George Grove.

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

. (page 98 of 194)
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 98 of 194)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


r, which would have given the mighty
wig the best proof of Weber's reverence and
iration for his genius.'

enedict was fortunate enough to share the
htest and most triumphant bit of Weber's
t life with him. After ' Preciosa ' had been
ed for the first time with Weber's music
trch 14, 182 1) at the Berlin opera-house, and
' well received, the day drew near for the
ling of the new theatre, in which 'Der
schiitz ' was to be the first opera performed.^
Der had been invited to rehearse and conduct
opera Iiimself, and for this purpose arrived
Berlin May 4. Benedict followed two or
e weeks later.

pontini was at that time the ruling spirit in
ratio matters at Berlin. The King was a great
lirerof his music, and he had many adherents
ing the court and in society. In the rest
he world, however, opinions were mingled.
ing the war a strong feeling of nationality

developed in Germany, and there was a
udice against foreigners, especially against
igners hailing from Paris. Hence that a
nco-Italian should be installed, on terms of
sual liberality, in the chief musical post
.he capital of the state which had done and
ered most in the War of Liberation, gave great
jrage. There is no question that Spontini,
rt from his blunders, was made a scape-goat,

that the dislike of the people of Berlin
1 as much due to political and social as to
ileal reasons. At first, his merits as a corn-
er received general acknowledgement. His
ras, produced with the utmost care, and at
vish expenditure, were not only performances
lazzling splendour, but of genuine artistic
Je, as even those prejudiced against him were
ged to admit. Germany had nothing to set
inst such grandiose works. Since Mozart's
.uberfiote' [I'jgi) only one opera of the first
k — Beethoven's 'Fidelio' (1805) — had ap-
red there. On the other hand, the German
je had appropriated the best that was to be
id in Italy and France, and apparently there
i no likelihood of any change, or of anybody's
ling to the front and eclipsing Spontini.
Ul at once Weber stepped on the scene with
new opera. We can quite understand how
ently the patriots of Berlin must have longed
a brilliant success, if only as a counterpoise
Spontini. Obviously, too, it was impossible
prevent a certain anxiety lest Weber was

The Great Musicians," edited by Francis Hueffer ; ' Weber,' by
ullus Benedict. 6] (London, 1881).

'.. vvas not the first actual perlormance. That distinction fell to
he's ' Iphigenia' (May 26j, succeeded for the next few days by one
JO other plays.



not man enough to sustain with honour this
conflict with the foreigner. He was known
as a gifted composer of songs and instrumental
music, but his earlier operas had not been un-
disputed successes, and for the last ten years he
had done nothing at all in that line. On all these
grounds the first performance of Der Freischiitz
was looked forward to with a widespread feeling
of suspense and excitement.

Weber thus could not but feel that much
was at stake, both for himself and for the cause
of German art. As if to point the contrast
still more forcibly between himself and Spon-
tini, between native and foreign art, Spontini'a
' Olympic,' entirely remodelled by the composer
after its production in Paris, had been given for
the first time in Berlin (May 14) only a month
before Der Freischiitz, with a success which,
though not enduring, was enormous at the time.
Weber's friends were full of dismay, fearing
that Freischiitz would not have a chance;
Weber alone, as if with a true presentiment
of the event, was always in good spirits.
The rehearsals began on May 21, and the per-
formance was fixed for June 18, a day hailed by
Weber as of good omen, from its being that of
the battle of Waterloo. So entirely was he free
from anxiety, that he employed his scanty
leisure in composing one of his finest instrumental
works, the Concertstiick in F minor, finishing
it on the morning of the day on which Der
Freifcchiitz was produced. Benedict relates how
he was sitting with Weber's wife when the com-
poser came in and played them the piece just
finished, making remarks as he went, and what
an indelible impression it made on him. ' He
was certainly one of the greatest pianists who
ever lived,' he adds.^

Weber's presentiment did not fail him. The
18th of June was as great a day of triumph as
ever fell to the lot of a musician. The applause
of a house filled to the very last seat was such
as had never been heard before, in Germany at
any rate. That this magnificent homage was no
outcome of party-spirit was shown by the endur-
ing nature of the success, and by the fact that it
was the same wherever Der Freischutz was
heard. In Berlin the 50th performance took
place Dec. 28, 1822, the looth, Dec. 26, 1826,
the 300tli, March 10, 1S58, and the 500th,
during the past year (1884). No sooner had it
been produced in Berlin, than it was seized upon
by nearly all the principal theatres in Ger-
many. In Vienna it was given on Oct. 3, and,
though to a certain extent mutilated and cur-
tailed, was received witli almost greater enthu-
siasm than in Berlin. The feeling reached its
height when Weber, on a visit to Vienna, con-
ducted the performance in person, March 7, 1822.
There is an entry in his diary ' Conducted the
Freischiitz for Schroder's benefit. Greater enthu-
siasm there cannot be, and I tremble to think of
the future, for it is scarcely possible to rise higher
than this.* To Gud alone the praise ! '

3 Benedict's ' Weber," 65.

* He had undertaken to Ttrite a nevr opera. ' Euryanthe," fat
Vienna.



