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 99 of 194)
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;ha to Frankfort, greeting his old friend
itfried Weber for the last time, and then by
esbaden to Ems. This journey must have
vinced him of his extraordinary popularity.
)ple of all ranks vied with each other in
wing him kindness, respect, and admiration.
Ems he was admitted into the circle of that
omplished man the Crown Prince of Prussia
;erwards Frederic William IV.), and his
e, an unusual distinction. But the musician
iering to his grave was no longer able to en-

the sunshine which shone so brightly on his
; days.

rhe time for Weber's departure for England
w on. On Feb. 5 he conducted Der Frei-
iitz in Dresden for the last time, and took
ve of his band, all except Fiirstenau, the
U-known flute-player, who was to travel with
a. He chose the route through Paris, and
,de the acquaintance of the principal musicians
ire, specially enjoying the attentions of Che-
)ini, for whom he had always had a high re-
set. A performance of Boieldieu's ' La Dame
.nche ' enchanted him. ' What grace ! what
t ! ' he writes to Theodor Hell, at Dresden,
3 such comic opera has betn written since
jaro.' On March 5^ he arrived in London,
d was most hospitably received by Sir Geori^e
lart, then Organist of the Chapel Royal. On
J 6th he went to Covent Garden theatre to
:w the scene of his future labours ; he was
;ognised, and the cheers of the spectators
jst have assured him of his popularity in
>ndon. On March 8 he conducted a selec-
m from Der Freisehiitz at one of the 'ora-
:io concerts,' and here his reception was even
)re enthusiastic, nearly every piece from the
era being encored. On the 9tli the re-
arsals for 'Oberon' began, and Weber per-

> Benedict (p. US) says March 6, but he is \rronf.



WEBER.



409



ceived at once that he had at his disposal all
the materials for a first-rate performance. To
please Braliam, who took the part of Huon, he
composed two additional pieces, a grand scena and
area (' Yes, even love '), which Braham substituted
for the grand air in the 1st act, and the piayer
in the 2nd act ('Ruler of this awful hour').
The former is never sung in Germany, being
far inferior in beauty to the original air, but
the prayer is retained, and is indeed one of
the gems of the work. The first performance
took place April 12. The music went beauti-
fully, and the composer had an even more
enthusiastic reception than that bestowed on
Rossini two or three years before. The aris-
tocracj' alone, with few exceptions, held aloof.
Weber was not the man to show himself ob-
sequious, and on the other hand his look and
manner were too unpretending to be imposing.
By May 29 Oberon had reached its 28th per-
formance, the first 1 2 having been conducted by
himself according to his contract.

Though his strength was constantly declining
he was always ready to lend his name or his
services when he could be of assistance to
others. Thus he took part in concerts given
April 27, May i, 10, and 18 by Miss Hawes,
Fiirstenau, Kemble, and Braham, nay, even at
one of Miss Baton's on May 30, six days before
his death. A concert of his own on May 26 was
a failure. The day was badly chosen, and Weber
in his state of utter exhaustion had omitted two
or three social formalities. Among other music
given at this concert was his Jubel-Cantata
(1818), put to diflferent words, and a song
(' From Chindara's warbling fount ') just com-
posed for Miss Stephens, who sang it to his ac-
companiment. It was his last composition, and
the last time his fingers touched the keyboard.

The preparations for his journey home were
made in haste, for Weber was filled with an in-
expressible longing to see his family once more.
But his own words to a friend before leaving
Germany, that he 'was going to London to die,'
were fulfilled. Far fiom home and kindred he
sank under his sufferings during the night
of June 4. His body was laid in the grave
at Moorfields Chapel, to the strains of Mo-
zart's Requiem, on June 21. The funeral cere-
monies were conducted as if for a person of the
highest rank, and there was an enormous crowd.
In 1S44 the coffin was removed to Germany, and
interred in the family vault at Dresden.

