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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Fredrich Ludwig Aemilius KUNZEN (1761-1817)
Piano Music: Musical Pastime for the Fair Sex (1798); Sonata in C sharp minor (1789-1791); Musical New Year’s Gift for the fair sex (1799); Divertimento in A major (1788); Scherzando in G major (1789); Larghetto in G major (1794)
Thomas Trondhjem (piano)
Recorded at the Royal Academy of Music, Århus, May 2002. DDD
DA CAPO 8.224228 [64.43]



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This CD seems to consist of the complete surviving music of the Danish composer Fredrich Ludwig Aemilius Kunzen. Apparently he was much more prolific even composing Concertante works and chamber music. Sadly none of this survives. What there is dates from before 1799 soon after which he was made Master of the Royal Orchestra, the highest academic position available at the time in Denmark. Composing, as a result, may well have dried up. However until that point he had been a well known and highly respected virtuoso on the piano. At that time the piano was riding a burgeoning wave of fame. It was also becoming fashionable … especially with young ladies. He was also a much sought after teacher.

As one of my pupils said in an essay "He (applied here, but not originally, to Kunzen) came from a family of musicians apart from that he was quite normal"! Kunzen’s father had played to and much impressed no less than Handel. The family hailed from Lübeck in Germany and was held to be especially important in artistic circles. Young Kunzen, like so many composers, was sent to study law before music took over.

Kunzen’s style could easily be described as Haydnesque. Indeed the Divertimento in A was once mistaken for a work by the great man. However I have to report that very little of this music comes up as anything other than mediocre Haydn. The best I can say is that it makes pleasant if ephemeral listening.

There is, mercifully, an extensive and interesting booklet essay by Heinrich Schwah which comes to the rescue. It lists all of the sixteen pieces known to have survived; others may yet be found. It is not easy to relate these to the pieces on the CD. For example the list does not actually mention ‘New Year pieces for the fairer sex’ but only lists the individual items separately. The first of the six pieces is called ‘Theme and 10 Variations on the aria "When I think of my Lene’" which comes from ‘The Secret’ in B flat major’. The Secret is a singspiel by a composer not identified here. This piece is listed as number eleven. The third movement, a Minuet and Trio is listed as number fourteen. The CD ends rather curiously with a ‘Larghetto in G major’ which at less than two minutes is one of Kunzen’s most short-winded efforts. It appears as number four in the list. Surely it would have been a good idea to end with one of the most interesting works on the CD: the ‘Divertimento’ in A, which is helpfully subjected to some close analysis in the booklet.

Although sixteen works are here there are nineteen tracks. This is in fact accounted for by the four movement sonata. The Sonata is very fine indeed. The only work on the disc to fit that description. Apparently it was one of several sonatas; more’s the pity that it is the only one to have survived. There are several things about it to attract our particular attention. First there is the unusual key of C# minor. Indeed the work even ends in C# major: that is, every black note. With the old tuning system of the harpsichord this would sound hideously out of tune; with the unequal tuning of the modern piano it becomes first a dark key and then an especially bright one. Secondly the sonata has four movements. The Scherzo second and the slow movement third represent a unique arrangement. Mozart never wrote a four movement sonata and only one survives in that form by Haydn. It seems however that Kunzen had been transcribing Haydn string quartets for piano some of which (Op.20 no. 2 (1750)) do follow this plan. Then there is the passion and dramatic intensity of the music. This is rather like Haydn’s ‘Sturm und drang’ period or even C.P.E. Bach. It is quite unlike the other music on the CD. It was composed in Berlin where C.P.E. had worked only twenty years previously. Finally there is an unusual approach to form - especially the Sonata form opening movement which is monothematic; a skill Mozart himself sometimes employed (Sonata in Bb K281).

Here we have a composer who could and did write in a serious and contemporary style but who had to write in a lighter one for the amateur because he could guarantee publication, performance and reputation. Unfortunately with the one exception of the Sonata, in the case of Kunzen, it is only this latter music that has survived.

Thomas Trondhjem is a new name to me but his biography is given. He is a specialist in the classical and Romantic schools. This shows in his phrasing, ornamentation, subtle pedalling and in the light and shade in handling keyboard sonorities. I’m only sorry that this music has not been recorded on a fortepiano of the period; the C# sonata would be especially interesting.

An ideal recording with clarity yet atmosphere.

Gary Higginson

see also review by Don Satz



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