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String Quartets

Friedrich Kuhlau
C.F.E. Horneman

String Quartets

Copenhagen String Quartet

Though belonging to two different periods in the history of Danish music, Friederich Kuhlau and C.F.E. Horneman were kindred spirits in artistic and human terms. Kuhlaus quartet, his last work, is inspired by Beethoven's Quartet in A minor, op. 132. Horneman's is still fairly classical in style but contains features anticipating his later compositions, which exerted a major influence on the music of Carl Nielsen.

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"They play like angels."
"Intensiteten er til stede i hvert buestrøg."
Berlingske Tidende
Total runtime: 
51 min.


Not many string quartets were written in the Danish romantic period. C.E.F. Weyse and P.E. Lange-Miiller wrote none at all, Kuhlau only one, l.P.E. Hartmann two (both lacking a finale and therefore incomplete), and N.W. Gade three. The quartets hy Gade and Kuhlau are probably the best that Danish romanticism has to offer. P. Heise was the most productive composer in the genre, but his seven quartets are the rather impersonal products of his youth; they are not of the same standard as his other chamber music and are quite forgotten today. In spite of the fact that they are also youthful products, the two string quartets of C.F.E. Horneman have more substance. Kuhlau's quartet on this disc is his last com­position and Horneman's one of his first, but one senses that the works are related to each other, just as the two composers were related on the personal and the artistic level. They both occupied positions on the outskirts of the Danish musical establishment, though for different reasons, and they were both more European in outlook than their contemporaries. Both of them were impulsive spirits with a special talent for dramatic music, and they were two of the greatest symphonists in Danish music though unlike all the other Danish romantics neither of them, paradoxically, actually produced a symphony.

Friedrich Daniel Rudolph Kuhlau was German born, like so many composers of his own generation and that preceding. He came to Denmark in 1810 and -as Weyse had done twenty years earlier -settled down so well that he remained for the rest of his life.

His personal circumstances were not, however, at all  easy, and as the father of a large family his life was a constant economic struggle. He was appointed chamber musician to the Danish court in 1814, a position that at first carried no salary. The award of 300 rigsdaler annually in 1818 was purely symbolic, and he had to supplement his income by producing a constant flow of pieces on order for Danish and German publishers: piano music (especially easy sonatinas for teaching purposes), flute music (for one to four flutes and for flute and piano), and much else besides. His title of court musician obliged him to write occasional cantatas and an opera or play score for the Royal Theatre every alternate year. Some of these works were great successes and earned him a secure place in Danish music as well as influencing later developments: examples are Røverborgen (text by Oehlenschlager, 1814), Lulu (1824), William Shakespeare (the biggest of all his stage works, 1826), and not least Elverhøj, composed for the festivities in connection with a royal wedding (text by J.L. Heilberg, 1828). Elverhøj even earned him a professorial title and an increase of his stipend to 600 rigsdaler. On the other hand, dramatically inferior texts were mainly responsible for some resounding fiascos like the operas Trylleharpen, Elisa, and Hugo og Adalheid, or the incidental music for the play Trillingbrødrene fra Damask. The last years of his life were tragic: his parents both died in 1830, the following year his rented house in Lyngby north of Copenhagen burned down, and tbe resulting physical and mental stress proved too much for his health, which was already poor. He spent four months in hospital, but never made a proper recovery and died early in 1832.

Kuhlau and Weyse are the main figures in early Danish romanticism. Kuhlau's particular importance lies in the international impulses that he brought to Danish music. His cosmopolitan though by no means impersonal style reflects the influence of Mozart and Beethoven (whom be visited on one of his many trips to Germany), and later on from Weber, Rossini, and many of the other great composers of the day. Sometimes he goes so far as to borrow directly from another composer, but this procedure is always just the starting point of an independent musical development.