Of all the German musicians of the 19th century
none has exercised a greater influence over his
own generation and that succeeding it than
Weber ; indeed there is scarcely a branch of
artistic life in which hi.s impulse is not still felt.
The historian of German music in the 19th
century will have to make Weber his starting-
point. His influence was even greater than that
of Beethoven, for deeply imbued though Bee-
thoven was with the modern spirit, he adhered
as a rule to the traditions of tlie i8th century.
i These Weber casts aside, and starts after fresh



410



WEBER.



ideals. As a natural consequence he was far less
perfect in form than Beethoven, nor was he his
equal in power, but in originality he has never
been surpassed by any musician, ancient or mo-
dem. The germs of life he scattered broadcast
defy calculation, and the whole of German opera,
down to Wagner's latest works, is evolved
from Weber's spirit. Even the concert- music of
other masters less connected with opera, such as
Mendelssohn and Schumann, profited by his
suggestiveness. Without Weber, Mendelssohn's
Midsummer Night's Dream music, Walpurgis
Nacht, Concert-Overtures, and PF. Concertos ;
Schumann's Paradise and the Peri, Pilgrim-
age of the Rose, and concert-ballads ; the en-
tire variation-music of the present day, choruses
for men's voices, certain forms of the German
Lied, even the modern technique of pianofcirte-
playing, and, most of all, the present develop-
ment of orchestration, are inconceivable. And
though during the last 30 years the Weber-cultus
in Germany has been checked by the revived
influence of Bach, though his weakness of form
has been hotly condemned by composers of con-
cert and chamber-music (thus — for the most part
involuntarily — implying a depreciation of his
work in general, which is as foolish and short-
sighted as it is ungrateful), his genius can aflbrd
to deride all such detraction now and for ever.
He is curiously near of kin to his opponents,
even to Brahms. For instance, take Brahms's
•penchant for the national music of his own and
other countries, and trace it to its source, and
you come upon Weber. Again, he is the fiist of
the modem typical artists who is a cultivated man
of the world, as well as a musician. This fact
involved a change in the social position of the
artist, which change has been erroneously ascri lied
to Beethoven's personal qualities, though it might
jusl as well be attributed to Spohr. Both were
proved men, conscious of their own worth, and
capable of asserting it when necessary ; but of
what great artist and man of honour might not
the same be said ? It is undeniable that the
range of their interests outside music was ex-
tremely limited. Spohr was cultivated in the
same sense that Mozart was ; Beethoven, though
he absorbed the ideas of the French Revolution
while living on the Rhine, could lay no claim to
anything like general culture. Weber's birth
gave him at once a status in the best society,
and compelled the world to admit that there
was nothing derogatory to a man of family in
following art as a vocation. His cultivation wa.s
indeed of a peculiar nature and most extensive ;
not acquired from books, but learnt by practical
experience, and perfectly homogeneous with his
music. To this result both education and
natural gifts tended. His literary and poetical
talent was considerable, and he took a keen and
intelligent interest in all mechanical processes
and the plastic arts, in which his taste was
excellent.^ Compared to Mendelssohn's, his

I It was his interest in wood-engraving which led to his friendship
with F. W. Gubitz in Berlin. See 'Gubiti's Erlebnisse,' U. 18
(Berlin, as68).



WEBER. I

education was a vwy irregular one, but 1
wandering life from :i child had brought bef
him a host of varied impressions which his i
telligent mind absorbeo', and his cool head turn
to account. At twenty he had more knowled
of life and men than m vny an artist of the c
school had attained at .;he time of his deat
His cleverness and thorough knowledge of t
ways of society were partly natural, and part
acquired through intercourse with men of ;
ranks, from the lowest to the highest. From 1
time the musician of genius, who was a musici;
and nothing more, like Franz Schubert, becai
impossible in Germany. The characterisli
which distinguish Mendelssohn, Schumann. H
ler, Wagner, Liszt, and other great musiciar
who are fully developed men, from the old
type of musician, are precisely those first foui
in Weber.

To form a right estimate of Weber's music
is necessary to look upon him as a dramatic coi
poser. Not that his other compositions are
no importance — quite the contrary; but
one and all may be discerned more or k
plainly that dramatic genius which was t!
essence of his nature, and which determined tht
form, and gave them that stamp whereby thi
differ so strikingly from the productions of oth
artists. Composers gifted with the true dramat
instinct have always been rare in German
and it was this that Weber possessed in a hii
degree, higher perhaps even than Mozai
Being his most prominent characteristic, we w
deal with his operas first.

1. The eailiest, 'DieMacht der Liebe undd
W^eins,' was destroyed, apparently by himse
Of the second, ' Das Waldmadchen,' composed
Freiberg, there are extant three autograph fra
ments, containing in all 214 bars, the origina
of some and copies of others being no
in the Royal Library at Berlin.^ These fra;
ments seem to bear out Weber's own verdi
that the opera was an immature production, n
perhaps wholly devoid of invention. Althouf
played several times, no complete score can no
be found. We now come to his third opera, ai
after that almost all that he wrote for the staj
made its permanent mark.

