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A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) online

. (page 101 of 194)
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T. I may mention his music for Schiller's
irandot,' consisting of an overture and six
dler instrumental pieces (1809) ; for Milliner's
ijnig Yngurd,' 11 Nos. (1817) ; and for
le's 'Heinrich IV,' 9 Nos. (18 18), besides
ly smaller works of the same kind, all
ling witness to his extraordinary talent

illustrating a dramatic situation in the
irest and most distinct manner by music,
i therefore of great importance in forming
estimate of his musical organisation. Per-
ally he found this kind of work uncongenial,
affording few opportunities to the indepen-
it musician; besides which, a play may be
y good as a play, without offering any incite-
Qt to a composer. Luckily, however, this was
. the case with Preciosa, and with the addi-
lal incentive of his wish to please Count
ihl, a work was produced which may truly
said to rank as the finest music written for
lay, after Mozart's ' Konig Thames,' and Bee-
iven's 'Egmont.' A predilection for Spanish
ijects is observable in Weber about this period,
1 may be attributed to the influence of Tieck.
iumbus, Pizarro, Don Juan of Austria, and
i Cid, all passed before him, as subjects for
sras, and in 1820-21 he completed a sketch of
! ist Act, and a duet out of the 2nd, of ' Die
ii Pintos,' a Spanish comic opera. This, how-
2r,he laid aside for Euryanthe and Oberon,
i died without completing a work full of
)mise.i It was, therefore, in all probability,
Spanish local colouring which attracted
n to Preciosa. One of the signs of his
tural gift for dramatic composition was his
'e for strong contrasts, not only between
ferent parts of the same work, but between

The autograph sketches are in the possession of Weber's grand-
. Capt. Freiherr von Weber, at Leipzig. Reissiger added an
ompaniment to a duet ' So wie Blumen, so wie Bliithen.' which
1 published in this form in the Weber-Album edited by the
rischen Schlller-veiein. For an exhaustive account of these in-
istlQg fragments see J£hn9, Nos. 417 to 427.
VOL. IV. FT. 4.



WEBER.



417



the different works he took in hand. In
the Freischiitz the jjrevailing colour was
derived from the life of German foresters and
huntsmen ; in Preciosa we have the charm
of the South in lovely Spain, then the type
of all that was romantic, with the picturesque
life of the roving gipsy. Euryanthe, again,
takes us back to the Middle Ages, and the
palmy days of French chivalry, which re-
appear to some extent in Oberon, mingled
with scenes from Oriental life, and from fairy-
land. The phrase 'local colouring' in music
may be defined as that which conjures up before
our minds the associations connected with
certain scenes, races, and epochs. Weber's un-
usual gift for this kind of illustration was most
probably connected with the peculiar manner
in which his musical faculties were set in motion.
This is a point on which we are thoroughly
informed by means of his own expressions
preserved by his son and biographer. As a
rule, it took place through external impressions,
presented to his imagination as tone-pictures.
As he sat in his travelling carriage, the scenery
through which he passed would present itself
to his inner ear as a piece of music, melodies
welling up with eveiy hill or valley, every
fluttering bush, every waving field of corn.
While too the forms of visible objects supplied
him with melodies, any accidental sound would
suggest the accompanying harmonies. These
walks and drives remained fixed in his mind
as pieces of music, by means of which he was
in the habit of recalling the events and ex-
periences of his life. Other composers, as we
know, have been occasionally incited to pro-
duction by external impressions, but while
with them it was exceptional, with Weber it
appears to have been the rule. With him
any external impression at once clothed itself
in musical form, and this peculiarity of men-
tal constitution undoubtedly contributed to
give his music its individual character. All
his musical progressions reflect some external
movement ; indeed in this respect his art is
plasticity itself. This constant striving after
plasticity was what made him lay so much
stress on one prevailing, sharply defined,
local colour. For what end could it serve but
that of bringing out the distinction between
scenes, races, and epochs, heightening the con-
trast between his own and other represent-
ations, and giving animation and individuality
to the picture as a whole ?

The music to Preciosa does, no doubt, re-
flect the then prevailing idea of Spain, its
scenery, its people, and its art. In fact, he
hit the keynote of Spanish nationality in a
marvellous manner. The prevailing impression
is heightened by the introduction of gipsy-
rhythms and Spanish national airs. Instances
of the former are the march, appearing first in
the overture, and then as No. I, No. ga, and
No. 10 a; of the latter the three dances form-
ing No. 9. This method of characterisation he
had made use of several times before, as in

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418



WEBER.