Christian Frederik Emil Horneman was the son of a composer and publisher, J.O.E. Horneman, and the grandson of a painter of miniatures, Christian Horneman. He was taught the rudiments of music by his father and went to Leipzig to study at the conservatory in 1858. There he met Grieg, who later became his close friend. Already in 1860 Horneman was summoned home to Denmark to help his father, whose music business had gone bankrupt. Together they created a new firm to which the young Horneman supplied popular arrangements of well known tunes. This family music store and publishing house were closed down a few years after the father's death in 1870.

Horneman was an impulsive and energetic type who invested equal amounts of energy in composi­tion and in the organization of musical life in Denmark. He founded more than one society for new music in opposition to Gade's conservative Musik[orening, the first of them being Euterpe (together with Grieg) and another the Koncertforening of 1874; all of these initiatives were, however, short-lived. His greatest organizational success was a music institute that opened in 1880 and continued to operate until 1920. His many projects met with little support, as did his person and his compositions; it is typical of the mentality prevailing in Danish musical life that his best known work, the concert overture Aladdin written for the Euterpe society in 1865, was coolly received when premiered at home but enthusiastically acclaimed on his trip to Germany in 1867. This German success inspired him later on to write his only opera, Aladdin (1888), but the premiere of this work was a fiasco. A revival in 1902 was better received. In spite of its many positive qualities - it contains truly dramatic mnsic, full of life and atmosphere - the opera has never been staged since.

Horneman's other dramatic works include scores for plays by Drachmann: Ester (1889), Paludan-Müller: Kolanus (1890; premiered 1906), and Gjellerup: Kampen med Muserne (1908). His best known product in this genre is the incidental music to Drachmaon's Gurre (1902), with glowingly orchestrated overtures to the four acts describing the love affair between King Valdemar and Tove, a story that is best known in the history of music from Schoenberg's Gurrelieder (composed shortly before to a text by l.P. Jacobsen).

Horneman composed first and voices; apart from the two string instrumental output comprises only foremost for quartets, his a few concert overtures such as Heldenleben. He wrote works for solo voices and choir with orchestra, cantatas, and some fifty songs with piano. The latter, though entirely overshadowed by the achievements of Heise and Lange-Miiller, who were the two great lieder composers of the High Romantic period in Denmark, show many interesting and progressive features.

Like Kuhlau before him Homeman was a considerable innovator in the conservative Danish musical environment. But his impulsive and tempe­ramental character militated against the acceptance and understanding of his music. He stmggled in vain against the great Godfather fignre in Denmark, N.W. Gade, whose conservative attitude pervaded the musical life of the time. Carl Nielsen was the first to understand Homeman, whose music had great importance for his own and can be seen as a kind of bridge between the romantic music of the nineteenth century and the incipient modernism of the twentieth.


Kuhlau's String Quartet in A minor op. 122 is his very last work, written at the beginning of 1832 shortly before his death. It was intended as the first of six quartets commissioned by wine merchant Christian Waagepetersen, the greatest private patron of Danish music at that time, as a way of helping the composer back on his feet economically after all the misfortunes that had befallen him. It is the crowning achievement of a relatively small chamber music output comprising -apart from the many pieces for flute ensembles -three piano quartets, four sonatas for violin and piano, three quintets for flute, violin, two violas and cello, and a trio for two flutes and piano. The qnartet begins with a theme in the first violin borrowed from Beethoven's Quartet in A minor op. 132, a work that Kuhlau was especially fond of because it had been premiered during his visit to Beethoven in 1825 (the Beethoven quartet opens with a theme in half notes identical with the two first and the two last tones in Knhlau's theme):


The fast section begins with four sixteenth notes and repeated chords, Rossini-style, supporting the main theme in the first violin:


The first four tones of this main theme (bracketed above) appear in various constellations, sometimes combined with the theme from the introduction. An energetic bridging theme follows, and in marked contrast to this comes a singable secondary theme; the latter is followed in its turn by a triplet fignre that is later merged with the secondary theme. The exposition concludes with echoes of the main theme, which also dominates the development section (this particularly applies to the first four notes already mentioned).

