Weber's Life & Works
German Romantic pianist and composer who pioneered the use of leitmotifs in his music dramas.
(1786 - 1826)
Early Life and Career
Weber was born into a family of travelling theatrical players. Their itinerant lifestyle meant that his education was patchy, although he did have composition lessons from Michael Haydn while in Salzburg. Later, in Vienna, he was a pupil of the Abbé Vogler, whose love of theatrical effects left a marked impression on the teenager who would establish the style and tone of German Romantic opera.
It was Vogler who recommended Weber for a conducting position at the theatre in Breslau in 1804. This was an important stepping-stone in his professional career. Two years later Weber moved to Carlsruhe, in Upper Silesia, where he wrote a couple of symphonies, then to Stuttgart to work for Duke Ludwig of Württemberg. Encouraged by the composer Franz Danzi, he worked on the opera Silvana, whose heroine is mute and only utters her first words in the work's closing bars, and wrote incidental music for Carlo Gozzi's play, Turandot.
Weber was driven from his Stuttgart post by financial scandal (his father's fault rather than his own) and travelled to Munich. There he completed Abu Hassan, a Singspiel based on 1,001 Nights (1810-11). He also met the clarinet virtuoso Heinrich Baermann, for whom he composed six works. These include the two Clarinet Concertos that have become a core part of the clarinet repertoire.
Der Freischütz (complete)
Gothic melodrama that revolves around the forester Max, who makes a pact with the Devil in order to win a shooting competition which will seal his marriage to his beloved Agathe.
Clarinet Concerto No.1
Composed for Heinrich Bärmann (as were his other major clarinet works), Weber relishes the new 10-key clarinet with writing that exhilarates in the instrument's astonishing agility.
Clarinet Concerto No.2
Exhilarating concerto that captures Weber's unique soundworld toperfection. Driven by exciting new timbres and textures, his was aRomantic impulse, activated more by feelings than thoughts.
Der Freischütz Overture
Berlioz was so mesmerised by the gripping theatricality ofWeber's overture that he once conducted a gargantuan Parisperformance of it with over 1000 players, including 24 Frenchhorns!
Weber took 153 English lessons (!) in order to compose Oberon for Covent Garden, an enchanting masterwork that sees the eponymous elfish king on the look-out for a pair of truly faithful lovers.
This German "grand, heroic, romantic" opera by Carl Maria von Weber, first performed at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna on 25 October 1823, is acknowledged as one of Weber's most important operas.
Masterworks and Legacy
In 1813 Weber became director of the Prague Opera. He threw himself into the job with great aplomb, reviving the ailing house, pioneering the use of a conductor's baton and replacing Italian opera with music from France and Germany. When he became Kapellmeister in Dresden at the end of 1816, leaving Prague with the singer Caroline Brandt, who became his wife, he returned to Der Freischütz, a work that had been on his mind for a number of years.
When Der Freischütz was premiered at Berlin's Schauspielhaus in 1821 it was seen a landmark not only for its musical brilliance - heralded by the vivid Overture and the Wolf's Glen scene, one of the most chilling passages in nineteenth century opera - but also in its creation of a specifically German school of opera. This was something on which Weber continued to build, despite worsening health from tuberculosis, the disease that killed his mother, and an unhappy home life.
His next work, Euryanthe (1822-3), was commissioned for Vienna but was hampered by a weak and absurd libretto, a problem that is still evident to this day despite some wonderful music. This was followed by a commission for Covent Garden, Oberon (1825-6), an English opera with spoken dialogue. Weber was in his musical prime when tuberculosis finally defeated him. He died in London, where he had been attending rehearsals for Oberon. He was just 39 years old, and aside from the lasting popularity of Der Freischütz and the Clarinet Concertos, his most important legacy is his use of the leitmotif and its influence on Wagner's music dramas.