Boy, do I have a great musical backstory to share with y’all. As fodder to your curiosities, this story has to do with a water nymph, a handsome yet fickle knight, and a clingy ex.
I am ashamed to admit that in seven (or eight? who knows) years of playing flute, I have never once learned an entire sonata, but rather just a movement or two of each. Well. This changes THIS SEMESTER! I’m determined to not only learn an entire sonata and perfect it to the best of my current abilities, but also go back to all the other sonatas I never finished out and learn the remaining movements. Woo! I’m already three movements into the four in Carl Reinecke’s Sonata “Undine,” which is the musical embodiment of a fantastically dramatic story about a certain Disney movie’s character of inspiration; Undine, the water nymph of German folklore. I have written a basic gist of both the book written by Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte Fouquè, as well as the format it appears in the Sonata.
Here’s where you can listen to a decent recording of the whole flute sonata, performed by James Galway!
Note: this summary may not be 100% accurate to the actual book, Undine. I have derived this summary from a few sources and changed the verbiage to convey my own voice/sense of humor. It is also meant to tell a vague description of the story behind Carl Reinecke’s Sonata “Undine” and roughly highlight the events of each movement. The sources from which I took the events of the story are more than likely abbreviated and modified to fit the format and descriptions of the sonata.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the ideas presented in this brief summary!
Movement I, The One Where Undine Wants To Be Where The People Are: So we meet our homegirl, Undine. In this movement, the little water spirit is just nymphin’ about in her underwater world. All is normal, but things seem a little troublesome. Why, we wonder? Well you see, young Undine really really REALLY wants immortality. Like, she probably asked for immortality for Christmas, and got socks instead, which only further fueled her desire for it. As it turns out, you can’t exactly achieve immortality as a water spirit unless you fall in love with a mortal man. Quite the riveting plot setup, huh? This movement definitely has that maritime, sea-shanty feel to it, especially in the main melody. I tend to imagine the whirlwinds of notes interspersed between melodic lines as Undine arguing with her family and friends about her plans to find true love above the surface. So Undine leaves her water home and takes on the form of a humanesque child, is discovered by an Austrian fisherman, and is taken in by the fisherman and his wife as a foster child.
Movement II, The One Where Undine Makes Her Parents’ Lives A Living Hell: Undine seems to be quite the, um…problem child. I mean, what else might you expect from a free-spirited young water nymph with a zest for immortality? (A fish out of water, I might add.) She is naughty and mischievous, and the frantic exchanges between flute and piano represents their quarrelsome relationship. All bickering ceases when Undine meets Hulbrand, the handsome knight who just so happens to seek shelter at the fisherman’s home the night of a raging storm. (For some reason, probably because storms pertain to water, and Undine is a water spirit, I have a hard time believing this was purely an accident.) Anyway, just like that, Hulbrand and Undine fall in love. Aww. (This is of of my favorite love themes of all time, probably. Also, you may or may not hear this lovely melodic theme again a little bit later. Later meaning, in approximately two movements.)
Movement III, The One Where She Finds Her Prince Eric (But Not Without A Warning): So they get married! But Undine seems to think that post-wedding is the absolute best time to finally tell her new beau the truth. So she’s like, “Hey Huley, turns out I’m actually a water spirit, lol. Thanks for the gift of immortality you unknowingly just gave to me through marriage.” And Hulbrand’s like, “Hey, nbd babe. I still love you. It’s all chill.” So they go on having a grand time as newlyweds, when suddenly Undine gets a visit from her distrustful uncle Kuhleborn. And he’s like, “Hey, Undine, that new hubby of yours better not break your heart, or else he’s gonna get my right hook and probably the wrath of our entire water spirit family.” So in other words, if Hulbrand betrays Undine, he’ll die. But it’s fine, because they’re in loveeee, and it’s happily ever after.
Movement IV, The One Where S*#! Goes Down: What’s a good fairy tale (and story-based sonata) without a good ol’ fashioned love triangle? As it turns out, Undine doesn’t seem to be at all deterred by the fact that her husband’s ex-fiancee, Berthalda, suspiciously hangs out around them, like, all the time. In fact, Undine thinks she and Berthalda are BFFs. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Berthalda was Undine’s Maid of Honor in the wedding.) Undine and Hulbrand move to this super rad house, and they casually take on Berthalda as a super chill house guest (no red flags there, right?) Yeah, well, Hulbrand’s finally decided that Undine is a little too weird for his taste, with all her water spirit connections and stuff. Also, Hulbrand thinks Undine is just too good for this world, too pure. So he’s like, nah bruh, I ain’t about that life, because sure enough, like a boomerang, he finds himself flung back to the arms of his old love. (But it’s not like it could be that surprising though, because they ??? all ??? live ??? together????????)
So Hulbrand gets all salty at Undine, yelling at her and thus casting her back to her home in the water. Undine goes crying home to her fam, who get super wrathful and angry, and decide to follow through on their warning that Hulbrand has to die now. But they’re also like, “Hey Undine, we get it, you’re sad and stuff, but uhh… You kinda have to be the one who kills him.” So Undine goes back to the land and appears at Hulbrand and Berthalda’s wedding to give him a sad, final little last kiss that just so happens to kill him. And even though he was a total jerk to her, Undine goes to his funeral as a fellow mourner and pays her final regards with a really sad recap of their love theme. (Cue Rachel’s predictable crying fit.) And I guess that’s too much for one little water spirit to handle, because she disappears, and in her place materializes a spring of water over Hulbrand’s grave.
The end! Hope you’ve enjoyed this! I would really love to read the whole novella one day, so I can compare my rendition of the story to the actual book. But until that day comes, I’ll use my own version of the story.