Martin Ræhs (Rees, Rehs) came from a professional music-making family; his father of the same name was the stadsmusikant or official city musician in Horsens and Aarhus in Jutland. Martin the younger was born in Horsens in 1702. He undoubtedly received his first musical training from his father, who then ensured that he went abroad to educate himself further. Abroad, he developed the flute-playing that made him a virtuoso on the instrument. In 1726 the son had come home to Aarhus from England and served under his father as a journeyman musician. The elder Ræhs therefore applied to the King to transfer his office to young Martin, and was permitted to do so. However, the actual transfer was only formally effected in 1731, when it was stated that Martin Ræhs the younger was a good musician who had trained “in foreign lands, especially in England”. Unfortunately we know no more details of these journeys. The younger Ræhs was restless however; in February 1732 he was in England again, more specifically in London. Musical life in the English capital was a match for anywhere else in Europe; there, for example, Ræhs could meet composers like Handel, Geminiani and Giovanni Buononcini. After the death of his father in 1733 the son finally took over the important stadsmusikant post in Aarhus, but was unable to come to terms with this role. He tried to gain the favour of the Royal court, playing for King Christian VI at Frederiksberg Castle and elsewhere.
Although the King showed his favour on several occasions, Ræhs was not satisfied. He wanted a new permanent post where he could express his musical talent better than in Aarhus. In 1748 he went to the court in Schwerin, where he composed six flute sonatas for Duke Friedrich, but this did not lead to an engagement. Ræhs then settled in Copenhagen, and in 1754 he gave up the post in Aarhus completely to a son-in-law. Ræhs was comfortable in Copenhagen, where he mingled with the court musicians and was a personal friend of prominent musicians like the stadsmusikant Andreas Berg and the enterprising precentor and composer Johannes Erasmus Iversen. He undoubtedly also knew Scheibe.
From the beginning of the 1750s Ræhs played – without a salary – with the Royal Orchestra as its leading flautist. In the concert life of the city too he was a keen participant. Finally in 1765 he was granted a regular salary for his court service, but he died in September 1766.
Of Martin Ræhs’ compositions we know fifteen solo sonatas for flute and continuo as well as a single minuet for the same combination, all preserved in manuscript. Two of these flute sonatas have been recorded here after an eighteenth-century manuscript in the Royal Library in Copenhagen. The sonatas are in a Late Baroque style characterized by among other things figured bass, Fortspinnung, a rhythmically complex melody part, irregular periodization and a fast harmonic rhythm. The most striking thing about the sonatas, however, is that everything focuses on allowing the soloist to shine as a virtuoso. The flute ranges from d’ to a’’’, that is the whole compass which Quantz says in 1752 a transverse flute can produce. The flute part makes great demands on the soloist, since it often moves in quick note values while at the same time involving great leaps, constantly shifting rhythms and a profusion of ornaments.
Today Ræhs’ music is interesting as an example of the highly virtuosic flute technique which we also know from the flute works of Quantz. Ræhs’ sonatas are a rare example of the notation of Late Baroque ornamentation. This was a court culture which helped historically to forge a path from the Late Baroque over the galante style to Classicism. Ræhs undoubtedly wrote these sonatas so he could himself sparkle as a soloist at the courts of Schwerin and Copenhagen. He did not succeed in getting a permanent engagement as a court musician. However, he preferred the uncertain life of a ‘free’ artist to the routine everyday role of stadsmusikant, where he could not be appreciated for his talents as a flute virtuoso.