406



WEBER.



"Weber thought it desirable to appear in public
at a concert before leaving Berlin, The second
representation of Der Freischutz took place on
the 20th, and the third on the 22nd, of June.
On the 25 th he held his concert in the hall of
the new theatre, and played his Concertstiick,
completed that day week, for the first time in
public. Others of his compositions heard on
the same occasion were the Italian scena from
' Atalia,' and the Variations for PF. and violin
on a Norwegian theme. His colleague in the
latter piece was the eccentric violinist Alex-
andre Boucher, who, having asked permission to
introduce a cadence of his own in the finale of
the variations, improvised on themes from ' Der
Freischiitz,' but wandered off so far that he
could not get back again, seeing which, he put
down his violin, and throwing his arms round
Weber exclaimed enthusiastically, ' Ah, grand
maltre ! que je t'aime, que je t'admire ! ' The
audience joined in with loud cheers for Weber.

AVeber returned to Dresden July i, 1821. In
comparison with other places in Germany, Dres-
den was in no special hurry to produce Der
Freischutz, though it had not been able alto-
gether to shut its ears to the reports of its colossal
success. The composer, in spite of all the pains
he took to show his loyalty, was no favourite
with the king and court. He was the singer
par excellence of Korner's lyrics, and anything
which called up reminiscences of the war that
inspired those songs could not but be painful to
the Kin::; of Saxony. He tried to be just to-
wards Weber, and acknowledged his services
in many ways, but his sentiments were well
known, and had their influence on the courtiers.
From the time of the first appearance of Der
Freischiitz till Weber's death, there is not a sign
that at court the smallest pride was felt in the
fact of Dresden possessing the greatest German
composer of the day. He was all but allowed to
accept the post of Court-Capellmeister at Cassel,
with the liberal salary of 2,500 thalers (£375) —
1000 thalers more than he received at Dresden.
The Minister at last offered him an increase of
300 thalers, calculating that with his attachment
to Dresden that would be sufficient inducement
to him to remain ; and he was not deceived. The
additional salary however was deprived of all
value as a distinction by its being also bestowed
on Morlacchi. This took place in August and
September of the year in which Der Freischiitz
saw the light, but even some years later Weber's
ofiBcial superiors would not see that the Capell-
meister of the Dresden German opera was a man
of world-wide fame. Perhaps they really did not
see it. When Weber was in Berlin, Dec. 1825,
for the production of Euryanthe, his Intendant
von Liittichau happened to be present when
Weber was leaving the theatre after rehearsal,
and seeing a large crowd waiting at the door,
and all hats raised with the greatest respect,
he turned to him and said with astonishment,
' Weber, are you then really a celebrated man ? '

Der Freischiitz was performed in Dresden
for the first time, Jan. 26, 1822, and met with



WEBER.

a more enthusiastic reception than had e'
been known there before. At the close of 1
performance the storm of applause defied
restraint. A few isolated cases were fou
of people who did not like it, but their co
ments were unheard in the general appro\
Kind, the librettist, could not bear the mu(
because it threw his own merits into the shai
and its ever-increasing success irritated j
petty vanity of this bel esprit to such an exti
as to end in a complete breach of his Mei
ship with Weber. Spohr, who had moved
Dresden^ with his family, Oct. 31, i82i,heaK
there for the first time, and was not favoura!
impressed. His failure to understand Webf
music has been mentioned already, and this
fresh evidence of it ; but as before, it nu
no difference in their relations. On the o
trary, Weber showed his esteem for Spohr
warmly recommending him to Generaldirec
Feige, of Cassel, for the post of Capellmeisl
which he had himself declined, but which, at
well-known, Spohr accepted, and filled w
credit up to a short period before his dea
Ludwig Tieck too, then resident in Dread
never could reconcile himself thoroughly to I
Freischiitz, though he heartily apprecia'
Euryanthe. The two men, much as they (
fered in their views on dramatic art, forma
lasting friendship, expressed with frankness
both sides. Weber was seldom absent fr
Tieck's dramatic readings of great works, a
was a most attentive listener. Speaking gel
rally, he was on excellent terms with the po
of the day. With Goethe indeed he never got 1
though they met several times ; but with Je
Paul, and also with Achim von Arnim he \
intimate. Arnim, like Tieck, belonged to the
mantic school, and it was natural that there shot
be sympathy between them; but Weber v
also very friendly with Wilhelm Miiller, autl
of the ' Miillerlieder,' and the ' Winterrei:
Miiller visited him in Dresden and dedicatee
volume of poems to him in the autumn of 18.
but not one of these did Weber set. His d
for writing Lieder was over. Of Tieck's poe
he only composed one (' Sind es Schmerzen, si
es Freuden,' from ' Die schone Magelone ').

