(b Toitendorf [Teutendorf] estate, nr Neu-Sanitz, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 27 April 1812; d Darmstadt, 24 Jan 1883). German composer. He is best remembered for his romantic comic opera Martha, which continues to be staged; the aria ‘Ach so fromm’ (and in its Italian version as ‘M’appari tutt’ amor’) has become a staple of the tenor aria repertory.
Flotow, Friedrich Freiherr von
Flotow was born into one of the oldest aristocratic families of Mecklenburg. Both parents were musical, and he began composing as a child, receiving his first musical instruction from his mother and from Thiem, the local organist. He resisted his parents’ wish that he enter the diplomatic service, and in 1828 was taken by his father to Paris, where his musical education was entrusted to Reicha and the Mannheimer Johann Peter Pixis. By the following year he had already been offered the libretto of Pierre et Cathérine by Jules-Henri Vernoy De Saint-Georges, who during the ensuing four decades was to provide Flotow with eight further librettos (including that for a ballet, Lady Harriette, ou La servante de Greenwich, in 1844, which was to become the basis of Martha). The 1830 Revolution caused the composer to return to Mecklenburg, where he completed Pierre et Cathérine and had it translated into German by his uncle; as Peter und Kathinka it was performed in Ludwigslust, Mecklenburg, in 1835. By 1831 Flotow had already returned to Paris, where he continued composing. During this period he also made the acquaintance of prominent artistic and aristocratic figures there, which helped him towards having Parisian performances of his works, and it was at the hôtel of Count Castellane, where aristocratic families ran their own private amateur theatre, that works such as Rob-Roy and Alice were performed in 1836–7. His first professional performances were of pastiche works to which he contributed, a situation that arose often owing to the tight schedules of theatres whereby portions of a work were given to various composers to write in time for the opening night. The play Le comte de Charolais (1836) was such a work, and Flotow gladly accepted the opportunity to write several numbers for it, including a waltz and a hunting chorus. The work was performed at the Théâtre du Palais Royal and served to draw Flotow’s abilities to the attention of a wider public.
The first important theatre to mount his works was the Théâtre de la Renaissance with two pastiches: in 1838 Lady Melvil (where Flotow’s name was not even mentioned; the other composer, Albert Grisar, took all the credit), and in 1839 L’eau merveilleuse, for which Flotow wrote much of the music. His first real box office success, however, was Le naufrage de la Méduse (later enlarged as Die Matrosen), to which he contributed the last two acts, also performed at the Théâtre de la Renaissance (54 times in 1839 alone). In 1840 La duchesse de Guise (originally Le comte de St-Mégrin) was given an amateur charity performance as Le duc de Guise for Polish refugees at the Salle Ventadour, and it was there that Flotow met Friedrich Wilhelm Riese, a poet and translator for the Thalia-theater in Hamburg, who was in Paris looking for new vaudeville comedies to translate into German for performances at home. It was Riese, under the pseudonym W. Friedrich, who was to create the librettos for the only two operas which were to bring Flotow lasting fame, Alessandro Stradella (1844) and, particularly, Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (1847). Flotow’s greatest ambition, however, was to make his name as an opera composer in Paris, and his first performance at a major opera house there (by the Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart) was in 1843 with the one-act L’esclave de Camoëns (later enlarged as Indra). He was finally accepted by the Opéra in 1844 with a contribution to the pastiche ballet Lady Harriette, the seed of Martha. In the meantime Alessandro Stradella had been performed in Hamburg in 1844 and within a year was such a success there, and in Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague, that Flotow received a commission to write a new German opera for the Hoftheater in Vienna. He offered Friedrich the Lady Harriette plot, and Martha was the result. Martha was first performed at the Kärntnertortheater in 1847, with immediate success. By 1858 it had already been played across Europe and as far afield as Algiers, San Francisco and Sydney.
