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Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

The Captivating Flute

Be transported to the drawing rooms of Europe, as Consortium Aurora Borealis presents “The Captivating Flute’, a concert in which Doris Dungan, our featured artist, will shine in a programme of elegant late-Classic chamber music for flute and strings. She is joined by violinist Katie Stevens, violists Patrick Horn and Christopher Stork, and cellist Marc Palmquist.

Let our fine local musicians charm you with the strains of a flute quartet from 1794, flanked by two flute quintets from 1823 which uncharacteristically employ two violas for a richer sound. The flute, integrated into the ensemble, acts more in the role of first violin.

We travel to Vienna through the music of Krommer, one of that city’s most popular composers during his time, to Paris with flautist-bassoonist-composer Devienne, “the French Mozart”, and to rarely-visited Copenhagen, as we listen to Kuhlau, popularly dubbed “the Beethoven of the flute”. Moravian composer Krommer, of Czech blood, moved to Austria, and also worked in Hungary; Kuhlau left his German homeland for Denmark. Many countries are thus represented.

The flute enjoyed great popularity in chamber music in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The instruments were wooden and more intimate in sound. This music was intended for smaller spaces, and was performed in courtly chambers and salons. The works we will hear are of great charm and grace, with brilliant writing not only for the flute, but also for the strings, which all share the melodic material. Spirited allegros frame slow, lyrical movements of great beauty. The flute rises above in prominence with virtuosic passages, although the other instruments all get their moments in the spotlight too, even in the earlier quartet by Devienne.

Doris Dungan has been a flute soloist with Consortium since 1981, a core member of the TBSO for over 4 decades, and is a consummate artist, with great technical and expressive powers. She has maintained a loyal following over these many years. She is usually heard in sonatas and concerti; it will be a treat to hear her interacting in a small ensemble with the strings, while maintaining a dazzling presence as a soloist. Devienne, a brilliant virtuosic flautist, and Kuhlau, who had a marvellous feel for the flute, were particularly renowned for their pieces for flute, showing off the instrument’s capabilities, which Doris will demonstrate to the fullest!  Kuhlau himself stated “I play this instrument very little, but I know it thoroughly.”

Although our composers are not commonly known, all were very prolific and highly regarded in their day. François Devienne composed 300 instrumental works, mostly for winds, and 12 operas. Franz Krommer similarly wrote over 300 compositions, and Friedrich Kuhlau gave us over 200 published works, even though his many unpublished manuscripts were lost in a house fire. Despite overlapping with the three Classical greats, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, our three composers enjoyed popularity during their lifetime.

Interestingly, Devienne and Krommer were both born in 1756, three years after the death of Handel and the birth of Mozart. Kuhlau passed on 3 years after his good friend Beethoven. Devienne and Kuhlau died quite young, at 44 and 45 years respectively, but Krommer hung on to the ripe age of 72, passing away in 1832, one year after Krommer. All three were alive during the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon, to put things into perspective, as Classicism was to move into Romanticism.

Our concert commences with Krommer’s Flute Quintet in G major, Opus 101, and concludes with Kuhlau’s Opus 51, no. 2 in E major, both being written in the same year. Positioned in between is Devienne’s Flute Quartet Opus 66, no. 1, providing contrast of mood by being in the minor mode instead of in a happy major key, and textural contrast by dropping one viola. Krommer worked in aristocratic circles and was Court Composer to the quartet-playing Emperor Franz I, and with his 76 string quartets to Haydn’s 68, was regarded in the latter 18th century as a leading composer in that field, both for quality and quantity. His 35 string quintets were thought to rival Mozart’s 6; all were scored for two violas, as were his 9 flute quintets, with Kuhlau’s flute quintets following the same pattern.

Although he was a violinist, Krommer is best known for his numerous, idiomatic works for winds, with and without strings. He composed with “such a wealth of original ideas, wit, fire, novel harmonic turns”. His music was appealing, transparent, often spirited, sometimes playful, with virtuosic writing for soloists. Opus 101 starts with a merry Allegro, followed by a beautifully melodic slow moment, over pulsating violas. A Viennese Menuetto leads to a cheerful Finale. Krommer enjoyed great fame and success, as his music circulated throughout Europe, even reaching America!

François Devienne had a varied musical career, composing a Mass at age 10, playing bassoon at the Paris Opéra from age 20, studying with the orchestra’s principal flautist, hired as chamber musician to a Cardinal, and performing in the Masonic Loge Olympique Orchestra, as a freemason. He appeared frequently at the Concert Spirituel as soloist in his own flute concertos, and played bassoon in Paris’s Feydeau Theatre.

At 31 he joined the military band of the Paris National Guard in 1790 during the Revolution, soon becoming a sergeant. There, he took part in patriotic celebrations, and taught and administered a music program for children of French soldiers in a school that was a precursor of the renowned Paris Conservatory, where he ultimately became an administrator and its first flute professor.

