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A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Flotow, Friedrich

FLOTOW, Friedrich, Freiherr von, German opera composer, born April 27, 1812, son of a landed nobleman of the arch-duchy of Mecklenburg; was educated with a view to the diplomatic service. In 1827 he went to Paris, when music was at its best. The brilliant artistic life into which he was thrown aroused him to a consciousness of his own talent for music, and he devoted himself to a course of study under Reicha. The Revolution of 1830 drove him away for a time, but feeling that the atmosphere of Paris was necessary to his success, he soon returned, and produced his first dramatic attempts at the private houses of some of the aristocracy. 'Stradella' was brought out at the Palais Royal as a short piece lyrique in 1837; but Flotow's first public success was at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, where he produced, May 31, 1839, 'Le Naufrage de la Médusa,' which ran for 53 nights in 12 months, and at once established his position. He afterwards re-wrote the piece, and produced it at Hamburg in 1845 as 'Die Matrosen,' whence it spread to the other theatres of Germany. Meantime he had composed for the Paris theatres several other operas, such as 'L'esclave de Camoëns' (1843), and 'L'âme en peine' (1846), known in London as 'Leoline' (Princess's Theatre, Oct. 16, 1848). 'Stradella' was re-written as an opera, and brought out at Hamburg, Dec. 30, 44, and has had extraordinary success throughout Germany. In Paris, though published, it has never been produced. In London it was brought out in English at Drury Lane, June 6, 46—a dead failure—and in Italian in 1864 at Covent Garden, when it lasted two nights only, killed by a joke of Ronconi's. It was followed by 'Martha' (Vienna, Nov. 25, 1847), which was remodelled from a ballet written in conjunction with Burgmüller and Deldevez in 1844, and in its new form quickly spread all over the world (London, Covent Garden, 1858). These two works Flotow has never surpassed, and of his later operas 'Die Grossfürstin' (1850), 'Indra' (1853), 'Rübezahl' (1854), 'Hilda' (1855), 'Der Müller von Meran' (1856), 'La Veuve Grapin' (1859), 'L'Ombre' (1869 [App. p.637 "1870"]), 'Naïda' (Milan, 73), 'Il Flor [App. p.637 "Fiore"] d'Harlem' (Turin, 76), the only ones which have attained any general popularity were 'Indra,' 'La Veuve Grapin,' and 'L'Ombre,' the last of which was enormously successful not only in Paris, but in Italy and Spain, and has been produced in London (Her Majesty's) Jan. 12, 1878, as 'The Phantom.' His 'Enchanteresse' is in rehearsal at the Italiens, and his 'Rosellana' is not yet complete (Feb. 1878).

In 1856 he was appointed Intendant of the court theatre at Schwerin, a post which he retained till 1863. The only important works he produced during this period, when he had so many inducements to compose, were a 'Fackeltanz' and some charming music to Shakspeare's 'Winter's Tale.' After giving up the management of the theatre in 1863 he returned to Paris, and in 1868 removed to the neighbourhood of Vienna, where he still resides. His remaining compositions, overtures, songs, and chamber music, are little known, and call for no remark. In 1864 Flotow was elected corresponding member of the Institut de France. [App. p.637 "he died at Wiesbaden, Jan. 24, 1883."]

The great success of 'Stradella' and 'Martha' must be mainly ascribed to the melody which pervades them, and to their light and attractive character. Flotow' s comic talent is considerable, and he has great natural instinct for the stage. His early French experience taught him the virtue of lively and well-accentuated rhythm, and gave him dexterity in the construction of extended pieces, to which he writes pleasing harmony and piquant orchestration. On the other hand, his music has rarely anything below the surface, his rhythm frequently degenerates into that of mere dance-tunes, his modulations are poor, and he is prone to sentimentality, which, though popular in our days, is none the less morbid. In the scientific part of composition he too often betrays the amateur. On the whole the conclusion is forced upon us that, in spite of his popularity, Flotow will not live in the history of dramatic music.

[ A. M. ]