KUHLAU: Trios for 3 Flutes
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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.