2. The libretto of * Peter SchmoU und mi
Nachbarn ' was adapted by a certain Josef
Tiirke from a novel of the same name 1
Carl Gottlob Cramer (2 vols. Rudolstadt, 17c
-99). The book was one of the romances •
kidghts and robbers with which the mark'
was flooded after the success of 'Gotz vc
Berlichingen ' and ' Die Rauber.' ' Cramer
Peter Schmoll has no artistic merit, but
is less crude and sensational than some othe
of its class. The scene is laid not in tl
Middle Ages, but in the period of the Frenc
Revolution. Tiirke arranged the plot i
two acts, and treated it after the fashion of tl

2 The Weber collection, amassed with so much diligence byPr
Jfihns, was purchased some years ago for the Berlin Rojal Librarj

3 The best-linown work of the kind was 'Binsldo Blnaldlni'
Goethe's brother-in-law Vulpius.



WEBER.



WEBEE.



411



erman Singspiel, with spoken dialogue. All
is part however has been lost, the words

the songs alone being preserved in the score.
be verses are rarely Tiirke's own, but were
ken from the novel, which was interlarded,

the then fashion, with songs. Such verses

he did write are more than commonplace,
pecially when intended to be comic ; refined
medy being a rarity in German drama long
ter Peter SchmoU's day. The music evinces
eat talent, perhaps artificially matured, but
.tu rally so great and so healthy that not even the
it-house treatment to which it had been sub-
!ted could injure it permanently. Weber was
ipelled to produce operas before he had fully
veloped the feeling for logical harmonic progres-
•ns, nay, before he had mastered musical ortho-
uphy itself, to say nothing of the skill necessary

construct musico-dramatic forms on a large
de. Peter SchmoU aflFords a good oppor-
aity for comparing the unequal, unpropitious
relopment of Weber's powers with those of
ozart, whose youthful operas are now engraved
d accessible. In Mozart the mastery of external
sans advanced step by step with the develop-
snt of mental power. From the first he always
i tlie two. Weber, at the time he composed
ter Schmoll, had much that was original to
f, but was without the technical training
pessary to enable him to say it. To one capable
piercing through the defective form to the
)ught beneath, the unmistakable features of
I individuality will often be discernible.
:al dramatic characterisation is not to be ex-
ited from a boy of fourteen ; so far his music
rather stage}' than dramatic, but stiU he had,
m then, unquestionably a brilliant talent for the
ge. This is mainly apparent in the treatment
general situations, such as the second scene of
J first act, where Schmoll, Minette, and Hans
st play at blindman's-buff in the dark. The
lodies are throughout catching, often graceful
1 charming, always related to the German Lied,
i never reflecting the Italian style. He puts
aost all he has to say into the voice-parts;
i accompaniments being unimportant, at least
regards polyphony. There is much originality
the harmony, and the colouring is individual
i full of meaning. Now it is precisely with
rmony and colouring that Weber produces his
«t magical effects in his later operas. In his
tobiography he relates how an article he read
a musical periodical about this time suggested
him the idea of writing in a novel manner, by
.king use of old and obsolete instruments. The
_trumentation in Peter Schmoll is indeed
ite peculiar, No. 14, a terzet (Empfanget hier
\ Vaters Segen), being accompanied by two
uti dolci, two basset-horns, two bassoons, and
ingquartet. His motive was not a mere
Idish love of doing something different from
ler people, but he had an idea that these
ange varieties of tone helped to characterise
5 situation. In the passage named the pecu-
r combination of wind-instruments does pro-
ce a peculiarly solemn effect. Again, in certain



comic, and also in some mysterious passages, he
uses two piccolos with excellent effect, giving
almost a forecast of the spirit of Der Freischiitz.
Minette sings in the first act a mournful song of
a love-lorn maiden, and as the voice ceases the
last bar is re-echoed softly by a single flute, solo,
a perfect stroke of genius to express desolation,
loneliness, and silent sorrow, and recalling the
celebrated passage in the 3rd act of ' Euryanthe,'
where the desolation of the hapless Euryanthe is
also depicted by a single flute. Weber adapted
the music of this romance to the song ' Wird
Philomele trauem' (No. 5), in Abu Hassan,
and used some other parts of the opera in his
later works, for instance the last song in the
third finale of Oberon. The overture to
Peter Schmoll was printed, after Weber's
thorough revision of it, in 1807, and also a re-
vised form of the duet ' Dich an dies Herz
zu drucken,' in 1809.'^

