The One-Eyed Optimist

Friedrich Daniel Rudolph Kuhlau, fondly known by family as Fritz, saw a life of mixed fortunes. From an accident at the age of seven in 1793 which caused the removal of his right eye, to his death in 1832, Kuhlau never lost sight of his optimism in the face of several difficulties. Although born in Hamburg, Napoleon’s progress across Europe necessitated Kuhlau’s move to Denmark in 1910 to avoid conscription. Here Kuhlau was awarded the post of ‘Royal Chamber Musician,’ an unsalaried position that forced the young composer to reluctantly seek an income teaching piano. This was an imposition that Kuhlau would not be financially able to escape until 1826, after the Danish King agreed at length to offer greater support to the composer.

Kuhlau’s music was granted a warmer reception in other parts of Europe than in his home country, and his connections to publishers across Europe were responsible for the creation of several compositions. After a devastating fire in the early 1830s, shortly after the death of his parents, burned Kuhlau’s home to ground and destroyed several manuscripts, English publisher Wessel ordered the Trio for Two Flutes and Piano, Op. 119 (1832), which would later be arranged for flute, cello and piano. The piece was named Premier Grand Trio, suggesting that more than one were intended. Kuhlau, however, never saw the publication of the first trio, when he passed away after a two-week illness in the same year.  

The Trio Op. 119 is one of a considerable number of compositions for flute that Kuhlau produced, even though the composer himself had a basic handle on the instrument at best. It is believed that Kuhlau learnt the instrument as a young child, and had an extensive theoretical knowledge on which to base his compositions. Kuhlau is overshadowed today by other Danish masters such as Nielsen, Gade and Weyse, but his compositions for flute as well as those for piano are still highly respected.