Carl Frühling Chamber Music Brought to Light

I’m used to early music composers having sketchy bios with lists of lost compositions. Not so much 20th Century composers. But Carl Frühling is one.

We do have Frühling’s dates — 1868-1937. We know that he was an extraordinary pianist and often performed chamber music. He won the Liszt Prize in 1889. He also met Johannes Brahms, whose music greatly influenced Frühling’s.

Most of Frühling’s published works were salon music for the general public. But he always thought of himself as a serious composer. And a few surviving works prove that he was, and a talented one at that.

Frühling wrote the Piano Quintet in F-sharp minor in 1892. Although published, it virtually disappeared after 1914. It resurfaced in 1992 thanks to an Austrian Radio recording. Frühling follows Brahms’ style, but this is not an homage. Frühling’s experience as a pianist and chamber musician is readily apparent.

Frühling balances all the instruments. Each contributes significantly to the musical whole. The recorded performances suggest to me that this is a joy to play. The melodies have a quiet beauty with a hint of joie de vivre.

The Piano Quintet in D major survived — barely — in the library of the Flonzaley Quartet (active from 1902-1929). The manuscript in their archives is a copy of the original, which is missing. Stylistically, the quintet seems to also be from the 1890s. It also appears to have been written after the piano quartet.

The work has more complex and carefully crafted melodies. Frühling’s counterpoint also sounds surer and more developed than it did in the quartet. Once again, the performers give their best. The melodies sound exquisite. The ensemble has a rich, late-Romantic fullness, as the players revel in Frühling’s music.

Frühling died in poverty in 1937, with no family. He was forced to register as a Jew in Nazi-run Austria. The lack of heirs and enmity of the authorities may account for the loss of his manuscripts. It’s estimated that Frühling composed over a hundred works, of which only a fraction survive.

Perhaps more of his music will be rediscovered. Based on the quality of the works on this recording, I certainly hope so. Highly recommended for the beauty of the music, and the quality of the performances.

Carl Frühling: Piano Quintet, Op. 30; Piano Quartet, Op. 35
Oliver Trindle, piano; Daniel Gigleberger, Nina Karmon, violin; Roland Glassl, viola; Floris Munders, cello
Hanssler Classic, HC21062

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