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Heinrich Soussman: Concert music for unaccompanied flute Print E-mail
Written by Tom Moore   

Some recent publications have begun to explore the wealth of the flute repertoire from the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries (notably the collection Die Soloflöte1 , published in four volumes by Edition Peters), but most of the repertoire for the flute (both unaccompanied, and in chamber ensemble) remains unknown and unaccessible. A case in point is the work of flutist and composer Heinrich Soussman (1796-1848), a successful performer and relatively prolific composer for the flute, known today, if at all, by his flute method and flute etudes, but esteemed in his time as one of the best flutists in Europe. As of this writing almost none of his music is available in print or in modern edition, and very little of it is even accessible in American music libraries. To my knowledge, none of his works have ever been recorded, and even biographical information on Soussman is difficult to come by (there is no entry for him in the New Grove, for example).

Soussman (also found spelled as Soussmann or Sussman) was born in Berlin on Jan. 23, 1796, the child of a professional musician there, who taught him the violin. He then went on to study the flute with Schroeck until the age of sixteen, when he became a musician in a regimental band of the infantry, and participated in the campaigns against France in 1813 and 1814. After leaving the military his concert tours brought him to Russia, where he remained for the rest of his life, becoming first flute at the Imperial opera in St. Petersburg, and later (in 1846), director of music there. He died there in May of 1848.

Bringing together information from various sources2, I give below an incomplete listing of Soussman’s published works. Out of at least 62 published works or collections with opus number, I could only identify 25. Soussman, as was usual for an instrumental virtuoso, published to my knowledge no works which did not include his instrument, and the surviving works include the expected genres - sonatas for solo flute, variations for solo flute, duos for two flutes, quartets for four flutes, works for flute and piano (or orchestra), and at least one work for flute and guitar.

Works List

op. 2Duos, 2 fl, concertants

op. 3 Theme and variations, for flute and string quartet, Breitkopf

op. 4 3 Brilliant and easy duos, 2 fl., Breitkopf

op. 5Quatuor for four flutes

op. 6 Serenade for guitar and flute, Breitkopf

op. 10 Concertino, flute and piano, Schott

op. 12 Serenade, flute and piano

op. 13 Variations on Wir winden dir den Jungfernkranz, Lischke

op. 19 Concertino, flute and piano

op. 24, 3 Duos, 2 flutes, Cranz

op. 25 Six solos, flute Andre

op. 272 Quatuors for four flutes

op. 28Grande fantaisie, flute, piano

op. 30Trio concertant, 2 flutes, piano, Sneguireff

op. 313 Solos, flute, Sneguroff, Hofmeister, Schlesinger

op. 32, Introduction and Brilliant Variations on La Muette de Portici, Flute and orchestra, or flute and piano, Ricordi

op. 36, 3 Duos, 2 flutes, Cranz

op. 47, 12 Easy pieces, flute, piano, Andre

op. 53 Neue praktische Schule, in various editions, including the Tagliche Studien (24 Exercises in All Keys)

op. 55 6 Grand solos, Flute, revised by Wehner, C. Fischer

op. 56 Fantaisie “Souvenir de Paganini”, flute, piano

op. 57 Introduction et variations, flute, piano

op. 586 Caprices, flute, revised by Wehner, C. Fischer

op. 62 Air varie, two flutes, orchestra

Without opus:

Variations on Der Treue Tode, Lischke

30 Grand Exercises or Etudes, Schott, Ricordi

3 Grand Exercises, 2 flutes, Breitkopf

Overture from A Life for the Czar, flute, piano, Gutheil

Polonaise from A Life for the Czar, flute, piano, Gutheil

Souvenirs militaires, ??, Schott

Trill table for the Boehm flute, Costallat

In this article I would like in particular to introduce flutists and music historians to Soussman’s concert works for solo flute, which can be compared favorably with much better-known works for solo flute from the time, including the familiar sonatas, variations and caprices by Kuhlau, ten years Soussman’s senior. The list includes two sets of variations (without opus, and op. 13), three sets of solos (opp. 25, 31, and 55), and a set of caprices, op. 58. The sonatas from op. 25 and op. 31, in particular, are large-scale in size and demanding in technique, and will be discussed in more detail below. We can be glad that original editions of all but op. 55 and 58 survive in a bound collection of Soussman’s work (also including the 24 Daily Exercises and the 30 Grand Exercises) preserved at Yale University in the Special Collections at Beinecke Library.