3. The subject of ' Riibezahl,' a 2-act opera
begun by Weber in Breslau,but never finished,
was taken from a legend of the Riesengebirge,
dramatised by J. G. Rhode. The versification
is polished and harmonious, but the action drags
sadly. Riibezahl, the spirit of the mountain,
having fallen in love with a mortal Princess,
lures her into his castle, and keeps her prisoner
there, but woos her in vain. Having managed
to secure his magic sceptre, she gets rid of him by
bidding him count the turnips in the garden,
which at her request he turns into human beings
for her companions. As soon as he is gone she
summons a griSin, who carries her down again to
her own home, and thus outwits Riibezahl. For
variety's sake the poet has introduced the father,
lover, and an old servant of the Princess, who
penetrate in disguise to the castle, and are hired
by Riibezahl as servants ; b u t they do not infl uence
the plot, and have to be got rid of at the close.

These weaknesses, however, are redeemed by
some supernatural situations, excellent for musi-
cal treatment. Of this libretto Weber says that
he had composed ' the greater part,' though the
overture and three vocal numbers alone hcive
been preserved. Even of these the second
vocal number is unfinished, while the overture
exists complete only in a revised form of later
date. Those familiar with Der Freischiitz and
Oberon know Weber's genius for dealing with
the spirit-world; but the Riibezahl fragments
show extraordinarily few traces of the new lan-
guage he invented for the purpose. The music,
indeed — always excepting the revised form of
the overture — is less Weberish than a great
deal in Peter Schmoll, nor is there any marked
advance in the technique of composition. In
a quintet for four soprani and bass,^ the princess
bewails her loneliness, and sighs for her girl-
companions, when Riibezahl bids her plant three
turnips, and call them Clarchen, Kunigunde,
and Elsbeth ; he then touches them with his
wand, and her three friends rise out of the
ground and rush to her amid a lively scene of

1 PF. score by JShns (Berlin. Schlesioger).

2 With PF. accompaniment by Jfihns (Schlesinger).



412



WEBER.



mutual recognition, Riibezalil standing by and
making his reflections. The manner in which
he has treated this scene indicates very clearly
the state of Weber's development at the time.
The phantoms evoked from the turnips sing
like mortals, in strains differing in no degree
from those of the princess. Twenty years later
such a scene would inevitably have produced
a series of the most individual tone-pictures,
contrasting sliarply with everything of mortal
interest. As it is, the future dramatist and
composer is but in the chry.salissfage, and the
quintet is merely a very lively and effective stage-
scene, with some clever passages in it (the
middle subject 'schon sind der sterblicheu
Gefiihle,' particularly fine), but with no ti-aces
of Weber's individuality.

4. With the next opera, ' Silvana,' we take
leave of boyish compositions, and reach a higher
stage of development. Silvana and Abu Hassan
form the middle group of Weber's dramatic works,
while Freischiitz, Preciosa, Euryanthe, and
Oberon, constitute the third and last. We have
stated already that in Silvana he used some
material from Das Waldmadchen, the libretto of
which has been lost, except the few verses pre-
served in the score. Hiemer's Btory is as
follows : —

Two German knights in the Middle Ages have fallen
in love with the same noble maiden. Her rejected
suitor, Eitter von Kleeburg, takes his revenge on her
and his favoured rival, Count Adelhart, by stealing
their baby-daughter. He intends her to be killed, but
the old servant who carried her off relents, and brings
up the child in secret. Feeling his end to be near, he
sets out with the intention of restoring his daughter,
long believed to be dead, to the Count, the Countess
having died of grief long before. Having arrived in
the neighbourhood of Adelharfs castle, he hides Silvana
in a grotto in the forest, enjoining her not to speak a
■word to any one, and goes to inform Adelhart. He
cannot, however, then speak with him, Adelhart being
busy with preparations lor the marriage of his other
daughter, Mechthilde, to Count Kudolf von Halfenstein.
Mechthjlde is in love, not with Eudolf, but with Albert
von Kleeburg, the son other father's late enemy, and
Rudolf himself has nothing but esteem for his destined
bride. Ho goes out hunting with his men from Adel-
hart's castle, iu the forest finds Silvana, who pretends
to be dumb, and having lost his heart to her, brings
her back to the castle. Adelhart gives a tournament
in honour of the marriage between Kudolf and .Alech-
thilde, and the prize is carried off by Albert, fighting
with closed visor. Encouraged by the demonstrations
he receives, he makes himself known and asks her
father for jlechthilde's hand. Adelhart is lurious,
and is going to have him imprisoned and put to death,
but Albert and his men fight their way through to
the forest. Here he finds the old servant, seeking
.Silvana, and learns the true state of affairs ; but Adei-
li.art's knights fall upon him, and drag him back to
the castle, the old servant following. Meanwhile Adel-
hart has learned tliat Eudolf is in love, not with
Mechthilde, but with Silvana, and is going to put her
to death, believing her to be some rival who lias used
witchcraft. Just as the fatal stab is about to be
given the prisoner Albert enters with the old servant,
and informs Adelhart that Silvana is his daughter. A
reconciliation takes place between Adelhart and Albert,
and the two pairs of lovers are united.

