Carl Maria Von Weber

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Weber, Carl Maria Von

 

Born Nov. 18 or 19, 1786, in Eutin; died June 5, 1826, in London. German composer, conductor, pianist, and writer on music. Originator of German romantic opera.

Weber was born into the family of a musician and theatrical entrepreneur. His childhood and youth were spent in travels to various German cities with his father’s small theatrical troupe. Weber received neither a general nor a systematic musical education. The music lessons that he took from G. Vogler, M. Haydn, and others promoted the development of his gift for performance and composition. At age 17, Weber gave piano concerts and composed three operas (Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins, Das Waldmädchen, and Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn). From 1804, Weber worked as a conductor in opera theaters (Breslau, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Munich, and Berlin). During 1813-17 he was head of the opera theater in Prague. From 1817 until his death he was director of the German music theater in Dresden.

Weber’s musical career coincided with the national and social upsurge that began in Germany after the Peace of Tilsit (1807). This determined the world view and direction of Weber’s work and shaped his progressive aesthetic views. In the operas he wrote during these years (Rübezahl, 1805; Silvana, 1810; and Abu Hassan, 1811) new stylistic characteristics were formed, including an interest in everyday folk subjects and fairy-tale plots, a link with musical folklore, and oriental musical color. An important landmark in Weber’s creative development was the year 1814: during the celebration of the victory over Napoleon in Germany and in an atmosphere of rising nationalistic feelings Weber’s songs appeared, imbued with the ideas of the struggle for liberation. (The songs were based on poems by T. Körner.) The collection Leyer und Schwert, as well as the heroic patriotic cantata Kampf und Sieg (1815), with a text by Wohlbrück, brought renown to Weber in Germany.

The summit of Weber’s creative work and his most popular composition is the opera Der Freischütz, produced in Berlin in 1821 under the composer’s direction. From this time there began an intensive development of German romantic opera, with its typical blending of everyday reality and the fantastic. Reflected in Der Freischütz were a folklore plot, vivid scenes from the daily lives of peasants and hunters, and poetic images of nature. Weber based this opera on folk music and made extensive use of common genres (waltzes, marches, and various folk song forms). The opera is also distinguished by general romantic color, innovation in the means of musical harmony and in timbre colors, the active role played by leitmotvis, and a strengthening of the orchestra’s importance. Weber not only summed up the endeavors of the composers of the early period in the development of musical romanticism (E. T. A. Hoffmann, L. Spohr) but also prepared the way with his creative work for the principles of Wagner’s musical dramaturgy. Weber’s opera Euryanthe (staged in Vienna in 1823 under the composer’s direction) reinforced the new type of multilevel, historical-legendary, chivalrous opera. Weber’s last opera, Oberon (staged in London in 1826 under the composer’s direction), is a fairy-tale romantic opera with its bright world of supernatural images drawn from folklore.

Weber also wrote an unfinished opera entitled Die drei Pintos (1821, completed by Mahler in 1888), music for seven dramatic plays, including Schiller’s Turandot and Wolffs Preciosa (1820), as well as a large number of choral, solo, and ensemble vocal works. In the field of instrumental music Weber is best known for his concerti for wind instruments and orchestra (three for clarinet, one for bassoon, and one for French horn). His piano piece Invitation to the Dance (1819), arranged for orchestra by Berlioz (1841), and his Konzertstück for piano and orchestra (1821) played an important role in the development of instrumental program music and new concert forms based on everyday dance music (the waltz). Weber wrote music criticism and literary works, including an unfinished novel entitled A Musician’s Life.

REFERENCES

Ferman, V. Opernyi teatr. Moscow, 1961.
Khokhlovkina, A. Zapadnoevropeiskaia opera. Moscow, 1962.
Kenigsberg, A. Karl-Maria Veber. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Laux, K. C. M. von Weber. Leipzig, 1966.
Moser, H. J. C. M. von Weber: Leben und Werk, 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1955.

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