The Adagio in F major (3/8) breathes Beethovian calm and breadth with its downward-moving initial theme in the cello (derived from the main theme of the first movement), and here too we find a highly singable secondary theme played in octaves by the violins, with more restless passages interpolated in fast note values.

The Scherzo in A minor (3/4) has a double theme typical of Kuhlau: a mysterious staccato theme in the viola and cello that is coupled to a legato melody in the violins (as in the second movement of Beethoven's quartet). The trio section in A major is lighter and more dance-like with its upward-moving scale fignre in the first violin, accompanied by the other three strings playing pizzicato.

The Finale is in A major (2/2) and begins with a theme stated in such long note values that it feels like a slow introduction. Kuhlau's 'Danish tone' is particularly audible here, not least because of some modally sounding chord combinations. A strongly marked rhythmic figure introduces the fast move­ment proper, which again has a singable subsidiary theme. The movement reaches its peak with the masterly counterpoint of the development section, where the slow introductory theme is iuitially contrasted with the rhythmically marked fignre and then used to launch a big fugato worked out as a kind of double fugue, the theme first being counterpointed in pizzicato quarter notes, and then integrated with a new obligatory counter-theme in eighth notes. The result is almost orchestral in effect and provides a noble conclusion to the life's work of a composer whose originality rests on his having looked not ouly back to his great model, Beethoven, but also a long way forward into the Danish romantic period.

Homeman's first string quartet in G minor dates from the period of his studies in Leipzig, whereas the D major quartet dates from shortly after his return to Denmark; the autograph, dated Copen­hagen 1861, is full of the corrections, revisions, and cuts that are typical of the composer.

The first and last movements both lack tempo indications. The first movement is actually an allegro in 4/4 time beginning with a theme in the cello. This modulates to B minor before the first violin takes over to the accompaniment of pulsating eighth notes in the second violin and viola:


The secondary theme revolves monotonously around the same tones, which however are variously harmonized. The exposition ends with a short five­tone figure in eighth notes played successively in all voices, after which the development section continues with a series of manipulations of the main theme in many different combinations and keys.

Toward the end only a fragment of the theme is quoted, namely its upbeat motif of three tones (bracketed above) in its original, downward direction and inverted.

The slow movement is -surprisingly -also in D major and is divided into three sections. The first is a quiet, intense adagio with two themes, the second (connected with the first by emphatic modulations) a Con moto in B major. This section was inserted instead of a long Allegro malta that had originally been planned in the same key, and is a dialogue between the first violin and cello with insistent triplets in the two accompanying instruments. A shortened version of the first section concludes the movement.

The choice of A minor as the key of the minuet is also surprising for a work in D major; it appears from the autograph that it was originally, and more conventionally, planned in B minor. A characteristic­ally Nordic folk tone (perhaps inspired by Home­man's friend Grieg?) is discernible in the slightly modal harmonization of the introductory theme:


The trio section in C major has a chorale-like theme in long notes reminiscent of many of Kuhlau's corresponding movements, a stylistic feature that was also imitated by other Oanish composers of the time.

Horneman had at first intended the finale to be a movement in 6/8 with a triad-based 'hunting' theme, but instead he wrote a perpetuum mobile in ongoing eighth note pattems. The movement is in sonata form without a proper development section, but there is a heavily modulating, development-like passage after the principal and secondary themes of the reprise, and the movement is full of little mosiac-like components that impart to it the feeling of a rondo.

Gorm Busk, 1994


Release date: 
May 1994
Cat. No.: 
Jewel Case
Track count: 


Previously released on CD by DMA
Recorded in Copenhagen 1969

Sound engineer: Helge Albrechtsen
Digital editing: Claus Byrith

Cover picture: Dankvart Dreyer: "Skovrigt landskab" (1814)