The Kennedy Center

Friedrich Daniel Rudolf Kuhlau


Friedrich Kuhlau was a German-Danish composer in the Golden Age.  He is best remembered for his piano music, Elverhøj written in 1828.  A work of Danish National Romantic history viewed as a tribute to the Monarchy, this song was used for royal wedding celebrations.  He was nickname Beethoven of the Flute, although he never played that instrument.  He was good friends and greatly influenced by Beethoven and was responsible for introducing Beethoven music to the people of Denmark.
He was born in the town of Uelzen, Germany.  At age 7 he lost his right eye falling on ice caused complete blindness in that eye.  His grandfather and father were military musically trained oboists.  He finished school at 14, at the Katharineum gymnasium in Brunswick.  He moved to Hamburg in 1802 and studied the piano with scholar C.F.G. Schwencke.  At age 18 he début as a pianist in 1804.  In 1810 he gave piano recitals and had his first compositions for the piano and flute published.  Throughout his career he composed songs for the flute to earn money but he could not play the flute.
He lived in Germany until Napoleons army invaded and took over control of Hamburg.  He fled to Copenhagen, Denmark never to return in 1810.  In 1811 he started performing as a concert pianist and earned his living by being a piano teacher and composer.  In 1812 he was appointed to a no salaried position as a musician in the Danish Court because he was not a citizen.  In 1813 he became a Danish citizen.  His first major success came when he wrote the score for the singspiel The Robber's Castle.  His success won him a position as singing teacher at the Royal Theater.  Although he had moderate success more often than not came more than his share of failed stage works.  During his travels to Vienna he became friends with Beethoven.  In 1828 he was awarded an honorary professorship. 
His last years were troubled filled with financial problems, illness and loss, the deaths of both parents.  Tragedy occurred in 1831 during a house fire which destroyed most of his life’s work.  And as a result of the fire he suffered a chest disease for which he never recovered from causing him to die the following year in 1832.
Friedrich Kuhlau