During the latter half of 1821 Weber v
at work upon the comic opera ' Die d
Pintos,' begun in 1820, but destined never to
finished. He was drawn off towards work oi
different kind. The criticisms on Der Fr
schiitz were almost always ou points of for
and mainly resolved themselves into this, tl
the opera did not contain enough of the
larger, artistically constructed, forms which 1
tray the hand of the master. Hence, was
certain that Weber was really master of '■
art, or did he not owe his great succi
mainly to his heaven-sent genius? Weber ■«
very sensitive to public criticism, even when
ignorant, one-sided, and absurd as this, and
determined to write a grand opera, and 8h(

1 Thus all the three representatives of German romantic op
Weber. Spohr, and Marschner, were Hying In the same place.



WEBER.

world what he was capable of. When there-
) an invitation to write a new opera arrived
)v. II, 1 821) from Barbaja, of the Kamth-
thor theatre in Vienna, he seized the oppor-
ity with avidity. The libretto was to be
tten by Frau Helmina von Chezy, who
[ been in Dresden since 181 7, well-received
literary circles, and not without poetical
snt. She offered him several subjects, and
selected ' Euryanthe.' After several at-
ipts, in which Weber gave her active as-
ance, she succeeded in putting her materials
) something like the shape he desired.
I idea of an opera was that the music should not
BO entirely dominant as in Italian opera, but
t the work should be a drama, in which the
'ds should have a real interest of their own,
, in which action, scenery, and decorations
uld all contribute to the vividness and
le of the general impression. In short, that

impression made by an opera should be
ed on a carefully balanced combination of
try, music, and the descriptive arts. These
iciples he had endeavoured to carry out in
' Freischiitz ; in Euryanthe he hoped to
lise them fully. The words of the ist Act
e ready by Dec. 15, 1821, and Weber set
vork with all his might,
linking it well to study the circumstances
ler which his new work was to appear, he
•ted, Feb. 10, 1822, for Vienna, stopping on

way to conduct Der Freischiitz (Feb. 14) at
gue, with unmeasured success. He attended
jrformance of the same opera in Vienna on the
h, but foimd it far fi-om edifying. How he
ducted it himself on March 9, and what a
jption it had, has been already mentioned.
8 one work gave him a popularity in Vienna
t became almost burdensome. He was urged
settle there altogether, and undertake the
iction of the German opera. There also he
sived an invitation to write a grand opera for
is. In the midst of all this excitement he

ill with a violent sore throat. That his
;ase was making progress was evident. Still
appeared in public on two occasions besides

Freischiitz performance, once at a concert
en by Bohm the violinist, on March 10,
when he conducted his Jubelouverture,
I the men's choruses from the ' Leyer und
wert,' with enormous success — and once at
oncert of his own (March 19), when he
7ed his Concertstiick, which, oddly enough,
i not equally appreciated. By March 26 he
s again at home.

^11 the summer he remained at Hosterwitz,
i there was composed by far the greatest part
Euryanthe, for he had the same house the
owing summer. His most important piece
>flBcial work at this time was the production
Fidelio. That opera, though composed in
)5, and reduced to its final shape in 1814,
I never been given in Dresden, for the
iple reason that till Weber came there was
German opera. Though it was impossible
him to ignore that the music is not throusth-



WEBER.