In the mid-1840s, still living in Paris, Flotow continued to write French operas, many of which were translated and performed in Germany. The Revolution in Paris caused him to leave France again in 1848, and he returned to Mecklenburg where he had inherited the family estates from his father, who had died the previous year. There he married and had a son; his wife and child died in 1851. In 1850 Sophie Katharina, oder Die Grossfürstin was performed in Berlin and he received the Mecklenburg-Schwerin Goldene Verdienstmedaille für Kunst und Wissenschaft in recognition of his achievements. His next moderate success was his second version of L’esclave de Camoëns, Indra, which had its première in Vienna (1852). As a result of his growing reputation in Vienna, he now moved there, where in 1853 he married his second wife, who bore him three children, only two of whom were to survive into adulthood. In 1855 Flotow was appointed director of the grand-ducal court at Schwerin in Mecklenburg, where he remained until 1862. There he was in charge of the incidental music for the court celebrations, directed performances of opera and ballet at the Hofoper and continued to compose operas for Vienna and Berlin. He achieved modest successes in 1859 with La veuve Grapin and incidental music to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.
In the 1860s Flotow’s opera premières were being staged as a matter of course right across Europe. He married for the third time in 1868, having divorced his second wife, and went to live on his new wife’s estate in Reichenau in Austria, where he continued to compose. His last success was L’ombre, which was performed in Paris in 1870 by the Opéra-Comique. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 caused a wave of anti-German sentiment in Paris which had a negative effect on Flotow’s fortunes there. His La fleur de Harlem (completed in 1874), which he may have begun as early as 1866 and which had been accepted by the Opéra-Comique, could now no longer be performed there and had its première in Turin in 1876 as Il fiore d’Arlem. In 1873 Flotow finally left Paris and returned to the family estate in Toitendorf, where he resumed work on his most problematic opera; what had started as a French work, the one-act L’esclave de Camoëns, in 1843, and been extended to three acts in 1852 as Indra with a German text, he now revised and further enlarged to four acts for an Italian première as Alma l’incantatrice. Animosities in France having subsided, however, Flotow was able to obtain a performance of the new work in Paris in a French version, as L’enchanteresse. In addition, Indra was also known at various times as Zora, Die Hexe and possibly Griselda, making a total of seven different names and three different languages used by the composer for this work alone. In 1880 Flotow moved to Darmstadt, where he spent his last years almost blind. He died, as the result of a stroke, at the age of 70.
Flotow, Friedrich Freiherr von
Between Weber’s death (1826) and Wagner’s Rienzi the history of German opera lay primarily in the hands of Kreutzer, Spohr, Marschner, Lortzing, Nicolai and Flotow. Flotow’s musical style is a synthesis of German and French influences. On the German side he may be grouped with Lortzing and Nicolai, with whom he shared a north German musical heritage. These three cheerful, if modest, talents were in turn all influenced by their francophile compatriot Meyerbeer, much of whose cantilena, esprit and orchestration shed its light on their works. But while Meyerbeer is best known for his serious works, these three are remembered today for their comic operas. This Berlin school of composers possessed a profound sense of the stage that German contemporaries such as Schubert, Mendelssohn or Schumann lacked. Flotow’s French models can be sought in composers like Boieldieu, Auber and Adam: indeed the comic bandits Malvolino and Barbarino in Alessandro Stradella find their musical ancestors in Auber’s Giacomo and Beppo (Fra Diavolo). Whereas Nicolai combined German Singspiel with opera buffa, Flotow was to merge the Singspiel with opéra comique to create a kind of French Biedermeier opera, a fusion of styles which had its dramaturgical justification and precedent. Just as Mozart, in Don Giovanni, had fused elements of opera buffa and opera seria, and Beethoven, in Fidelio, had combined the Singspiel with an emerging Romantic music drama, so Flotow, in Martha, reserved the Singspiel style for his buffoonish and peasant characters (Nancy, Plumkett and the maids of Richmond) and the sustained, bel canto French Romanticism of opéra comique for the lovers Martha and Lyonel (see illustration).
