Kuhlau’s father was an army
musician, his grandfather was an oboist and his uncle an organist,
so the chances of young Friedrich becoming a musician were pretty
strong! Although his family was poor there was money to pay for
piano lessons, which he started whilst living in Lüneburg, at which time he commenced composition. Kuhlau started his career
as a pianist in 1804 in Hamburg, and stayed there until 1820,
when the city was occupied by Napolean. At this time he moved
to Copenhagen, living under a pseudonym, in order to avoid consription
into the Napoleonic Army, and three years later took Danish citizenship,
being appointed Court Musician in 1814. As a performer he introduced
many of Beethoven’s works to Denmark (Kuhlau and Beethoven were
friends, the older composer’s music exerting a strong influence
on Kuhlau) and composed the music for a Royal wedding, Elverhøj
(Elves' Hill), based on the play by Johan Ludvig Heiberg which
incorporates folk-tunes, and the national
hymn, and is generally regarded as the Danish national opera. He wrote a vast amount
of music, over 200 published opus numbers, and when his house
burned down it destroyed all his unpublished manuscripts, which
included a 2nd Piano Concerto. This had
an adverse effect on his health and he died the following year.
He wrote many works for flute and because of these he was nicknamed
"the Beethoven of the flute" during his lifetime.
These six works were obviously written either for teaching purposes or for
the drawing room – certainly Kuhlau was aiming for the amateur
market – and their forms are easy to follow whilst the writing
is miles away from the highly virtuosic piano music being written
at that time. They are all laid out gracefully for the keyboard,
and would easily fit into any recital where they would give
an audience a moment of respite between meatier pieces. There’s
plenty of good humour
in the fast movements – I especially enjoyed the cod Hungarian
episode in the rondo finale of the Sonatina,
op.20/1 – but Kuhlau
doesn’t forget that we also need some seriousness and so the
opening movement of the following work is more restrained, but
he still keeps smiling.
nothing profound here, indeed the later set of pieces have only
two movements, no slow movement, so it’s obvious that Kuhlau
was aiming for entertainment and not depth.
Jandó is totally at home in this music, never trying
to inflate the little pieces into something grander, he understands
the gentle, understated quality of the work. These are very
enjoyable works, and, despite the slight character of the works,
you will want to return to them for they are very charming and
entertaining. After years of only ever hearing Elverhøj – delightful as that piece is – it’s good to finally get
to hear something else by this composer, who, although not in
the front rank of his time, had something to say and the means
with which to say it.
The recording is up to Naxos’s usual high standards
and the notes are very good.
It’s always interesting to take a trip off the
well beaten path, and a stroll in the company of Mr Kuhlau is
an hour well spent.