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Carl Maria von Weber and the Overture to “Der Freischutz”

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (November 18/19, 1786–June 4/5, 1826) was a German composer, conductor, and pianist, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school. Weber was born in Eutin, Holstein, the eldest of the three children of Franz Anton von Weber and his second wife, Genovefa Brenner, a Viennese singer. Franz Anton began his career as a military officer in the service of the Duchy of Holstein, and went on to hold a number of musical directorships. In 1787 Franz Anton moved to Hamburg where he founded a theatrical company. A gifted violinist, Franz Anton had ambitions of turning Carl into a child prodigy. Carl was born with a congenital hip disease and did not begin to walk until he was four. But by then, he was already a capable singer and pianist.

Weber’s father gave him a comprehensive education, which was however interrupted by the family’s constant moves. In 1796, Weber continued his musical education in Hildburghausen, where he was instructed by the oboist Johann Peter Heuschkel. On March 13, 1798, Weber’s mother died of tuberculosis. That same year, Weber went to Salzburg to study with Michael Haydn, the younger brother of Joseph Haydn, who agreed to teach Carl free of charge. Later that year, Weber traveled to Munich to study with the singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and organist Johann Nepomuk Kalcher. 1798 also saw the twelve year old Weber’s first published work, six fughettas for piano, published in Leipzig. Other compositions of that period, among them a mass, and his first opera, Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins (The Power of Love and Wine), are lost; but a set of Variations for the Pianoforte was later lithographed by Weber himself, under the guidance of Alois Senefelder, the inventor of the process.

In 1800, the family moved to Freiberg in Saxony, where Weber, then 14 years old, wrote an opera called Das stumme Waldmädchen (The Silent Forest Maiden), which was produced at the Freiberg theatre. It was later performed in Vienna, Prague, and Saint Petersburg. The young Weber also began to publish articles as a music critic, for example in the Leipziger Neue Zeitung in 1801. In 1801, the family returned to Salzburg, where Weber resumed his studies with Michael Haydn. He later continued studying in Vienna with Georg Joseph Vogler, founder of three important music schools (in Mannheim, Stockholm, and Darmstadt). In 1803, Weber’s opera, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (Peter Schmoll and his Neighbors) was produced in Augsburg, and gave Weber his first success as a popular composer.

Vogler, impressed by his pupil’s talent, recommended him to the post of Director at the Breslau Opera in 1806. Weber sought to reform the Opera by pensioning off older singers, expanding the orchestra, and tackling a more challenging repertoire. His attempts at reform were met with strong resistance from the musicians and the Breslau public. Weber’s time at Breslau was further complicated one night when he accidentally ingested engraver’s acid that his father had left stored in a wine bottle. Weber was found unconscious and took two months to recover. The incident permanently ruined his singing voice. He left his post in Breslau in a fit of frustration and from 1807 to 1810, Weber served as private secretary to Duke Ludwig, brother of King Frederick I of Württemberg.

Weber’s time in Württemberg was also plagued with troubles. He fell deeply into debt. Furthermore, Weber’s father Franz Anton misappropriated a vast quantity of Duke Ludwig’s money. Franz Anton and Carl were charged with embezzlement and arrested on 9 February 1810. Carl was in the middle of a rehearsal for his opera Silvana when he was arrested and thrown in prison by order of the king. Though no one doubted Carl’s innocence, King Frederick I had grown tired of the composer’s pranks. After a summary trial, Carl and his father were banished from Württemberg. Nevertheless, Carl remained prolific as a composer during this period, writing a quantity of religious music, mainly for the Catholic mass.

In 1810, Weber visited several cities throughout Germany; from 1813 to 1816 he was director of the Opera in Prague; from 1816 to 1817 he worked in Berlin, and from 1817 onwards he was director of the prestigious Opera in Dresden, working hard to establish a German Opera, in reaction to the Italian Opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century. On November 4, 1817, he married Caroline Brandt, a singer who created the title role of Silvana. In 1819, he wrote perhaps his most famous piano piece, “Invitation to the Dance.”

The successful premiere of Der Freischütz on 18 June 1821 in Berlin led to performances all over Europe. On the very morning of the premiere, Weber finished his Konzertstück in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, and he premiered it a week later. In 1823, Weber composed the opera Euryanthe, containing much rich music, the overture of which in particular anticipates Richard Wagner. In 1824, Weber received an invitation from The Royal Opera, London, to compose and produce Oberon, based on Christoph Martin Wieland’s poem of the same name. Weber accepted the invitation, and in 1826 he travelled to England, to finish the work and conduct the premiere on April 12.

Weber was already suffering from tuberculosis when he visited London; he died at the house of Sir George Smart during the night of June 4/5, 1826, just 39 years old. His unfinished opera Die drei Pintos (The Three Pintos) was originally given by Weber’s widow to his friend Giacomo Meyerbeer for completion; it was eventually completed by Gustav Mahler, who conducted the first performance in this form in Leipzig on January 20, 1888. A brilliant pianist himself, Weber composed two concertos for piasno and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor. His compositions for woodwind instruments including two concertos and a concertino for clarinet, occupy an important place in the musical repertoire. He also composed two symphonies, Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 19, J. 50 (1812), and Symphony No. 2 in C, J. 51 (1813).

My collection includes the following works by Weber:
Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra in cm, op. 26, J. 109.
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra No. 1 in fm, op. 83, J. 114.
Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra No. 2 in EbM, op. 84, J. 118.
Der Freischutz (1821): Overture.
Euryanthe, op. 81 (1823): Overture.
Invitation to the Dance, a rondo (1819).
Konzertstuck for Piano and Orchestra, op. 79.
Oberon (1826): Overture.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in CM, op. 11.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in EbM, op. 32.
Polonaise Brillante for Piano and Orchestra, op. 72.
Preciosa (1821): Overture.
Symphony No. 1 in CM.
Symphony No. 2 in CM.


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