407



out essentially dramatic, he felt it to be a
sublime creation, for which his admiration
was intense, and he strained every nerve to
secure a performance worthy of the work.
An animated correspondence ensued between
him and Beethoven. Weber's first letter was
dated Jan. 28, 1823; Beethoven replied Feb.
16, and Weber rejoined on the i8th. After
that there were letters from Beethoven of
April 9, June 5 and 9, and Aug. 11, the
last enclosing a sonata and variations of
his own composition. Weber was a great ad-
mirer and a remarkable exponent of Beethoven's
PF. music, especially of his sonatas, a fact which
Beethoven seems to have known. The corre-
spondence has been lost, except a fragment of
a rough copy of Weber's,^ conclusively proving
his high opinion of Fidelio. The score sent
by Beethoven, April 10, is still at the Dresden
court-theatre. The first performance took place
April 29, with Wilhelmine Schroder as Leonore.
In Sept. 1823 Weber started for Vienna to
conduct the first performance of Euryanthe.
Benedict accompanied him. Barbaja had assem-
bled a company of first-rate Italian singers, and
was giving admirable performances of Italian
operas, especially Rossini's. Rossini had been
in Vienna, and had rehearsed his operas him-
self. The public was almost intoxicated with
the music, and it was performed so admirably
that even Weber, who had previously been
almost unjustly severe on Rossini's operas,
was obliged, to his vexation, to confess that
he liked what he heard there. It was un-
fortunate that the singers cast for Euryanthe,
though as a whole eSicient, were stars of the
second order. Still, Der Freischiitz had pre-
possessed the public, and the first performance
of the new work was enthusiastically applauded.
But the enthusiasm did not last. The plot
was not sufficiently intelligible, people found
the music long and noisy, and after the
second and third representations, which Weber
conducted with great success, the audiences
gradually became cold and thin. After his
departure Conradin Kreutzer compressed the
libretto to such an extent as to make the opera
a mere unintelligible conglomeration of isolated
scenes, and after dragging through twenty per-
formances, it vanished from the boards. After
the enormous success of the Freischiitz, Eury-
anthe was virtually a fiasco. Neither had Weber
much consolation from his fellow artists. In
many instances envy prevented their seeing the
grand and beautiful ideas poured forth by Weber
in such rich abundance ; and there were artists
above the influence of any such motive, who
yet did not appreciate the work. Foremost
among these was Schubert; even if his own
attempts at opera had not shown the same thing
before, his seeing no merit in Euryanthe would
prove to demonstration that a man may be a
great composer of songs, and yet know nothing

I Given by Max von Weber in the ' Biographle,' ii. 466. The dates
given are not entirely in accordance with those in the biography,
but I have followed Jfihns*s careful epitome of Weber's diary, now ia
the Boyal Library of Berlin.



408



WEBER.



WEBER.



of dramatic* music. Tlie only really satisfac-
tory part of the visit was Lis intercourse with
Beethoven, who welcomed him heartily.- At
one time Beethoven had nut valued Weber's
compositions at a high rate, but his opinion of
the composer of Der Freischiitz had risen
enormously- He did not go to Eurjanthe :
there would have been no object in his doing so,
now tliat his troubles with his hearing had
settled down into total deafness.

Weber left Vienna Nov. 5, conducted the
50th representation of Der Freitchiitz in
Prague on the 7th, and arrived in Dresden on
the loth. By his desire Benedict remained
in Vienna, to keep him informed of the [iro-
gress of Euryanthe ; but what he heard was
so far from pL-asant that he did not venture
to report it. Weber had put his full strength
into the work, intending it as a demonstra-
tion of his power and ca])acity. With the
keenest anxiety he followed its progress, mark-
ing the impression it produced, not only in
Vienna, but in every theatre which performed
it on the strength of its being an opera of
Weber's. When he found that in most places it
received only a succ^s d'estime, and that opinions
as to its value were divided, even amongst
unbiassed connoisseurs, he fell into deep depres-
sion. Benedict, on his leturn from Vienna,
thought him looking ten years older, and all
the symptoms of his malady had increased. To
illness it was umloubtedly to be attributed that
all his old energy, na\-, even his love of music,
for the time abandoned him. Ilis compositions
seemed to recede into the far distance, and in
the summer of 1S24 he writes in a bitter mood
to his wife from Marienbad, where he was taking
the waters, '1 have not an idea, and do not
believe I ever composed anj-tiiing. Those operas
were not mine after all.' When asked how he
did, he would reply, ' I cough, and am lazy.'
During ilfteen months he composed absolutely
nothing, except one little French romance.

