Personalities | Carl Maria von Weber | Early Romantic | Classical
(Kârl Ma-re’-a fun Va’-ber) 1786–1826
Weber was a central figure in the growth of the Romantic movement in Germany, and one of its most important composers. He resuscitated and spread an enthusiasm for German opera, to which his own three-act opera Der Freischütz (‘The Free-shooter’, 1812) contributed.
A gifted Kapellmeister and astute critic, he raised standards of performance and introduced fresh ideas, influencing many composers, most significantly Wagner.
He studied with Michael Haydn in Salzburg and Abbé Vogler in Vienna. Between 1804 and 1813 he held posts in Breslau, Karlsruhe and Stuttgart and his performances throughout Germany won admiration. Although he composed only intermittently during this period, he gained a thorough knowledge of Singspiels and French opera, and by the time he moved to Prague in 1813 he had composed six operas. In Prague he took up an appointment at the opera, and during his three-year tenure there he performed 62 operas by over 30 composers. Such detailed knowledge of the major operas of the day clearly inspired Weber in his own stage works.
German National Opera
At the end of 1816 Weber was appointed Royal Saxon Kapellmeister and music director at Dresden, where his brief was to develop a German national opera. The operatic traditions of Dresden were based on Italian opera seria, and Weber was forced to work alongside an Italian, Francesco Morlacchi, who opposed most of his reforms and Germanic ideals. Nevertheless, Weber’s most important works were composed in Dresden. In 1821 the premiere of Der Freischütz in Berlin was a triumph: based on German folklore and country life, this opera appealed to the search for a distinctive musical voice. It has remained popular throughout Europe. Weber continued to promote opera as a unification of art forms – a concept he considered a specifically Germanic aspect of opera – and this view was deeply inspirational to Wagner. In 1826, although desperately ill, to provide for his family’s future Weber accepted a lucrative offer to go to London, but his health did not hold out and he died there. In 1844 Wagner arranged for the coffin to be brought back to Dresden.
Weber’s best works rely on dramatic impulse, whether on the stage or in his instrumental works or songs. His tailoring of musical structure to elucidate narrative or pictorial ideas profoundly influenced later Romantic composers. In addition to Der Freischütz, his most important operas are Euryanthe (1822–23) and Oberon (1825–26). His other works include cantatas, two piano concertos and the excellent Konzertstück, two symphonies, a clarinet quintet, four piano sonatas and many songs.
Der Freischütz, soloists, German Opera Chorus, Berlin PO, Joseph Keilberth (EMI/Warner)
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