For that reason, Flotow’s own description of his works as ‘romantic’ (Alessandro Stradella) or ‘romantic comic’ (Martha) has met with some objection: the former fits rather the description of an opéra comique. Meyerbeer referred to Martha in his diary as a ‘komische Oper (eigentlich semiseria)’. What distinguishes such works as Alessandro Stradella, Martha or Indra (originally L'esclave de Camoëns) from opéras comiques is that (by contrast, for example, with Lortzing) Flotow omits spoken dialogue and links the numbers with short recitatives, achieving an uninterrupted musical flow. It is perhaps rather the manner of performance of these works that determines which of Singspiel or opéra comique is to predominate. In Flotow’s two most successful works, Alessandro Stradella and Martha, a balanced fusion of all stylistic elements is achieved. The former is perhaps the better work, but it was Martha that found its way into the hearts of the public. The reason for this lies not only in the quality of the text and the music, but also in the dramatic situations which keep the audience in a state of amused suspense.
Flotow’s musical style is characterized by simple harmonies, pithy and gracious rhythms, and short musical forms, among which he often uses dance movements (tarantella, gavotte, mazurka or polka) as the basis for his arias. His melodies are catchy, often italianate, and he is musically most successful when he confines himself to the strophic song with facile melodies. The inclusion of simple folksongs as local colour further adds to the attractiveness of his works, for example the Irish folksong ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ in Martha (which is used to great effect as a leitmotif), or the Hohenfriedberger March and Russian folksong in Sophie Katharina. Within the framework of a completely homophonic style, contrapuntal or even motivic writing is only occasionally found and is a little incongruous, such as the moment in the overture to Martha where he combines a cheeky motif (symbolizing Martha’s flirtations) with Lyonel’s heartfelt ‘Mag der Himmel Euch vergeben’. In Die Matrosen (originally Le naufrage de la Méduse) there is a canon to the amusing alliterative text ‘O Du, der Du, die, die Dir dienen’. Flotow’s instrumentation is well considered and effective, playing host to the melody and thematic material in parlando sections; in the last works an increasing refinement of orchestral technique can be observed. It is perhaps not surprising that his basically lyrical style is least convincing when a plot such as Indra’s calls for an exotic Iberian-Indian treatment, a musical exoticism familiar from L’Africaine, Carmen or Samson et Dalila. Here Flotow’s French Biedermeier Spieloper shows its limitations. At their best, his works are a fascinating Franco-German link in the chain from 18th-century Italian opera buffa to Arthur Sullivan in England.
Flotow’s librettos are based on works by authors as varied as Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Massinger, Racine, Goldoni, Scott, Dumas and Soulié. A certain emphasis on historical figures is evident: the statesmen Henri III of France (Le comte de St-Mégrin) and Peter the Great (Pierre et Cathérine); the religious reformer Johann Albrecht of Mecklenburg, the poet Camões (L’esclave de Camoëns), and the composers Stradella and Mozart (Die Musikanten). Among the mythical subjects are Thetis, Medusa and Rübezahl. Using the pseudonym Marckwort, Flotow himself made excellent translations of some of his French works into German. His most prominent librettists were Salomon Hermann Mosenthal (who wrote the text for Nicolai’s Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor), Léon Halévy (brother of the composer) and Charlotte Birch-Pfeiffer (who helped Fétis prepare the final version of Scribe’s libretto for L’Africaine).