This opera, with its medieval romanticism,
is the precursor of Euryanthe, and therefore
of great interest in Weber's development. In-
dependent of this, however, its merit as a work
•of art is considerable, and I believe the time
will come wlien it will amin find a home in the



WEBER.

theatres of Germany. To ridicule the pi
as hyper-romantic and old-fashioned is a mi
take, arising chiefly from our habit of lookii
down upon the romanticism so much in voguJ
at the beginning of the century. We forgei
that an opera-libretto is something very dif-
ferent from the long-drawn-out romance oi
chivalry, and that the falsity and childishnesji
which repel in a novel need find no place iij:
a libretto, even though it be founded on thet
same situations. The story of Silvana dealt';
with emotions which are natural, true, anc
intelligibly expressed, and the situations are noi
less fitted for musical treatment because thej
belong to a bygone period— seen through a le-
gendary haze, but still an heroic period of greai
and lasting interest. Another point in favoni
of Hiemer's poem is tliat the plot develops itsell
naturally and intelligibly, the interest is wel
kept up, and there is the necessary variety Ol
sensation. That Weber transferred to it musioil
ideas from Das Waldmadchen can be verified
in two instances only, one being the overture, the
autograph of which is docketed " renovata il 33
Marzo, 1809,' a term which must necessarily
apply to the Waldmadchen overture. The
' renovation ' cannot have been of a very startling
nature, judging by the music, which is neitheri
interesting nor original. The second case is the
air assigned to Krips the Squire, ' Liegt so ein
Unthier ausgestreckt ' (No. 2), the opening of
which is identical with a ritornel in one of the
' Waldmadchen' fragments. It may therefore be
assumed that the adaptation of old material was
of a very limited description. The fact of there
having been any adaptation at all may partly ex-
plain the extreme inequality between the separate
numbers in Silvana, but we must also take into
account the inevitable distractions and interrup-
tions among which it was composed at Stuttgart.
The opera undoubtedly does not give the impres-
sion of having been conceived aU at once, and
this damages the general effect.

The progress in dramatic characterisation
made by Weber since Riibezahl and Peter
SchmoU is obvious. The knights of the period
are more or less typical personages, and do
not require much individualising. A com-
poser's chief difficulty would lie in maintain-
ing the particular tone adapted to each charac-
ter consistently throughout the drama, aud in
this Weber has succeeded thoroughly. Count
Adelhart especially, and Krips the Squire,
are drawn with a master hand. The power of
indicating a ch.iracter or situation by two or
three broad strokes, afterwards so remarkable in
Weber, is clearly seen in Silvana. For instance,
the very first bar of the duet between Mech-
thilde and Adelhart, ' Wag' es, mir zu wider-
streben' (Act ii. No. 9), seems to put the violent,
masterful knight bodily before us. Another
crucial point is the winding up of a denouement,
by massing the subjects together in a general
movement which shall keep the interest of the
spectator at a stretch ; and of this we have an
excellent specimen in the Finale of Act ii.



WEBER.

eaking of the music simply as music, though
no means perfect in foi-m, the ideas are
undant and original. The melodies partake
the Volkslied character, there is a riotous
icy combined with the drollest comedy, and a
ice peculiarly Weberish, while the instrument-
on is dainty, full of colour, and melodious.
od examples of the first quality are the
mtsnian's Chorus (Act i. No. 3), and the
inking Chorus in tlie Finale of the same
t ; and of the comedy the whole part of the
vardly bully Krips. His Arietta in Eb, No.
, is capital, and also interesting as a speci-
n of the distinction between Weber's vis
niea and Mozart's as shown in the Entfiih-
]g and Zauberflote. The dances allotted to
vana (Nos. i, 8, 12) are most graceful and
irming. Ajiother remarkable point in the
3ra is the musical Ulustration of pantomime,



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 99 of 194)