Turandot, which has a Chinese melody ninning all
throu'Th, and in the Freischiitz peasants'-march.
In Oberoii an Arabian and a Turkish melody
are used in the same way. It is hardly
necessary to remark that this use of foreiirn
rhythms in no way detracts from the essentially
German character of the music. Indeed,
the Preciosa is just as distinct and faith-
ful a reflection of the German character as
Der Freischiitz, and in no respect inferior to it
in popularity. It is less often performed be-
cause of the difficulty of finding an actress for
the part of Preciosa ; but the music has become
the property of the German people, with whom
the part-songs, 'Im Wald,' 'Die Sonn' erwacht,'
'Es blinken so lustig die Sterne' (the well-
known gip^y chorus"), and Preciosa's pathetic
song, ' Einsam bin ich, nicht aUeine,' are prime
favourites. The instrumental pieces too are
popular, as Weber's music only is popular in
Germany, and the melodrama ' Lachelnd sinkst
du, Abend, nieder,' is justly considered one of
the finest pieces of the kind that has ever been
written. — We may add that the Preciosa
music has lately been augmented by a little
dance, intended as an alternative to the first
of the three contained in No. 9. True, this
charming little piece does not exist in Weber's
own hand, but its origin is betrayed by the
resemblance to it of the first chorus in the 3rd
act of Marschner's ' Templer and Jiidin.' When
writing his fir-st great opera Maischner was
strongly under the influence of Weber's music
which he had been hearing in Dresden, and
reminiscences from it not unfrequently ci'opped
up in his own works. Moreover, he knew the
little valse to be Weber's.^

9. The original source of the libretto of Eury-
anthe was the ' Roman de la Violette,' by
Gibert de Montreuil (13th century), reprinted
textually by Francisque Michel (Paris, 1834).
The subject was used several times by early
writers. Boccaccio borrowed from it the main
inciilent of one of the stories of the Decameron
(Second day, Ninth tale), and thence it found its
way into Shakespere's ' Cymbeline.' Count
Tressan remodelled it in 17S0 for the 2nd vol. of
the ' Bibliotheque universelle des Romans,' and
in 1804 it was published at Leipzig, under the
title ' Die geschichte der tugendsamen Eury-
anthe von Savoyen,' in the collection of mediae-
val romantic poems edited by Schlegel. The
translator was Helmina von Chezy, who compiled
the libretto for Weber. After completing tlie
latter she republished her translation, with many
alterations.^

The libretto has been much abused, and when
we consider that it was remodelled nine times,
and at last brought into shape only by Weber's
own vigorous exertions, it is evident that the

1 The first two editions of the score of 'Preciosa' were full of
mistakes. A third, which has been prepared with great care by
Ernst lludiirll (Berlin. Schlesinger, 1872). contains this previously
unknown dance in an appendix.

2 ■ Euryanthe von Savoyen.' from a MS. In the Royal Library at
Paris cal led ' Mistoire de tJerard de Nevers et de la belle et vertuense
Eurvaiit de .^avnje. sa mie ' (Berlin. 1)523). Michel's edition of the
Boman, de la Violette ' Is in verse.



WEBER.

aiithoress was not competent to create a dramal
masterpiece. It does not follow that with t
help of Weber's ability and experience she w
not able to concoct something tolerable for ti
purpose. The utter inadequacy of her po«
having been reiterated ad nauseam, the til
seems to have arrived for setting forth t
opposite view, and maintaining that it is on 1i
whole a good, and in some respects an excelled
libretto. It is curious to see the naif way
which for the last hundred years German criti
have been in the habit of considering tl
libretto and the music of an opera as two distin
things, the one of which may be condemned ai
the other extolled, as if a composer had no bo
of responsibility with regard to the words ]
sets, ' Do you suppose that any proper coi
poser will allow a libretto to be put into b
hand like an apple ? ' are Weber's own wori
It is moreover obvious that a libretto whw
satisfied a man of such high culture, and
composer of so eminently dramatic organisatio
could not have been utterly bad. Neverthel«
till lately the verdict against Euryanthe w
all but unanimous. Tue first who ventun
to speak a decided word in its favour
Gustav Engel. He says, 'Euryanthe is f
opera full of human interest. Truth and a fii
sense of honour, jealousy and envy, mortifii'
love and ambition, above all the most inten
womanly devotion — such are its leading motivt
There is indeed one cardinal mistake, whii
is that when Euryanthe is accused of infideli
in the 2nd Act, she remains silent, instead of e
plaining the nature of her comparatively sms
oflfence. Tliis may however arise from tl
confusion into which so pure and maidenly
nature is thrown by the suddenness of the fa
which overwhelms her. In the main, howev(
the story is a good one, though it starts wi
some rather strong assumptions.' The ' cardin
error,' however, is no error at all, but a tra
in perfect keeping with Euryanthe's charactt
It is more difficult to understand why b1
does not find the opportunity to enlighti
Adolar, when he has dragged her off into t!
wilderness in the 3rd Act. Other plausible
jections are the too great intricacy of the stor
and its being partly founded on events whii
do not come within the range of the plot, vi
the story of Emma and Udo. Weber was awa
of this defect, and intended to remedy it 1
making the curtain rise at the slow moveme
of the overture, and disclose the followii
tableau : — ' The interior of Emma's tomb ;
kneeling statue is beside her coffin, which
surmounted by a 12th-century baldacchin
Euryanthe prays by the coffin, while the spu
of Emma hovers overhead. Eglantine loo!
on.' This exceUent idea has unfortunately b©
carried out at one or two theatres only. Tl
degrading nature of the bet on Euryantht ;
fidelity can only be excused on the score of t) ■
manners of the period (about 11 10). The la '
guage is occasionally stilted and affected, b
much of the verse is as melodious as a compos



