Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Sonata "Undine" - Hilary Bromeisl
Sonata "Undine" by Carl Reinecke, Op. 167
Article By Hilary Bromeisl

Carl Reinecke's Sonata in E minor is based on the German romantic tale found in the 19th century novel Undine. Written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque in 1811, the novel made a great impact on it's readers and it is no surprise that the story became the inspiration for music, ballets, plays, art, and poetry.

The tale centers around the water spirit Undine, daughter of the King of the Sea. Sea maidens are lovelier and longer-lived than their mortal counterparts, living peacefully in crystal palaces deep beneath the waves. The one thing the water spirits lack, and Undine longs for, is an immortal soul. The only way a water spirit can obtain an immortal soul is through uniting in love with a mortal man.

The first movement of the sonata portrays Undine in her underwater world. The deep murmuring and shallow splashing of water surrounds the occasional melody depicting Undine's desire to a soul.

Undine leaves the water Kingdom in search for love with a mortal man and is discovered as a child on the seashore by a fisherman and his wife. The loving couple raises Undine as a much-loved daughter, though puzzled by her inexplicable behavior and naughtiness.

The second movement musically paints a picture of Undine's life with her foster parents. It begins with a musical chase between the flute and piano which seems to subside only when the flute "gives in," only to start up again in the same unpredictable way. The piano's carefree folk-like solo section may be interpreted as her parent's bewilderment and acceptance of Undine's impulsive actions.

In time, Undine finds love when she meets knight Hulbrand, who seeks shelter with her and her parents from a raging storm one day. The feeling is mutual and they soon marry. The wonder surrounding Undine's awakening to love can be heard in the relaxing flute melody inserted before the final burst of energy in this movement.

Following her wedding night, Undine confesses to her new husband she is a water spirit, and thanks him for the gift he unknowingly gave her through marriage. She then volunteers to free him of the marriage if he chooses. Hulbrand instead swears undying love and commitment to Undine and they begin a life of contentment together. The beauty of the Andante movement easily unites with this part of the story. Not too much time passes when Undine's man-distrusting uncle Kuhleborn visits with a warning. Appointing himself guardian of his niece's honor, he tells Undine that if Hulbrand ever raises his hand or voice against her, the pride of the water spirits will not let her continue her life with him, and if his love ever strays from her, he must die. This threat is clearly heard in the disruptive whirl of notes inserted towards the end of the third movement, which gently returns to the mood created before the interruption.

Undine's trust in people and the goodness of her heart allows her to consider Hulbrand's scheming and arrogant former fiancee Berthalda her best friend. Hulbrand and Undine move to the knight's castle at Ringstettin and they take in Berthalda as a sort of permanent house guest. Hulbrand becomes increasingly uncomfortable with his wife's unworldly goodness and her communication with the water spirits, and he eventually is drawn back to his first love. Urged by Berthalda, Hulbrand loses his temper with Undine and she is forced to return to life in the sea. Hulbrand turns to Berthalda for comfort and eventually agrees to marry her.

The finale movement is the most dramatic and incorporates Hulbrand's scolding, Undine's vain pleading, and the anger and revenge of the water spirits. Despite her anguished appeals, Undine must herself be the instrument of Hulbrand's punishment. At the wedding of Hulbrand and Berthalda, Undine sadly appears and gives Hulbrand a kiss that kills him. At the knight's funeral, Undine secretly joins the mourners. She then vanishes and in her place appears a spring of water from which two small streams encircle the new grave. The return of the loving theme used for the love Undine first felt for Hulbrand creates a touching mood to end the sonata.


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