Friedrich Kuhlau

Friedrich Kuhlau’s music holds a special place in my heart. Some of my best college memories are of playing his duets with my flute teacher. After spending most of my lesson slogging through scales and thirds and struggling with the finer points of Mozart, she would whip out the duets and invite me to play with her. These were memorable times for me because we played together as equals and we did it for the sheer fun of it.

Kuhlau is one of those composers that I’ve been familiar with for years, having played his music many times, but I never really knew anything about him. He was the duet guy from the classical period. Or was he romantic? At any rate, he’s not a major composer and doesn’t even warrant a paragraph in Grout’s History of Western Music. Yet he made major contributions to flute literature. In fact, Kuhlau was known in his lifetime as “the Beethoven of the flute”, yet in the twenty-first century his name is obscure at best. That’s too bad since his contribution to small ensemble flute music is unique in the late Classical period.

Friedrich Kuhlau (1786 – 1832) was born in northern Germany but left the country in 1810 to avoid service in Napoleon’s Army. He settled in Copenhagen and soon afterwards became a Danish citizen. Kuhlau embraced his new nationality becoming an important member of the Danish arts scene in the first half of the nineteenth century, an era known as the Danish Golden Age.

Kuhlau is perhaps best known as an operatic composer. He produced operas and vocal music throughout his career. Several of these works enjoyed tremendous success including Røverborgen and Elverhøj. But in between the operas he produced a substantial number of instrumental compositions. His body of work is loaded with piano pieces as well as dozens of compositions for the flute. He was an accomplished pianist himself and played professionally, but he did not play the flute. The flute compositions were strictly a commercial venture.

It’s interesting to me that Kuhlau would embrace the flute during this transitional period between the classical and romantic eras. He was greatly influenced by Beethoven and imitated his style more successfully than most of his contemporaries, yet he chose to write for an instrument that Beethoven largely ignored. Was he trying to fill a commercial void? Presumably there was a demand for his flute music or he would not have been so prolific in this area. Whatever his reasons were, modern flute players are the beneficiaries of Kuhlau’s peculiar choice of instrumentation. His contribution to the flute ensemble repertoire is unique and substantial.

Kuhlau suffered the loss of his home when it burned down in 1831, the year before his death. The blaze destroyed all of his unpublished manuscripts. The loss must have been devastating to the composer, and I can’t help wonder what jewels of flute literature went up in smoke. None the less, a great deal of his flute music survived and the modern flutist has plenty to choose from.

All of Kuhlau’s flute music is commercially available. Some of it is available for free in the public domain. His music lies well on the flute and is easily playable by accomplished amateurs and strong student players. If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing Kuhlau, I’d encourage you to find a partner and try out some of his duets. If you’ve already had the pleasure, dust off the parts and enjoy it again. Better yet, treat yourself to something new. It’s great fun, I know you’ll enjoy his music.

Are you looking to add some Kuhlau to your repertoire? Click here to explore the wonderful arrangements available from Sheet Music Plus or use the search box below.

Flute Music by Friedrich Kuhlau

Opus 10a - 3 Duos For Two Flutes in E major minor, D major, G major

Opus 10b - 12 Variations And Solos For Flute in D major, A major, D minor, G major, G major, E minor, G major, C minor, D major, G major, D major, D minor

Opus 13 - 3 Trios For Three Flutes in D major, G minor, F major

Opus 38 - 3 Fantasies For Flute in D major, G major, C major

Opus 39 - 3 Duos For Two Flutes in E minor, B major, D major

Opus 51 - Quintet For Flute, Violin, Two Violas, And Violoncello in D major, E major, A major

Opus 57 - 3 Solos For Flute And Optional Piano in F major, A minor, G major

Opus 63 - 6 Variations For Flute And Piano On Carl Maria von Weber's "Euryanthe"

Opus 64 - Sonata For Flute And Piano in E♭ major

Opus 68 - 6 Divertimentos For Flute And Optional Piano

Opus 69 - Sonata For Flute And Piano in G major

Opus 71 - Sonata For Flute And Piano in E minor

Opus 80 - 3 Duos For Two Flutes in G major, C major, E minor

Opus 81 - 3 Duos For Two Flutes in D major, F major, G minor

Opus 83 - 3 Sonatas For Flute And Piano in G major, C major, G minor

Opus 85 - Sonata For Flute And Piano in A major

Opus 86 - 3 Trios For 3 Flutes in E major minor, D major, E♭ major

Opus 87 - 3 Duos For 2 Flutes in A major, G minor, D major

Opus 90 - Trio For 3 Flutes in B major

Opus 94 - 8 Variations For Flute And Piano On George Louis Onslow's "For The Girls"

Opus 95 - 3 Fantasies For Flute And Optional Piano

Opus 98a - Rondo For Flute And Piano On George Louis Onslow's "The Book Peddler, Or The Lumberjack's Son”

Opus 99 - 8 Variations For Flute And Piano On George Louis Onslow's "The Book Peddler, Or The Lumberjack's Son”

Opus 101 - 8 Variations For Flute And Piano On Ludwig Spohr's Opera "Jessonda”

Opus 102 - 3 Duos For Two Flutes in D major, E major, A major

Opus 103 - Quartet For Four Flutes in E minor

Opus 104 - 5 Variations For Flute And Piano On A Scottish Folk Song

Opus 105 - 7 Variations for Flute And Piano on the Irish Folk Song "The Last Rose of Summer”

Opus 110 - 3 Brilliant Duos For Flute Or Violin And Piano in B major, E minor, D major

Opus 119 - Trio For Two Flutes And Piano in G major

Cantatina For Two Sopranos And Mixed Chorus With Flute And String Orchestra

"Eleonore's Rapture" For Voice With Flute And Piano

3 Cantabile Movements For Flute

3 Progressive Sonatas For Flute Or Violin And Piano


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