WEBER.



WEBER.



419



1 desire, and in this respect merits ought to
lowed to counterbalance defects.
16 opera contains four principal characters,
,ar and Lysiart, Euryanthe and Eglantine,
ntine has most vitality, the others being
3 rather than individuals ; but this wouM be
efect in Weber's eyes, being, as we have
in accordance with his own mode of
ing his personages. The poem abounds
ipportunities for the descriptive writing
hich he so much delighted and excelled.
• we are in a brilliant court, with vic-
us troops of cavaliers marching home from
battle-field, and offering their homage to
tiful ladies, and to love. Thtn, in a
,y castle-garden, in the silent repose of
immer evening, with a love-lorn maiden
ig for her absent knight. Then again in
est glade with shimmering moonlight, mur-
ng waters, and the forsaken one longing
ieath. Next we witness a savage brawl
king out between rival knights, and hear
slash of swords as they rush together. And
md out all the time the spirit-world is
ring its invisible threads. Each of these
itions Weber could fit with its appro-
ve expression, as no one else had ever been
to do before him, for he it was indeed
created the musical language for tliem.
it is on these situations, so varied, and so
contrasted, but all steeped in glow and
•ance, that the main interest of the opera is
entrated. The characters are not tlie main
iction, they seem mere condensations of the
ry of the situation, and are carried along by
scene, rather than work it out for themselves,
i^anthe, like all Weber's operas, is an epic
ession, an enchanted panorama, represent-
the life of one special period, that of medise-
:hivalry. Looked at from this point of view
n be thoroughly enjoyed.^
aryanthe is Weber's sole grand opera, both
lUse it is without spoken dialogue, and be-
e it is much the fullest and longest. He
Qt to put his best into it, and he did. ' It is
heart's blood,' says Robert Schumann,* 'the
best of which he was capable. The opera
him a piece of his life, but it has made him
ortal. From end to end it is one chain of
kling gems.' There is no question that
yanthe is richer, more varied, deeper,
ider, than all the rest of Weber's dramatic
lis. All that gives distinction to Der
schiitz is found here again ; Lieder at once
ified and easily comprehensible, melodies
line in feeling and full of fire, orchestral
laring as new as it is charming, instrumen-
m both bold and spirituel, an intuitive
p of the situation and complete mastery in

lis Goethe did not do ; he says (GesprSche mlt Eckermann,
: 'Karl Maria von Weber should never have composed
•nthe ; he ought to have seen at once that It was a bad
;t, vtith which nothing could be done." After what 1 have
t is unnecessary to point out the injustice of this remarlc.
e had not musical Insight enough to understand what it was In
jretto that attracted Weber, against whom moreover he had
iudice. StlU even he allowed "Der Frelachiitz' to be a good
;t (Eckermann, 11.16).
lesammelte Schriften,' iv. 290.