None of these works are dated on their title pages, so dating must be approximate and based on external evidence. The set of variations with no opus on Der Treue Tod, and the Weber variations, op. 13, both published in Berlin by Lischke, have no reference to the composer’s position in Russia on their title pages, and it seems reasonable to surmise that they predate his leaving Germany for Russia. The Weber varations must date from 1821 at the earliest, the year when Der Freischutz, from which Soussman draws the tune that he varies, was premiered. The variations on Der Treue Tod, must be even earlier, since the plate number given by Lischke is 950, in comparison with 1326 for the Weber variations. The Six Solos op.25 already list Soussman as "First Flute of his Majesty the Emperor of All the Russias", and are dedicated to Soussman's student, Colonel Alexis de Bolotoff3.

The Yale copy has the date [1838], apparently added by the cataloger. The Three Solos, op. 31 were published jointly by L. Sneguireff in St. Petersburg, Frederic Hofmeister in Leipzig, and Maurice Schlesinger in Paris, with Sneguireff occupying the central place on the title page among the three, which lists the publisher’s address as Perspective de Nevsky, no. 83, and has a note that the publication was engraved and printed by Sneguireff. This work would also seem to date to the 1830s, the only period in which this publisher was active (Sneguireff also published Glinka’s A Life for the Czar, in a piano reduction by the composer himself. The opera was premiered in 1836, and it may surmised that the piano reduction was published at about the same time).

The only source that I am aware of for the two collections, op. 55 and op. 58, is a publication containing both works, with two copyright notes - one asserting a copyright, 1895, in the name of Charles Wehner (rendered as “Carl Wehner” on the title page, and the other in the name of Carl Fischer, New York, dated 1908. According to the title page both works were composed for and dedicated to “Monsieur C. Heinemeyer”, first flute of the Royal Hoftheater in Hannover. The edition is a “new edition, revised and corrected” by Wehner. Heinemeyer might seem to be Christian Heinemeyer (1796-1872), or might possibly be Christian Heinemeyer’s son, Ernst Wilhelm Heinemeyer (1827-1869)4 - the latter went to St. Petersburg in 1847 to be the first flute of the Imperial Orchestra.

If we assume the latter, then it might be plausible to date the solos, op. 55, and the caprices, op. 58 to the period 1847-1848, after Ernst Wilhelm’s arrival in Russia, and prior to Soussman’s demise in 1848. Interestingly, both C. Heinemeyer and Wehner served as first flute for the orchestra in Hannover. Wehner (1838-1912) was a student of Theobald Boehm, was flutist, alongside Ciardi, at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg (1867-1884), moved to Hannover in 1875, and was recruited by Theodor Thomas to go the United States, and played with various ensembles in New York City from 1877 until his death in 1912, including the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera 5.

The two sets of variations belong to a genre of works which was perhaps the most common genre for unaccompanied flute from around 1790 to 1830, that of the set of variations on a popular air or tune of the time, usually taken from a contemporary opera. Perhaps the most familiar examples are those found in the Variations and Solos, op. 10, by Kuhlau, published in Hamburg by Auguste Cranz, which includes seven sets of variations, as well as capriccios and rondos6. Another less familiar set from about the same time is the collection of Themes Varies by Niels Peter Jensen (a student of Kuhlau), in this case a set of twelve airs with variations, published in a total of six books (also by Cranz), with two airs per book7.

The variations by Soussman on Der Treue Tod are based on a lied with poetry by Theodor Korner (1791-1813), set to music by Mauro Giuliani8 (available at IMSLP). The song is strophic, with four strophes, and the guitar setting begins with an introduction for solo guitar. Each verse includes a conclusion of five measures for guitar before the succeedsing strophe begins. In Soussman’s variations this conclusion is marked “tutti” (in contrast with the vocal “solo” that Soussman varies). Interestingly, the “tutti” is never varied, but always returns in the same form after each increasingly elaborate variation, except for variation 5, which is in the parallel minor. The same tune appears in Jensen’s set (Book V, no. 1, making it the ninth out of twelve). Here it is transposed to A major, and the closing “tutti” does not appear. Jensen gives the incipit of the text (Der Krieger muss zum blut’gen Kampf hinaus), which explains the martial air and dotted rhythms of the theme.

