. A comparison of the manuscript with the printed edition soon confirmed that it was the same composition and that the hand was that of Louise Farrenc.

The edition discovered in the United States is part of a composite volume of historic printed editions bound together. The plate number (A.F. 421) and the publisher’s address allow the item to be dated to 1831; this dating thus gives a terminus ante quem for the composition. While the autograph (RISM Catalog | RISM Online) only gives the title of the mélodie at the top of the score (“Le Pêcheur Catalan“), the printed edition contains further information, such a subtitle that gives two options for the instrumentation with either one or two voices (“Barcarolle à une ou deux voix“), the name of the text author (Jules van Gaver), the dedicatee (Mme P[au]la de Ferry), and of course Louise Farrenc as the composer and Aristide Farrenc as the publisher. The music preserved in the autograph and the print essentially agree with each other.

Louise Farrenc‘s compositional focus was on music for orchestra, chamber music, and piano music (she was professor of piano for over 30 years at the Paris Conservatoire). Her vocal music comprises 12 completed works; the opera Didone Abbandonata, after the famous libretto by Pietro Metastasio, is known only through concert reviews. These findings of sources for Le Pêcheur Catalan thus fit another piece of the puzzle into what has been handed down of Louise Farrenc’s vocal works, and it might be worth taking a closer look at this body of works now that a number of years have passed since the publication of Florence Launay’s chapter “The Vocal Music of Louise Farrenc” in Louise Farrenc und die Klassik-Rezeption in Frankreich (edited by Rebecca Grotjahn and Christin Heitmann, Schriftenreihe des Sophie Drinker Instituts 2, Oldenburg: BIS-Verlag, 2006, p. 153–163).

Image: Louise Farrenc, Le Pêcheur Catalan, autograph manuscript, with kind permission of the Bibliothèque nationale de France - Département de la Musique (F-Pn VM7-25919).

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