treating it, such as genius alone is capable of.
Only the modes of expression are more refined ;
Der Freischiitz deals with the simple, hearty
life of the peasantry and forest folk, Euryanthe
with the highest grades of society. To make
this clear compare ' Die Thale dampfen, and
' Was gleicht wohl auf Erden' ; ' Der Mai bringt
frische Blumen dar,' ad 'Wir winden dir dea
Jungfernkranz'; 'Glocklein im Thale,' and
' Und ob die Wolke ' ; Adolar's song ' Unter
bliihenden Mandelbaume,' and Max's aria
' Durch die Walder.' 'Glocklein in Thale' may
be quoted as an example of the most delicious
melody shrouded in superb orchestral colouring.
It would be impossible to paint both the charac-
ter and the situation more vividly. In the scena
and cavatina in the 3rd Act, where Euryanthe
is abandoned in the wilderness, the colours are
mixed quite differently. The long wailing notes
of the solo bassoon, and the solitary flute wan-
dering aimlessly about, incline one to re-echo
Schumann's words, ' What a sound comes from
the instruments ! they speak to us from the
very depths of all being.' The accompaniment
to 'Hier dicht am Quell,' consisting only of
the string-quartet and one bassoon, but pro-
ducing the most extraordinary effect of sound,
is a striking example of what genius can do
with small means. Quite different again is the
colouring for Euryanthe's narrative in the 1st
Act ; four muted solo-violins, whose long sus-
tained notes are supported by quivering violins
and violas, also muted, with stifled moans from
low flutes, suggest a spectral form, only half
visible in the moonlight, hovering overhead and
muttering words which die away indistinctly on
the breeze.

Each of the four principal characters has
its own language, to which it adheres strictly
throughout the opera, and which is accentuated
by the orchestral colouring employed liberally,
though not exclusively, for the purpose. As we
have previously remarked, one prevailing tone
runs through the whole opera, sharply dis-
tinguishing it from any other of Weber's.

One point in which the music of Euryanthe
is far superior to that of Der Freischiitz is in
the use of the larger dramatic forms. Here we
have grand recitative, full of expression, passion,
and movement, such as had come from no German
pen since Gluck's ; grand arias, duets, ensemble-
pieces, and splendidly constructed finales. The
Lied- or cavatina-form is used freely for the parts
of Adolar and Euryanthe ; but Lysiart and Eg-
lantine never express themselves except in the
grand dramatic forms, and the higher the passion
rises the more exclusively do these two charac-
ters occupy the stage. In this respect the 2nd
Act is the climax. Here we have one grand form
after another; Lysiart's scena ed aria, his duet
with Eglantine ; Adolar's air, in such wonderful
contrast, and the duet with Euryanthe ; lastly the
finale, in which a perfect tempest of passions
seems let loose. The 3rd Act also has dramatic
forms of the first order, especially Euryanthe's
air, ' Zu ihm, und weilet nicht,' with the chorua

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420



WEBER.



ending diminuendo (a very striking point) and the
duetand chorus with the clashing swords — 'Trotze
nicht, Vermessener.' Weber's large dramatic
pieces are freer as regards form than Mozart's,
because he follows the poet more closely, almost
indeed word by word. Nor can it be said that
there are no little roughnesses, or bits of dull
or unformed work, but any such are com-
pletely submerged in the overwhelming flood of
beauties.

One reason why Euryanthe has never been
as popular as Weber's other operas, or those of
Mozart, is because of its high strain of pathos,
unrelieved from the first note to the last. This
was noticed b^' Rochlitz, who found the first per-
formance in Leipzig very fatiguing, and after it
remained ' for most of the night in a fever, though
indeed not an unpleasant one.' Another reason
is the extreme difficulty of the work. It requires
four singers, two men and two women, of the
first rank, both in capabilities and endurance ;
as well as a first-rate orchestra prepared to
give the closest and most intelligent rendering.
Thus good performances of Euryanthe are rare,
which is to be regretted from all points of view,
for it is the culminating point of romantic opera.
Neither Spohr, Marschner, nor any later com-
poser has produced a work fulfilling all the re-
quirements of romantic opera in so masterly a
manner. It is one of the most prominent laml-
marks of sub-classic art, if not the most pro-
minent.

10. Although Weber wrote his last opera at
the request of Kemble, he chose the subject him-
self, and was awai-e how completely it suited
his own individuality. Since the publication
of Wieland's poem in 1780, two German
operas had been composed on Oberon. The
first, Wranitzky's (1790), was one of those
childish fairy -pieces, whose lively music, harle-
quin-tricks, scene-painting, and machinery, were
long the delight of the simple-minded people of
Vienna. The other, composed for Copenhagen
(i 790, with the second title of ' Holger Danske ')
by Kunzen, Gluck's talented successor, and J. F.
Eeichardt's friend, was a far more serious work,
and can be spoken of in connection with Weber's,
though the latter put it so completely into the
background as virtually to obliterate it.