The Variations on the Folksong by Weber from the Oper Der Freischutz “Wir Windern dir den Jungfernkranz” (op. 13) are similar in style, but perhaps more fluid. The original is another strophic song, found as Act III, no. 14 in the popular opera, where it is explicitly marked as a folk song (Volkslied). The first two lines are given to a solo voice, and the refrain, with the same text each time, sung by a two-part women’s chorus (SA). Weber’s original is in the key of C. Soussman’s variations are in the key of G, allowing more brilliance for the flute. The seventh variation, although labeled as such, is really a sort of mini-rondo to serve as conclusion (something not infrequently found in other sets of variations from the period, including those by Jensen, and the extensive set of varations for flute and viola which concludes the set of sonatas op. 1 by Steinfeld 9).

The two sets of sonatas, the six solos, op. 25, and the three solos, op. 31, are the most rewarding and ambitious among the concert works by Soussman for unaccompanied flute. Both sets now have title pages in French (the preferred language of the Russian nobility), and op. 25 is dedicated to a student of Soussman’s, presumably a noble amateur, Colonel Alexis Bolotoff. The set, op. 25, is carefully structured by key, choosing those keys which were most effective and comfortable for the simple system flute (although the works all require a C-foot) - no. 1 is in C, no. 2 in a minor, no. 3 in G, no. 4 in e minor, no. 5 in D, and no. 6 in b minor. Given this scheme, it is perhaps not surprising that the minor key works are each in only one movement, given the predilection of the period for the major mode. The seriousness of these works can be seen by the length of the outer movements in the three-movement sonatas in major keys, with the initial movements in sonata-allegro form (those for nos. 1 and 3 are 258 and 331 measures in length, respectively), and the fact that there is only one set of variations here, the closing movement for sonata no. 1 in C. Most of the technical difficulty in these works is to be found in the passage-work in the development sections, which is brilliant and effective, always maintaining a sense of direction. The only “genre” pieces are the March with variations which closes sonata no. 1 in C, and the Alla Polacca which closes sonata number 5 in D. Soussman has a few surprising chromatic passages (the rising first inversion

chords, moving by half-step from A to E at measures 48 and 49 of the first movement of no. 5) but in general the language is relatively conservative.

The three sonatas, op. 31, with no dedicatee, in G, F and D major might be viewed as slightly less elevated in style than the three-movement sonatas from op. 25, with the opening movements of somewhat smaller dimensions, each of the central movements (no. 1 and no. 3 in the dominant, no. 2 in the parallel minor) ending on a dominant seventh preparing the attacca entry of the concluding movement, and nos. 1 and 3 ending with sets of variations. The two variation movements, like the Weber variations, each close with a free section unrelated in structure to the varied theme. Soussman has some inventive harmonic moments in these sonatas as well, as for example the chromatic sequence of harmonies which passes from D major through D minor, F major, B-flat major, B-flat minor, D-flat major, G-flat major and finally F-sharp minor (enharmonic for G-flat minor), and thence back to the dominant of the movement, D (measures 74-88 of the first movement of op. 31, no. 1). Soussman never arrives at the truly Italianate level of florid ornamentation in his slow movements that Kuhlau or Jensen, for example, do, and his passage work tends to be built more around chordal arpeggios than scalar or melodic material.

