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ClassicsOnline Home » KUHLAU: Flute Quintets Op. 51, Nos. 1- 3
Friedrich Kuhlau (1786 - 1832)
Flute Quintets Op. 51, Nos. 1-3
Friedrich Kuhlau was known to his contemporaries as the Beethoven of the flute and although his many sonatas, variations, duets, trios, quartets and quintets making use of the flute cannot all be said to be of the same importance and merit to stand comparison with Beethoven's chamber music, it is nevertheless true to say that hardly any other composer has written so much good music for the flute as Kuhlau. He was, moreover, a great admirer of Beethoven and the two became friends when they met in Vienna.
Kuhlau himself wrote in 1813 suggesting that he only played the flute a little but claiming intimate knowledge of the instrument. In 1829 he painted a darker picture, writing that he could not even put his fingers correctly in the simplest position on the instrument. Nevertheless he w rote no less than sixty works for the flute, one of the most popular instruments of the time, while allowing his friend, the Court Musician P. C. Bruun, flautist in the Royal Orchestra, to look through his manuscripts before their publication.
Born in the German town of Uelzen, near Hanover, on 11th September 1786, Kuhlau was the son of a regimental musician and his father gave him some instruction on the flute. He wen! on to study piano and composition in Hamburg with some of the best teachers of the day, there mastering the techniques of composition.
By 1810 Napoleon had conquered much of Europe and when Kuhlau learned that his name was on the recruiting list for Napoleon's army, although he had lost his right eye as a child when he fell in the street with a bottle in his hand, he fled as fast as he could to Copenhagen, where he settled under the name of Kasper Meier. There, in January 1811, he gave his first concert, appearing as soloist in his own Piano Concerto in C major, composed in Hamburg. The newspaper Vagen (The Day), writing about the concert, described Kuhlau as a tall young man, whose strong bony figure looked rather awkward in his black clothes. The writer went on to describe Kuhlau's ruddy face, disfigured by the 1055 of the right eye, but otherwise giving the impression of open straightforwardness, a slight contrast with a noticeable clumsiness in his movements, for a certain harmony in his outward appearance seemed lacking.
Kuhlau quickly established a connection with the court and with the Royal Theatre and went on to exercise considerable influence over the musical life of Copenhagen, where he worked to spread a knowledge of the new music of the day, by composers such as Beethoven, Cherubini, Spohr and Weber, something much resented by Weyse, among others. He was also a warm admirer of the music of Mozart, as many of his own compositions bear witness.
After a few years of activity as a performer, Kuhlau withdrew from concert appearances and concentrated on his work as a composer and court musician. In 1813 he became a citizen of Denmark and in 1817 and 1818 was employed as chorus-master at the Royal Theatre, with appointment in the latter year as court musician, with the duty of playing at court when it suited the royal family and of composing music for the Royal Theatre, a task he undertook with diligence and success. His operas Roverborgen (The Robber's Castle) and Lulu were of great significance in the development of the art in Denmark and these, with incidental music for Heiberg's festival play Elverhoj, won Kuhlau a place as Denmark's national composer.
For his activities as a court musician Kuhlau received a salary of three hundred rigsdaler (guineas) a year, a sum that should be seen in relation to Weyse's one thousand rigsdaler for the same function. Kuhlau, who was a bad manager, had a hard time in making ends meet, particularly because for years he had his parents and a sister living with him and had to contribute to their upkeep. It was for this reason that he composed to order for a music- publisher who was keen to satisfy the demand for new, not too difficult or too demanding music for domestic use. Kuhlau was always good at providing w hat was wanted and his music, whatever its musical value, was always very well written. He was prolific because he had to be and he remains the Danish composer with the longest list of published works.
Kuhlau lacked the cultured background of his colleague Weyse and the polished manners of high society. It is said that once at court, after a concert, when he was offered tea by the Queen, he answered "Danke sehr, aber ich möchte lieber einen Schnapps" (Thank you very much, but I'd rather have a schnapps). No-one, however, took offence. On 5th February 1831 a fire broke out in the house in Kongens Lyngby where Kuhlau was living. A number of manuscripts were lost, among them a text-book on figured bass on the principles of Bach. This misfortune ruined Kuhlau's health, which had never been robust, and he died a year later on 12th March 1832, in Copenhagen.
To mark the bicentenary of Kuhlau's birth the Royal Theatre and Royal Orchestra, with which Kuhlau was associated in his 1ife-time, have recorded a number of his best compositions for flute.
Kuhlau's three flute quintets were probably written in 1823 and were quickly issued by the German publisher Simrock, with a dedication to the composer's friend, the flautist Bruun. They are all in four movements, with a minuet or scherzo as the second movement. The Quintet in D major, Opus 51, No.1, has a first movement in sonata-form, a scherzo-like Minuet in the manner of Beethoven, a cantabile Adagio in G major, with a central section in G minor and a lively Allegro assai finale. The musical language is elegant and ga1ant, but has about it something of the ruggedness of Beethoven, a testimony to Kuhlau' s admiration for that composer.
The second of the quintets, the Quintet in E major, Opus 51, No.2, has a first movement with a slow introduction, leading to a passionately romantic Allegro. The second movement, a Minuet, is minor in character, while the Andante is painted in lighter colours. In the finale the minor keys are again predominant and the general musical language of the quintet is more romantic than that of the other two of Opus 51.
The Quintet in A major, Opus 51, No.3, has a fiery opening Allegro, followed by an A minor scherzo that reveals the interest that Kuhlau had in folk-music. The third movement is a cantabile Adagio in F major and the finale is a relatively short Vivace movement.
Mogens Wenzel Andreasen (translation: Elizabeth Holst-Hansen)
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KUHLAU: Flute Quintets Op. 51, Nos. 1- 3