Personalities | Carl Maria von Weber | Early Romantic | Opera

1786–1826, German

Carl Maria von Weber was a teenage prodigy who wrote his first opera aged 14. By 1804 Weber, still only 18, was musical director in Breslau. By the time he had moved on to Stuttgart, Weber had reworked his first opera, Das Waldmädchen (‘The Forest Girl’, 1810), and gave it the new title of Silvana.

With Silvana, first performed in Frankfurt in 1810, Weber’s music prefigured his masterpiece, Der Freischütz (‘The Free-shooter’, 1821) and revealed an impressive sense of theatre.

Ingenious Ideas

The composer made life difficult for himself by creating a heroine who was unable to talk, much less sing. Even so, he met the challenge with some ingenuity, making his orchestration ‘speak’ for her and speak lyrically, too. Weber first came across the story of Der Freischütz in 1810, but his first attempt at writing an opera on the subject foundered when his librettist deserted him. Eleven years passed before the opera finally triumphed in Berlin. By that time, Weber had occupied posts at Prague and Dresden and in both cities set about reforming the management of opera. He hired performers as ensemble singers rather than as opera ‘stars’.

Radical Rehearsals

He formulated a new, radical schedule of rehearsals that began with the performers absorbing the drama of the opera before tackling the music. He rearranged both the chorus and the seating of the orchestra and, in Dresden, brought German opera to the fore as his answer to the rival Italian opera performing there. Weber was influential in promoting what Wagner later termed Gesamtkunstwerk – ‘the total work of art’ – in which all related arts are blended into a new creation. Tragically, time was short for the consumptive Weber, who died aged 39 in 1826.


1800 Das Waldmädchen
1801–02 Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn
1804–05 Rübezahl
1808–10 Silvana
1810–11 Abu Hassan
1817–21 Der Freischütz
1820–21 Die drei Pintos
1822–23 Euryanthe
1825–26 Oberon


1786 Carl Maria Weber born, Oldenburg, Germany
1798 Taught by Michael Haydn in Salzburg
1800 Moves to Freiburg and composes first opera, Das Waldmädchen
1803 Returns to Salzburg and completes Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn
1803 Begins to study under Abbé Vogler
1804 Appointed Kappellmeister at Breslau; begins work on Rübezahl
1806 Quits Breslau for Karlsruhe
1807 Offered court secretarial post at Stuttgart
1808 Begins work on new version of Das Waldmädchen, called Silvana
1810 Moves to Darmstadt and takes lessons from Vogler; writes Abu Hassan
1810 Premiere of Silvana, Frankfurt
1813 Appointed director of Prague Opera
1817 Becomes Court Kappellmeister at Dresden, briefed to establish German national opera
1820 Begins work on Die drei Pintos, a comic opera that he never completes
1821 Completes Der Freischütz, which premieres in Berlin with great success
1822 Begins work on Euryanthe for Kärntnerthor Theatre, Vienna
1823 Euryanthe is produced, Vienna
1824 Commissioned by manager of Covent Garden to write an opera, Oberon
1826 Moves to London, Oberon premieres at Covent Garden

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