A comprehensive survey of Flotow’s works today presents almost insurmountable difficulties. At least 14 of them are lost, parts of which were no doubt re-used later. At least eight works are known to have been rearranged by Flotow. An exact correlation of lost and re-used material is therefore no longer possible. Many of his works also received new titles with each arrangement or even performance, to say nothing of the translations. At least six were written in collaboration with other composers, sometimes, especially the earlier ones, without even mention of Flotow’s name. A realistic estimate of the number of Flotow’s operas is about 30. Ironically, although he dedicated his life to French opera, and composed mainly French and what might be called Franco-German works, his adopted country never fully returned the compliment. It is perhaps no coincidence that his only lasting successes were two works which, as French as they are in spirit and style (Gustav Kobbé originally classified Martha as a French opera), were thoroughly German in their composer, their librettists, their texts and their premières. It may be added that it took Martha 11 years to reach Paris and Alessandro Stradella 19 years; both were first performed there in Italian. Conversely, the one theatre where almost all his works were performed as a matter of course was the court opera house of Schwerin in Mecklenburg, the land of his birth.
A truer reflection of how widely disseminated Flotow’s operas were can be gained if the performances of his works in such a city as Hamburg are considered. There Martha alone had enjoyed 440 performances by 1955 and Alessandro Stradella 218 by 1932. Nine other works performed at some time or other in Hamburg never exceeded 16 performances (Die Matrosen), and these nine played an average of five performances each. Nonetheless, Martha and Alessandro Stradella have earned Flotow 15th place among Hamburg’s most-played opera composers, just after Beethoven and Offenbach. During the 19th century Flotow’s fame was such that many parodies and potpourris of his works appeared, for example Nestroy’s Martha, oder Die Mischmonder Markt-Mägde-Mietung in three acts to music by Michael Hebenstreit (1848), Offenbach’s one-act La romance de la rose (1869) and Johann Strauss’s Quadrilles, op.46 on themes from Martha, and op.122 on themes from Indra. Perhaps of interest is that almost every decade of the 20th century has borne witness to the revival of one or another unknown work by Flotow: Indra and Wintermärchen were still being played until well into the century; in 1922 and 1943 La veuve Grapin was revived; in 1925 and 1933 Zilda was played, under the title Fatme; and in 1934 L’ombre and Rübezahl were staged. Blacher’s opera Das Zauberbuch von Erzerun (1942) is based on music by Flotow.
Although Flotow’s creative career was dominated by opera, he also wrote works in other genres throughout his life, most of which are lost. In his early years he seemed to have had ambitions as an orchestral composer, and two piano concertos, a symphony and a concert overture (the latter both lost) all date from this period. In his later years his non-operatic compositions became increasingly modest in scope, consisting mainly of songs, piano works and chamber music for various traditional combinations of instruments, including two piano trios and two string quartets of which the first has recently been rediscovered. Some of Flotow’s song texts are in French and Italian, but most are settings of German verses, intended for use in his native Mecklenburg-Schwerin, where he was always held in high esteem. He also composed several melodramas. Flotow’s chamber and orchestral works, often akin to Mendelssohn in style, are composed with careful attention to detail and, like his operas, are characterized by deft instrumental writing, graceful melody and clear, light textures.
Flotow, Friedrich Freiherr von
Pierre et Cathérine (op, 2, J.H. Vernoy de Saint-Georges); Ger. trans., Ludwigslust and Schwerin, 1835
Die Bergknappen (op, 2, T. Körner)
Alfred der Grosse (op, 2, Körner)
Rob-Roy (Rob le barbe) (oc, 1, P. Duport and P.J. Desforges, after W. Scott), Royaumont Castle, Sept 1936
Sérafine (oc, 2, Desforges, after F. Soulier), Royamount, 30 Oct 1836
Le comte de Charolais (incid music, Duport and Desforges, after P. Massinger and N. Field), Paris, Palais Royal, Nov or Dec 1836
Alice (oc, 2, H. de Sussy and D. de Laperrière), Paris, Hôtel Castellane, 8 April 1837
Stradella (pièce lyrique, 1, Duport and P.A. de Forges), Paris, Palais Royal, 1837
La lettre du préfet (oc, 1, E. Bergounioux), Paris, Salon Gressier, 1837, rev. 1868
Le comte de Saint-Mégrin (La duchesse de Guise) (opéra, 3, F. and C. de la Bouillerie, after A. Dumas père: Henri III et sa cour), Royaumont, 10 June 1838; rev. as Le duc de Guise, Paris, Ventadour, 3 April 1840; Ger. trans., Schwerin, 24 Feb 1841
Lady Melvil (oc, 3, Saint-Georges and A. de Leuven), Paris, Renaissance, 15 Nov 1838, collab. A. Grisar; rev. Grisar as Le joaillier de Saint-James, 1862
L’eau merveilleuse (opéra bouffe, 2, T.M.F. Sauvage), Paris, Renaissance, 30 Jan 1839, collab. Grisar; Ger. trans. as Das Wunderwasser, vs (Mainz, n.d.)