Devienne’s famous method for single-key flute, published in 1794, the same year as our programme’s flute quartet, provided interesting insights on technique and style of the time. His compositions, mostly for flute, were elegant, well-crafted, imaginative, and refined, somewhat influenced by Mozart, whom he admired. One can detect a Mozartean stylistic stamp when listening to the first two movements of Devienne’s flute quartet in A minor. The third-movement Presto romps cheerily along.

Since Haydn and Mozart didn’t write much for winds, Devienne was able to distinguish himself in this field. Unfortunately, he faded into oblivion until flautist super-star Jean-Pierre Rampal revived his music in the 1960’s, igniting interest in these gems amongst flute players!

Although Devienne wrote vast quantities of fine chamber works and concertos for flute and bassoon, peppered with virtuosity, it was with Parisian theatres that Devienne had his greatest success in later years. One rather anti-clerical comic opera was performed over 200 times between 1792 and 1797! Devienne died in 1803 at the early age of forty-three at the peak of his fame, four months after being committed to the Charenton insane asylum, possibly due to overwork. Three of his operas had just been performed at the Théâtre Feydeau with great success. A distinguished 19th-century music critic named him one of the “most interesting and gifted musicians of the end of the 18th century.”

We proceed to German-born Friedrich Kuhlau, who rose from poverty to great fame and distinction, as Denmark’s national composer and early representative of the Danish Golden Age. At age seven Kuhlau lost his right eye in an accident one night after falling on an icystreet, but debuted as pianist in Hamburg when sixteen. He fled to Copenhagen from Germany in 1810 to escape conscription into Napoleon’s army, never to return.

Kuhlau performed his piano concerto at the Royal Danish Theatre a year later, initially served as a non-salaried court musician, and became a Danish citizen in 1813, although he never learned to speak Danish. He secured well-paying positions as chorus master and singing teacher at the theatre shortly thereafter, moved amongst aristocrats, was appointed Court Composer, and eventually became an Honorary Professor.

Kuhlau composed prolifically in order to make ends meet; he was not good with money.
He is mostly known for his high-quality flute music (over 60 works) and piano pieces, especially his sonatinas, played worldwide by many a student. I performed such a movement in Toronto’s Kiwanis Music Festival, 12 and under category, long ago! But he made his mark in Denmark with his successful dramatic works: “The Robber’s Castle”, “Lulu” (based on Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”, and “Elves’ Hill”.

The latter was a 5-act comic opera from 1828, commissioned by Denmark’s King Frederik VI for his daughter’s wedding. It was considered a tribute to absolute monarchy, and has been performed over 1000 times! Kuhlau drew on Danish and Swedish ballads, including “King Christian stood by the lofty mast”, which became Denmark’s royal anthem.

In 1821 and 1825 Kuhlau visited Vienna, and had the honour of meeting Beethoven. The two became good friends and drinking companions, the one deaf, the other blind in one eye. Beethoven documented the over-consumption of champagne at their second jovial meeting in a letter to Kuhlau; they had vied with each other composing canons. The elder master had an enormous influence on Kuhlau, who admired him and emulated aspects of his style. Kuhlau introduced Beethoven’s music to Danish audiences, even giving premiere performances of all five Beethoven piano concertos.

Our final flute quintet best reflects the Beethovenian style, with a slow, expressive introduction, as the instruments interweave and share the melody, moving through interesting harmonies, leading to a Romantic Allegro with passion, interruptions, flute flourishes, an intense development section, and a dramatic conclusion.

A lively minor-key Menuetto with two contrasting Trio sections, not your gracious, danceable minuet, is followed by a lyrical Andante. The light, brisk Finale is reminiscent of Rossini in spots, but with a hymn-like passage by the strings partway through, around which the flute dances. A return to the opening theme pushes on gaily to a jolly ending.

This happy tone was suddenly dispelled in Kuhlau’s life. 1831 was a distressing year: Kuhlau was devastated by the recent deaths of his parents and by the destruction of most of his manuscripts in a house fire, which also led to his chest ailment. One year later, he died, on March 12, 1832, nine years after completing tonight’s beautiful flute quintet. He remained a central figure in Danish musical culture.

Tonight’s repertoire was designed both to celebrate the flute and to showcase three lesser-known composers, who nonetheless were greatly admired in their day. We trust their music will, in turn, captivate you!

At this point, I would like to issue a personal invitation to you to join us for our 45th Anniversary Season Concert Year, 2023-2024. I am especially excited that seven wonderful concerts have fallen into place for us, including two with flute music, which will interest you, if you enjoyed “The Captivating Flute”.

Doris Dungan returns twice, once with me in September, and once with Penelope Clarke and a cellist, hopefully in April. My plan was to showcase these two women who made up the TBSO flute section for so many years but who have now retired. Here is a great opportunity to hear them shine!

Season passes are now on sale and details can be found here:


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