Many disappointments, however, as Eury-
anthe brought him, there were places where
it was at once valued as it deserved. In Dres-
den the first performance took place March 31,

1824, with a success that equalled Weber's
highest expectations. As an instance, Tieck
pronounced it to contain passages which Gluck
and Mozart might have envied. And as in
stage matters the first impression is apt to be
the lasting one, even down to a later generation,
the people of Dresden to this day understand and
love Euryanthe. In Leipzig it was much the
same, the opera occupying a pL.ce in the reper-
toire from May 1824. Rochlitz heard it May 24,

1825, and next day wrote Weber almost the best
and most discerning criticism of the tin;e.^ In
Berlin there was considerable delay in producincr
the opera, for which Spontini received more than
his share of the blame. The first performance
took place on Dec. 23, 1825, and in Berlin too,

1 See .^CHCBERT. vol. Hi. p. 33Sfc.
» See Beethoven, vol. i. p. 1% a.
' Jiihnsip. 309) gives the most important part of his letter.



erei



where Weber's most devoted adherents war
be found, the effect it produced was great iuj
lasting. The composer conducted in persoi
though, suffering as he was fiom mortal illue*
it took all his indomitable energy to make tl
mind rise superior to the body. It was his ]«
appearance in Berlin.

Weber knew that his days were numbere
A model husband and father, the thought of h
wife and children was never absent from b
mind ; to provide for them to the utmost of h
power was not only his most sacred duty, bl
his highest happiness. No one can fail to 1
touched by the tendemess and devotion whu
breathe in the letters to his wife, many of whic
are printed by his sons in the biography. Aft
quitting Stuttgart, he had regulated his affai
in the most exemjilaiy manner. He lived vei
Comfortably in Dresden, and was able even
afford himself small luxuries. His great d
sire was to leave enough to place his famii
above fear of poverty. It was his love f<
them which roused him from the languc
and depression into which he had fall*
after the completion of Euryanthe. The in
mediate imj.ulse was a letter from Charii
Kemble, then lessee of Covent Garden theatn
inviting him to wiite an opera in Englisl
London had also participated in the FreLschfll
mania, no less than three theatres playing it i
the same time. Kemble added a request that I
would cume to London to produce the new opa
in person, and conduct Der Freischiitz ao
Preciosa. Weber did not hesitate long, an
the two soon agreed on ' Oberon ' as the
ject of the opeia, the libretto to be drawn n
by Planch^. The terms took longer to arrange
Kemble's offer of £500 Weber considered k
low, and Kemble thought Weber's demanc
much too high. At last, however, he agreed \
oive £ioco.* Before the affair was conclude
Weber consulted his physician. Dr. Hedenus, k
to the possibility of the journey in his then stal
of health. The reply was that if he woul
give up conducting and composing, and take
year's complete rest in Italy, his life might I
prolonged for another five or six years. If,
the other hand, he accepted the English con
mission, his life would be measured by month
perhaps by weeks. AVeber replied by his £
vourite motto, ' As God will,' and settled to go

Although he had undertaken to compose th
opera from a desire to make money, he woul
not have been the highminded artist he was
he had not set to work at it with all his inigh
So much was he in earnest that, at the ag
of thirty-seven, and with one foot in the grav^
he began to learn English systematically, an
was soon able to carry on his own correspoi
dence in English, and when in London astoi
ished everybody by the ease with which l
spoke. In reference to this fact it is worth whil '
to notice the behaviour of other composers in lik
circumstances. AVIien Piccinni came to Paris (

* So say.s Benedict, p. 106, and elsewhere. Max von Weber*s accou

varies slightly.



WEBER.

ipose his Roland, with v hich he was to enter
lists against GIi;ck, he inew so little French
; Marmontel had to trfnslate <-ind explain his
etto to him bit by bit. Spoutini spent 22
rs in the service a the King of Prussia,
nd by contract to s'.pply German operas, and

never took the pains to learn the language
ibodicaUy. Weber, however, saw elt-arly the
ossibility of giving full and adequate musical
ressionto the sentiments of a poem unless the
iposer be familiar with the language in which
! written.

'he 1st and 2nd acts reached him Jan, 18,
5, and the 3rd on Feb. 1. He set to work
.. 23, the first number he composed being
on's grand air in the 1st act. He laid the
k aside during the summer, but resumed it
t. 19. The last number, the overture, was
ipleted in Londnn April 29, 1826.
>y medical advice he took the waters at
s, in the summer of 1S25, starting from
ssden on July 3. His route lay through
amburg to Weimar, where he made a last
uccesstul attempt to enter into close rela-
is with Goethe, and was warmly welcomed by
mmel and his family. Thence he went by



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 98 of 194)