Le naufrage de la Méduse (opéra, 3, H. and T. Cogniard), Paris, Renaissance, 31 May 1839, Act 1 by A. Pilati; excerpts (Paris, n.d.); rev., expanded as Die Matrosen, Hamburg, 23 Dec 1845, vs (Hamburg, 1845)
Lady Harriette, ou La servante de Greenwich (ballet, 3, Saint-Georges and J. Mazilier), Paris, Opéra, 21 Feb 1844, Act 2 by R. Burgmüller, Act 3 by E. Deldevez
L’esclave de Camoëns (oc, 1, Saint-Georges), Paris, Opéra-Comique, 1 Dec 1843; rev., enlarged as Indra, das Schlangemädchen (3), Vienna, 18 Dec 1852; as Alma l’incantatrice (4), Paris, Italien, 6 April 1878 [also known as L’enchanteresse, Die Hexe, Zora ? and Griselda
Lâme en peine (Der Förster; Leoline) (opéra, 2, Saint-Georges), Paris, Opéra, 29 June 1846; (Paris, n.d.), Ger. (Hamburg, ?1847)
Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (romantische-komische Oper, 4, Friedrich), Vienna, Kärntnertor, 25 Nov 1847; vs (Vienna, ?1847), fs (Leipzig, 1940); US-STu*
Sophie Katharina, oder Die Grossfürstin (romantische-komische Oper, 4, C. Birch-Pfeiffer), Berlin, Hof, 19 Nov 1850; vs (Berlin, 1850)
Rübezahl (romantische Oper, 3, G.H. Gans zu Putlitz), Retzien, 13 Aug 1852 [privately], Frankfurt, 26 Nov 1853 (Berlin, 1853)
Albin, oder Der Pflegesohn (opera, 3, S.H. Mosenthal, after Les deux savoyards), Vienna, Kärntnertor, 12 Feb 1856; rev. as Der Müller von Meran, Gotha, 15 Jan 1860
Die Libelle (La demoiselle, ou Le papillon ou Dolores) (ballet, 2, Markwort), Schwerin, 8 Aug 1856
Herzog Johann Albrecht von Mecklenburg, oder Andreas Mylius (opera, 3, E. Hobein), Schwerin, 27 May 1857
Pianella (komische Oper, 1, E. Pohl, after C. Goldoni La serva padrona), Schwerin, 27 Dec 1857 (Paris, 1860)
Die Gruppe der Thetis (ballet), Schwerin, 18 Aug 1858
Wintermärchen (incid music, 4, W. Shakespeare, trans. F. von Dingelstedt), Weimar, Hof, 23 Oct 1859
La veuve Grapin (Madame Bonjour) (opéra comique, 1, de Forges), Paris, Bouffes-Parisiens, 21 Sept 1859 (Paris, ?1859); Ger. trans., Vienna, Theater am Franz-Joseph-Kai, 1 June 1861, vs (Berlin, n.d.)
Der Tannkönig (ballet, 2, Hobein and A. Rossi), Schwerin, 22 Dec 1861
Wilhelm von Oranien in Whitehall (incid music, 5, Ganz zu Putlitz), Schwerin, 2 Oct 1861
Der Königsschuss (Divertissement) (ballet, 1), Schwerin, 22 May 1864
La châtelaine (Der Märchensucher) (op, 2, M.A. Grandjean), Vienna, Karl, Sept 1865; rev. K. Treumann as Das Burgfrälein
Naida (Le vannier) (op, 3, Saint-Georges and L. Halévy), St Petersburg, 11 Dec 1865 (Milan, n.d.)
