Massive interest in Kuhlau’s songs and biography, but what was the man like in person? Learn about a true musical legend.
Friedrich Kuhlau was a German composer of the Romantic era. He lived from 1785 to 1832 and is best known for his songs “My Heart Rejoices in the Lord” and “The Last Rose of Summer”. His most famous work, however, is his opera The Black Swan.
Friedrich Kuhlau is well known for his piano music, which is regarded as pedagogically valuable. His sonatas and sonatinas are not demanding and provide good musical preparation for Beethoven’s more difficult compositions. Yet, as his Piano Concerto in C from 1810 and many other solo keyboard pieces show, his music can stand on its own. While it does not compare to Beethoven’s final three concertos, it is a work of great musical value. His flute compositions are likewise usually of excellent quality, with exquisite writing demonstrating an understanding of the instrument’s expressive range. Kuhlau composed operas and other dramatic works, the most of which are well constructed, the finest of which are on par with his piano music.
Friedrich Kuhlau was born in Uelzen, near Hannover, in North Germany. His father worked as a musician in a military band and had to move his family often. Friedrich fell on ice on the street after relocating to Lüneburg when he was seven years old, resulting in permanent blindness in his right eye. He completed his education at the Katharineum-gymnasium in Brunswick at the age of 14, and after shown exceptional musical aptitude throughout his youth, he started composing studies with Schwenke in Hamburg.
Kuhlau wrote several songs and chamber music during the following few years, and in 1804 he started performing regularly as a concert pianist. Many of Kuhlau’s compositions at the time and during his career were composed for the flute, and for many years it was assumed that he was a skilled flutist. He couldn’t play the instrument, but he composed compositions for it in order to make money.
Kuhlau went to Copenhagen in 1810 to escape Napoleon’s invading soldiers. He’d finished his Piano Concerto earlier that year, and his performances of it helped him get a non-salaried position as a musician in the Danish Court in 1812. He made a living by doing recitals and teaching music. Two years later, he composed the music for the very successful singspiel The Robber’s Castle. His parents and younger sister joined him about this time, and he had to support them all.
Kuhlau quit a high-paying job as a singing instructor at the Royal Theater in 1816-1817 and went on to another job with the Court, which required him to write works on occasion. One of these was his opera The Magic Harp, which was a flop due to its contentious text. Elisa (1820), his second opera, was also a flop.
Kuhlau visited Vienna in 1821 for four months and again in 1825, when he met Beethoven. His opera Lulu had debuted to great acclaim in Hamburg the year before. Kuhlau returned to Copenhagen and composed the incidental music for Boye’s play, William Shakespeare, which was a huge success. Still supporting his parents, he worked hard and produced another opera, Hugo and Adelheid, in 1827, which was a failure.
Kuhlau was awarded an honorary professorship in 1828, which came with a hefty stipend. The Elf’s Hill, a singspiel that was a great hit, was premiered the same year. Kuhlau lost both parents in 1830, and his home burnt down the following year, causing the composer to develop a chest condition that he would suffer from until his death.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is kuhlau classical or romantic?
A: Kuhlau music typically falls under the classification of classical because it is composed using mostly symphonic instruments. It has a slow tempo, which would be considered romantic.
Was Kuhlau blind?
Who wrote kuhlau fantasy?
A: The author is unknown.
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