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ClassicsOnline Home » KUHLAU: Trios for 3 Flutes
The German-born composer Friedrich Kuhlau settled in Copenhagen, where he made
a name for himself in spite of continuing financial problems. Although not a flautist
himself, he is known in particular for his considerable contribution to flute repertoire,
of which the present trios for three flutes are an example. A close contemporary of
Weber, Kuhlau enjoyed a reputation as a pianist and composer, writing music that is
characteristic of its time, with a fine grasp of flute idiom.
By David Denton
Though Denmark claims Daniel Friedrich Rudolph Kuhlau as a
national composer, he was born in Germany, but driven to seek refuge in Copenhagen
when Napoleon invaded Hamburg. If he had believed the move would provide a ready
living as a pianist and composer, his hopes were soon dashed, though he was
looked upon to support his parents and their large family who had also fled
to Denmark. Out of necessity he became a hack-writer working for a German publisher
turning out countless works of a popular nature. The major breakthrough came
with Elverhoj (The Elf Mound), composed for the royal wedding in 1828,
by which time he was already 42. Fate was still to be unkind, with both of his
parents dying the following year, and his home destroyed in a fire. He had never
enjoyed the best of health, and these two events were also to effect him mentally.
He died after a four-month illness at the age of 46. In that short life he had
written a considerable amount of music including operas, orchestral works, chamber
music and a massive instrumental output. In retrospect he is now seen as an
influential composer in Denmark at that time, moving music from a parochial
to a cosmopolitan style. Though not a flautist himself he did offer a number
of works for the instrument, including scores for two, three and four instruments.
The earliest work on the disc, the three opus 13 pieces, date from 1815, and
though we advance another thirteen years to the Grand Trio, his affable style
remained unchanged. For the musicians they offer plenty to show their agility
- Kuhlau providing solo opportunities to the second and third flutes - while
he generates gentle warmth in slow movements. The European Flute Trio is led
by one of the most highly respected flautists, Maxence Larrieu, the overall
tone being one of silvery elegance. For the music sample the sprightly track
10, the opening movement of the third trio of opus 13, and at the same time
hear the immaculate ensemble of the three instruments as they weave the complex
patterns. The recording is a typical top quality studio product.
Friedrich Kuhlau (1786–1832)
Trios for Three Flutes
The son of an army regimental musician, grandson of an oboist and town musician, and nephew of an organist and town musician in Aalborg, Friedrich Kuhlau was born in 1786 at Uelzen, near Hanover, and moved with his family successively to Lüneburg and Brunswick. In Lüneburg he had piano lessons and started writing music, and in Brunswick completed his early education at the Katharineum. At the turn of the century he went with his parents to Hamburg, studying there with the organist, composer and mathematician Christian Friedrich Gottlieb Schwenke, who had succeeded C.P.E.Bach, his own teacher, as Hamburg Stadtkantor in 1788 and had held the position of organist at the Katherinenkirche since 1783. A year earlier C.P.E. Bach had arranged for Schwenke to study with Marpurg and Kirnberger in Berlin. In 1804 Kuhlau began his career as a pianist and remained in Hamburg until the occupation of the city by Napoleon in 1810 and the compulsion to military service, from which it seems blindness in one eye, the result of a childhood accident, would not have excluded him. He then took refuge in Copenhagen under an assumed name, attempting to establish himself there as a pianist and composer and making his first appearance as a pianist at the court in 1811. In 1813 he was naturalised and the following year was appointed a court chamber musician, a position that was unpaid until 1818, when token payment was allowed. In the same year he was joined in Denmark by his parents and sister, making it necessary to earn more money for their support, increasing his work as a concert pianist and as a teacher. In 1815 he had enjoyed success with a Singspiel, Røverborgen (Robbers' Castle), at the Royal Theatre, where he found employment for a season as chorus-master and was able to have his first opera staged. At the same time he was winning a reputation as a pianist throughout Scandinavia. He visited Berlin and Leipzig on various occasions and was twice in Vienna, on the second occasion in 1825 spending an evening with Beethoven and his friends, of which subsequent memories were hazy. The party had walked in the countryside, before dining at an inn, where the consumption of champagne had a similar effect on Beethoven's powers of recall, although he had written a canon punning on Kuhlau's name, to the words Kühl, nicht lau (Cool, not lukewarm), which he sent to Kuhlau, while the latter had responded with a canon on the name of Bach. In 1828 Kuhlau wrote music to celebrate a royal wedding, Elverhøj (The Elf Hill) and was awarded the title of professor with an increased stipend. In 1831 a fire at his home at Lyngby, near Copenhagen, where he had rented a house since 1826, a year after the death of his parents, not only destroyed many of his unpublished compositions and writings but had a deleterious effect on his health, leading to his death the following year.
Kuhlau, as a successful pianist and teacher, wrote a quantity of music for the piano, although his second piano concerto was destroyed in the fire of 1831. These compositions included salon music and pieces of varied technical difficulty that were of practical use in teaching. In addition to his stage works, which enjoyed variable success, he left songs and chamber music, with a particular emphasis on compositions for the flute, an instrument that it seems that he did not play himself, profiting, however, from the technical advice of a flautist in the theatre orchestra. His first attempts at writing for the flute had been in Hamburg, but it was in the 1820s that he embarked on a series of works, including the three Sonatas for flute and piano, Op. 83, published in Bonn in 1827, that earned for him the title of ‘the Beethoven of the flute'.
Compositions by Kuhlau for flute include a number of works for unaccompanied flute as well as for flute and piano. There are also duos, trios and a quartet, for two, three and four flutes respectively. The first of the works for three flutes, a set of three trios, was published in 1815. The Trio in D major, Op. 13, No. 1, opens with a slow D minor introduction, followed by a sonata-form movement. The B flat major slow movement allows the second flute the main theme, when it returns after the contrasting central section. The trio ends with a rondo. The Trio in G minor, Op. 13, No. 2, has only two movements. The first of these is dominated by the opening dotted figure, while the second finds a place for brief contrapuntal imitation derived from its principal theme and initiated by the third flute. The last of the set, the Trio in F major, Op.13, No.3, has a sonata-form first movement in 6/8, its first subject marked by descending fifths, a figure that opens the central development. The Adagio con dolcezza is in A major, and follows the expected pattern, leading to the final Minuetto with its contrasting F minor Trio and concluding coda.
Three further trios were published in Hamburg in 1827. The first of the set, the Trio in E minor, Op. 86, No. 1, entrusts the first subject of the more elaborate sonata-form first movement to the first flute. The Scherzo frames a C major Trio and the slow movement, marked Larghetto is in B major, with its ornamented melody primarily given to the first flute. The trio ends with a lively rondo that ends in E major.
The Grand Trio in B minor, Op. 90, was published in Mainz in 1828, and seems to suggest, by its very title, a greater call for virtuosity. There is an element of drama about the first subject, with its wide descending intervals, and the sonata-form movement continues with an unexpected modulation. The Scherzo has a G major Trio and this is the key of the ornamented Adagio. The work ends with a finale marked Allegro poco agitato, an indication of its character. It ends, as it should, in B major.
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KUHLAU: Trios for 3 Flutes