Zilda, ou La nuit des dupes (oc, 2, Saint-Georges, H.C. Chivot and A. Duru), Paris, Opéra-Comique, 28 May 1866; vs (Paris, 1866); Ger. trans. as Fatme, vs (Berlin, c1925)
Am Runenstein (op, 2, R. Genée), Prague, 13 April 1868 (Leipzig, 1868)
Die Musikanten (La jeunesse de Mozart) (komische Oper, 3, Genée), composed ?1869–70, Mannheim, 19 June 1887; Ger. vs (Leipzig, 1890)
L’ombre (oc, 3, Saint-Georges and de Leuven), Paris, Opéra-Comique, 7 July 1870; vs (Paris, 1870); Ger. trans. as Sein Schatten, Vienna, Wien, 10 Nov 1871 (Berlin and Posen, ?1871)
Le fleur de Harlem (op, 3, Saint-Georges and de Leuven, afer Dumas père: Le tulipe noir); It. trans., Turin
Rosellana (op, 3, de Lauzières), Vittorio Emanuele, 18 Nov 1876 (Turin, 1876)
Sakuntala (op, 3, C. d’Ormeville, after Kalidasa), inc.
1 aria in La champmeslé (Duport, ? after Racine), Paris, Nouveautés, 11 Feb 1837
Der Deserteur, acc. hp, hn, str, pf, lost; Der Blumen Rache (F. Freiligrath), acc. str, pf, rev. for pf, op.16 (Berlin and Posen, 1876); Der Schweizer-Soldat in Bologna; Die Heimkehr; Die Harfe, acc. hn, str, pf; 3 Poems (Franz Freiherr von Gaudy), acc. hn, str
Choral: Mass, solo vv, vv, orch, inc.; Dorf-Messe, male vv; Das Waldvögelein (J.N. Vogl), 4 male vv (Leipzig, n.d.); Songs for the Viennese artists’ fraternity ‘Grüne Insel’: Aufnahmslied (I. Castelli), also as Wilkommslied (O. Prechtler), Pilgrimslied (Prechtler), Jubellied (J. von Paümann), all for male vv, pf; Abschiedslied, B, unacc. male vv
Songs with pf: Maria (E. Plouvier) (Paris, ?1840); Rêverie (N. Duff) (Paris, ?1840); 4 Savoyardenlieder (A. Alberti), op.17 (Rostock, 1875): Der Abschied, Die Ankunft, Vor dem Palast, Im Sterben; 3 Lieder und Balladen (Alberti) (Dresden, n.d.): Heimweh, Lied der Amme, Frühlingswunsch; 4 Lieder (Berlin, 1883): Zum Scheiden (C. Stieler), Grüss dich Gott (O. Roquette), Fahr’ wohl (E. Geibel), Der Landsknecht (Geibel); 3 Lieder (Berlin, n.d.): Silvia, Serenade, Sehnsucht nach der Nachtigall
Other songs (1v, pf), all lost: 6 Lieder: Wiegenlied, Sehnsucht, Das Gruseln, Müller, hab’ acht, Maiennacht, Mädchenlied; Der blinde Musikant (G.L. Mohr), Die Drei (N. Lenau); Für mich alleine (M.G. Saphir); Les hirondelles (Marquis de Foudras); Künstlers Erdenwallen (Markwort); Lied eines Schmiedes (Lenau); Die Madonna (T. Oliphant); Schlummergesang (Markwort) [=Serenade (A. Tastu)]; Ständchen (Saphir), also for S, A, T, B (hp, ob)/(pf, vn/fl); Der Holunderbaum, ballad, Das Kreuz am Weg, Mama die Muhme (K. Schäfer), Star and Spatz