The solos, op. 55, and caprices, op. 58, edited by Wehner and published by Carl Fischer in New York in the early years of the twentieth century are remarkably different in style from the four collections described over, so much so that one might wonder if they are indeed by the same composer. Both collections, the caprices even more so than the solo, seem much closer in character to the didactic collections of studies by Soussman (the 24 studies in all keys from op. 53, and the 30 grand etudes, both of which are specifically titled as pedagogical works rather than concert music). It is not always easy to draw a distinction between the two genres, but at least in this case one might say that the difference is that concert music is structured around rhetoric, with thematic development illuminating harmonic structure, where as studies are likely to simply develop a single technical problem or idea without relating it to an expressive musical purpose. Most of the twelve works in op. 55 and op. 58 are not much more than 100 measures in length, and none of them are in sonata form (the Alla Polacca, op. 55, no. 5, the longest of the movements at 188 measures is in ABA form, with coda). The solos op. 55 are closer to being truly musical, but even so the passagework can be too repetitive, as in the more than forty straight measures based on the same motive (mm. 29-72) in op. 55, no. 1. Op. 55, no. 4 is based on the Russian National Hymn (familiar to all musicians from the 1812 Overture), and op. 55, no. 6 seems to be a polonaise, though not marked as such. Finally, the tonalities tend far more to the flat side (including movements in F minor, E-flat major, A-flat, and E-flat minor), giving a sense far more of work than of play in comparison with the four earlier works discussed above.

A final note with respect to performance: the details of interpretation, as marked on the printed page, are strikingly different between the works printed in the first half of the 19th century (the Der Treue Tod variations, the Weber variations, op. 13, and the solos from op. 25 and 31) and the works from op. 55 and op. 58. Indeed, though the variations have detailed articulation, there are virtually no dynamic markings. There are more dynamic markings in op. 25 and op. 31, but nothing to approach the heavily marked scores for op. 55 and 58, in which practically every measure bears a dynamic, an accent, or a crescendo or descrescendo (sometimes all of these in one measure). Does Wehner’s score transmit a tradition which was performed fifty years earlier, but not noted? It seems more likely that it reflects the practice of his own time and place (New York, early 20th century), rather than that of early 19th century Berlin and St. Peterburg.

I hope that this brief introduction will serve to introduce contemporary flutists to some challenging and stimulating music by one of the brilliant yet forgotten flutist-composers of the nineteenth century. Perhaps it may lead to performances, recordings and editions of music which deserves to join the increasingly well-known repertoire of works for the unaccompanied flute.

Schematic analysis of the surviving collections of concert music for solo flute by Soussman

Download Heinrich Soussman schema in PDF format.


1. Die Soloflote : eine Sammlung reprasentativer Werke fur Querflote allein vom Barock bis zur Gegenwart, herausgegeben von Mirjam Nastasi. Frankfurt ; New York: C.F. Peters, 1991

2.  Sources for works list and biography:

Pierreuse, Bernard. Flûte littérature : catalogue général des œuvres éditées et inédites par formations instrumentales : general catalog of published and unpublished works by instrumental category. Paris: Société des Editions Jobert : Distribution, Editions musicales transatlantiques, 1982.

The Universal handbook of musical literature. Practical and complete guide to all musical publications. Ed. by Fr. Pazdírek. Vienna: Verlag des Universal-Handbuch der Musikliteratur, Pazdírek & Co., 1900, v. 17, p. 850-851

F.J. Fétis, Biographie Universelle des Musiciens et Bibliographie générale de la musique, Deuxième Édition, 1867, vol. 8, pp. 72-73.

3. This would seem to be Aleksei Pavlovich Bolotov (1803-1853), from 1832 on professor of geodetics and topography at the Imperial Military Academy, and an important author on geodesy. Biography availalble at http://www.biografija.ru/show_bio.aspx?id=12013

4. http://musicbio.wordpress.com/2007/12/11/ernst-wilhelm-heinemeyer/

5. http://www.stokowski.org/Principal_Musicians_Metropolitan_Opera.htm#Flute%20Index%20Point

6. Available for download from the Danish Royal Library, http://img.kb.dk/ma/kuhlau/kuhl_op010.pdf

7. http://img.kb.dk/ma/dankam/pjensen-6themvar.pdf

8. Available at http://imslp.org/wiki/Der_treue_Tod_%28Giuliani,_Mauro%29

9. Accessible at http://img.kb.dk/ma/giedde/gs01-30m.pdf

Tom MooreTom Moore is a journalist, musician, and translator living in Rio de Janeiro. He has recorded Telemann for Lyrichord (USA) and Boismortier for A Casa Discos (Brazil). He writes about music for BrazilMax, Musica Brasileira, 21st Century Music, Opera Today, Flute Talk, Sonograma, Early Music America, and other venues.