Weber's librettist, Planche, Likewise worked
on Wieland's Oberon, or rather on Sotheby's
translation. Though satisfied with the poem
in detail, Weber could not reconcile himself
to English opera as such. 'The cut of an
English opera is certainly very different from a
German one ; the English is more a drama with
songs,' he writes (in English) to Planche on
Jan. 6, 1825; and again on Feb. 19, 'I must
repeat that the cut of the whole is very foreion
to all my ideas and maxims. The intermixing
of so many principal actors who do not sing,
the omission of the music in the most im-
portant moments — all deprive our Oberon
of the title of an opera, and will make him unfit
for all other theatres in Europe.' These words
contain a very just criticism on the libretto.



WEBER.

The continual change of scene, which kej
the spectator in a state of restlessness, is ij
tainly a mistake. Weber intended to remci
the opera for Germany, when he would h
put it into a form more in accordance with
own ideas, giving the music a larger share in
course of the plot, but simplifying the plot
that it should run more smoothly and conse
tively. Whether he would also have enc
voured to strengthen the dramatic interesi
doubtful. As it stands it is an epic poem drai
tised, rather than a drama. But no sub;
dealing with fairyland can admit of drami
treatment beyond a limited extent, for
characters, instead of moving independently, t
of their own free will, act under the guida
of supernatural powers, who visibly interl
with their destiny on all occasions. We
required not so much characters full of drami
action, as suggestive situations and pictures
scenes, and these Planche's libretto supplied
the full. That he had the German form in
mind all the time he was setting the Englisl
evident from the fact that he had each numl
as fast as he composed it, translated by Thee
Hell, of Dresden, instructing him to make
words correspond as closely as possible to
melody. Hell's workmanship was not of the b
and Weber was too much occupied to con
all his blunders. One glaring instance oa
in Reiza's grand scena (' Ocean, thou mig
monster ') ; a beam from the setting sun pi
the storm-clouds, and she exclaims, ' And 1
the sun bursts forth,' which Hell trands
'Und nun die Sonn' geht auf (rises). T
the astonished spectator, having been told t
it is morning, shortly beholds the sun set
the same quarter from which it has just ris
Nevertheless the passage is always so sung
Germany, and the absurdity, if noticed at
is laid at the door of the English libretl
Weber got his translator to make a reductioi
the number of the personages introduced. In
quartet, ' Over the dark blue waters,' Plan
gave the bass to a sea-captain, and in the di
' On the banks of sweet Garonne,' associate
Greek fellow-slave with Fatima, in both c;
because the original Sherasniin was a poor sinj
These makeshifts find no place in the German '
sion, or in the English revival at Her Majesty'
i860. Then again, the song ' Yes, even lov(
fame must yield,' composed in London for Bra!
in place of 'From boyhood trained in battle-fi«
is omitted in the German, while another addit:
the prayer in the 2nd Act, 'Ruler of this aw
hour,' is retained. The first was a concession
the part of the composer, who did not care
this 'battle-picture'; but he saw that the pra
was not only a passage of great beauty,
materially strengthened the part of Huon.'

1 Hell's translation was published almost simultaneously irith >
original libretto, the preface to which is dated ' Brompton Ores-
April 10. 18126.' The German title runs ■ Oberon. King of the I ■
a romantic fairy-opera in 3 acts. Translated for the German '
by Theodor Hell from the English original by J. E. Plai ;
set to music by Capellmeister Ireyherr Karl Maria von Wt
(Arnold, Dresden and Leipzig, 1826;. With a long pre&ce b; •
translator.



WEBER.



WEBER.



421



'he music to Oberon, though the work of a
1 dying by inches, bears no traces of mental
austion. Indeed it is delightfully fresh and
;inal throughout, and entirely different from
the rest of Weber's compositions. The key-
B of the whole is its picture of the mysteries
Slf-land, and the life of the spirits of air, earth,
water. True, this note is touched in
• Freischiitz and Euryanthe, but in Oberon
s struck with full force, and vibrates with
iliiiost intoxicating sweetness. "What 'Weber

in this direction was absolutely new, and a
ciable addition to his art, and many composers
e followed in the same track. His melody,
chords of his harmony, the figures employed,

effects of colour so totally unexpected — all
ibine to waft us with mysterious power into
unknown land. Anybody acquainted with

Adagio of the overture will see what we
tn. Of a charm almost unparalleled is the
'oduction to the 1st Act, with the elves flitting
ler and thither, softly singing as they keep
;ch over Oberon's slumbers. The 2nd Act is
3ially rich in delicious pictures of nature, now
her tender and dreamy, now in her savage



Online LibraryGeorge GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) by eminent writers, English and foreign : with illustrations and woodcuts (Volume 4) → online text (page 101 of 194)