Kuhlau is a composer whose name you might
have heard, or whose music you might just have come across in
one of those albums of teaching pieces. He came from a musical
family in Germany, son and grandson of town and regimental musicians.
He studied in Hamburg with a pupil of C.P.E. Bach.
In 1804, still in
Hamburg, he started his career as a pianist. But in 1810 the
city was invaded by Napoleon and Kuhlau avoided military service
only because he was blind in one eye - the result of a childhood
He fled to Copenhagen
where he attempted to establish himself as a pianist and composer
making his first appearance as a pianist at court in 1811. Naturalised
in 1813, he received a court appointment, but this remained
largely unpaid. He had some success with his singspiel Robber's
Castle and made a name for himself as a pianist throughout
Scandinavia. Joined in Scandinavia by his parents and sisters
who were financially dependent on him; despite his successes,
his life seems to have remained something of a financial struggle.
He visited Berlin,
Leipzig and Vienna on occasions. In 1825 he managed to spend
the evening with Beethoven and friends though the alcoholic
haze meant that he had no strong recollections of this meeting.
In 1830 his parents
died. The year after there was a serious fire at his house near
Copenhagen and a large number of his unpublished compositions
were destroyed. This seems to have had a deleterious effect
on his health and he died in 1832.
His surviving body
of music includes quite a bit of chamber music for flute; his
Sonatas for Flute and Piano published in 1827, earned him the
nickname 'the Beethoven of the Flute'. Kuhlau did not play the
flute, but benefited from the advice of a flautist in the Copenhagen
theatre orchestra. His flute pieces include duos, trios and
quartets for unaccompanied flutes.
On this disc the
European Flute Trio play five of Kuhlau's flute trios. The Grand
Trio in B minor, op. 90 was published in 1828 and is the most
virtuosic of all the pieces on the disc. The three trios op.
13, were published in 1815, and the Trio in E minor, op. 86
no. 1 was published in 1827.
Kuhlau wrote quite
a bit of salon music and the salon is never very far away in
these piece, no matter how classically and seriously they are
constructed. The Grand Trio has a strong whiff of the virtuoso
salon showpiece which was popular in the 19th century.
The remaining trios are charming works, quite substantial in
length. They were probably written for talented amateurs to
play rather than as concert works.
The European Flute
Trio (Antonio De Matola, Maxence Larrieu and Carlo de Matola)
play these pieces as if to the manner born. They have no trouble
at all with the virtuoso elements required and produce cascades
of beautiful, liquid sounds. The three players balance nicely
and create a good feeling of ensemble whilst remaining three
distinct voices. Both De Matolas were pupils of Maxence Larrieu,
which probably helps with the group's cohesion.
There were occasions
when I thought that the recording was a little too close: we
can hear slightly too much detail in the breath and beating
in the flute tone. But this is a small point and does not prevent
Frankly, I was rather
surprised at how much I enjoyed this disc. A whole CD of music
for three unaccompanied flutes could be a little daunting. But
Kuhlau's music has charm, lightness and strength of construction
and this is brought out in these performances.
Do try the disc,
you will hear some charming music and some superb flute playing.