John Alexander Fuller-Maitland Sir George Grove.

A dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) online

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'Und nun die Sonn' geht auf' (rises). Thus
the astonished spectator, having been told that
it is morning, shortly beholds the sun set in
the saine quarter from which it has just risen.
Nevertheless the passage is always so sung in
Germany, and the absurdity, if noticed at all,
is laid at the door of the English librettist
Weber got his translator to make a reduction in
the number of the personages introduced. In the
quartet, 'Over the dark blue waters,' Planche'
gave the bass to a sea-captain, and in the duet,
' On the banks of sweet Garonne,' associated a
Greek fellow-slave with Fatima, in both cases
because the original Sherasmin was a poor singer.
These makeshifts find no place in the German ver-
sion, or in the English revival at Her Majesty's in
i860. Then again, the song ' Yes, even love to
fame must yield,' composed in London for Braham
in place of 'From boyhood trained in battle-field/
is omitted in the German, while another addition,
the prayer in the 2nd Act, 'Ruler of this awful
hour,' is retained. The first was a concession on
the part of the composer, who did not care for
this 'battle- picture'; but he saw that the prayer
was not only a passage of great beauty, but
materially strengthened the part of Huon. 1

1 Hell's translation was published almost simultaneously with the
original libretto, the preface to which Is dated ' Brampton Crescent.
April 10, 1826.' The German title runs 'Oberon King of the Elves,
a romantic fairy-opera in 3 acts. Trans'aied for the tierman stage
by Theodor Hell from the English original by J. K. l'iancha,
set to music by Capellmelster Frejhorr Karl Maria von Weber'
(Arnold. Dresden and Leipzlf. 1896). With a Ions; preface by the



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WEBER.

The music to Oberon, though the work of a
man dying by inches, bears no traces of mental
exhaustion. Indeed it is delightfully fresh and
original throughout, and entirely different from
all the rest of Weber's compositions. The key-
note of the whole is its picture of the mysteries
of Elf-land, and the life of the spirits of air, earth,
and water. True, this note is touched in
Der Freischutz and Euryanthe, but in Oberon
it is struck with full force, and vibrates with
an almost intoxicating sweetness. What Weber
did in this direction was absolutely new, and a
valuable addition to his art, and many composers
have followed in the same track. His melody,
the chords of his harmony, the figures employed,
the effects of colour so totally unexpected — all
combine to waft us with mysterious power into
an unknown land. Anybody acquainted with
the Adagio of the overture will see what we
mean. Of a charm almost unparalleled is the
introduction to the 1st Act, with the elves flitting
hither and thither, coftly singing as they keep
watch over Oberon' s slumbers. The 2nd Act is
specially rich in delicious pictures of nature, now
in her tender and dreamy, now in her savage
and sublime, moods. 1 Puck's invocation of the
spirits, the roar of the tempest — the most powerful
representation of a storm in music excepting Bee-
thoven's in the Pastoral Symphony — the magnifi-
cent picture in Beiza's grand scena of the gradual
calming of the waves beneath the rays of the
setting sun ; lastly, the finale, with the mermaids'
bewildering song, and the elves dancing in the
moonlight on the strand, — these are musical
treasures which have not yet been exhausted.
Mendelssohn, Gade, Bennett, drew the inspira-
tion for their romantic scenes of a similar kind
from ' Oberon,' but none of them have attained
the depth or the individuality of their prototype.
Even Schumann trod in his footsteps in isolated
passages of ' Paradise and the Peri/ the ballad
' Vom Pa gen und der Konigstochter/ and ' Man-
fred.' Of German opera composers I say nothing;
their imitation of him is patent.

Through the hazy atmosphere of this land
of sprites and fairies, we discern the outlined
features of two contrasting races and countries —
Western chivalry and Oriental life. In the
finale of the 1st Act, the opening of the and,
and the dance of slaves in the 3rd, we have,
sketched by a master-hand, the dullness, in*
ertness, and yet imaginativeness of the Oriental
disposition. Tho melody sung by the guard of
the harem in the 1st Act is Arabian, that
in the 3rd Act at the commencement of the
dance of Almanzor's slaves, Turkish, both used
with great skill to give a local colouring. From
the mass of these stupid, indolent, sensual Orien-
tals, Beiza and Fatima stand out with all the
greater charm. They seem in a sense the em-
bodiment of all that is beautiful in the East,
and their connection with the Frankish knights
forms a link between the East and West. The
brilliant and energetic knights form the strong-

1 Mar not the elves wd sprites be intended for personification* of
the forces of nature?



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421



est contrast to the Orientals. This is suggested
with irresistible force in the Allegro of the
overture, and further emphasised in the body of
the opera, in Huon's grand air in Eb ('I revel
in hope ') and the splendid march at the close.
In Euryanthe Weber had already shown his
gift for the chevalresque, but it comes out here
with a difference. 'In Oberon,' as Kochlitz
well puts it, 'the leading characteristics are gen-
tleness, friendly feeling, and cheerfulness, with
no lack of energy, spirit, or movement. The
general impression is not exciting, agitating,
disturbing, but elevating, soothing, and calming.'
Had Weber been permitted to complete the
German revision, it might possibly have been the
crown of all his operas ! As it is, its immortality
is assured. 9

11. Next after Weber's operas come into con-
sideration his Lieder, the Lied-form playing, as
was natural with a German, so important a part
in his operas. His Lieder bear unmistakable
traces of that dramatic element which runs
through everything he wrote. He left 78 Ger-
man Lieder for single voice with PF. or guitar
accompaniment, besides two or three Italian
canzonets, a French romance, and a song from
Lai la Rookh, ' From Ghindara's warbling fount
I come,' his last composition, with the accom-
paniment merely sketched in. 8 We do not
include his 10 Scotch airs arranged with accom-
paniment for PF., flute, violin, and cello. Among
the part-songs should be singled out 16 Lieder
for men's voices, and 3 Volkslieder for a voices
with accompaniment.

The poets from whom Weber took his words
are Matthison, Herder, Burger, Voss, Kotzebue,
Tieck, Schenkendorf, and Korner. Of these,
with the exception of Korner, he set but one or
two, sometimes only one, poem apiece. Goethe's
name does not appear at all, which, considering
the antipathy between the two, may not have
been accidental. Unknown or unimportant
writers of verse, such as Muchler, Gubitz, Kan-
negiesser, occur pretty frequently. The greater
part of the verses composed by him, and the
finest, are Volkslieder.

It was at the suggestion of Vogler that
Weber first made a study of the songs of the
people, and this study, added to his own in-
tuitive perception of what was intrinsically
good and individual in popular music, enabled
him to hit off the characteristic tone of the
Volkslied as nobody had done before. 'Mein
Schatz ist auf die Wanderschaft hin,' ' Herzchen,
mein Schatzchen, bist tausendmal mein,' ' Wenn
ich ein Vbglein war,' 'Ich hab' mir eins erwahlet,'
'O Berlin, ich muss dich lassen,' ''Sis nichts
mit den alten Weibern,' are songs in which every
variety of feeling is expressed with a freshness
and originality rarely met with. His musical

* The fall score has been published In an edition «U luau by
Schleslnger of Eerlin.

a SchleiUtger of Berlin has published a complete edition In 8 role,
of Weber's sons*. Two or three unimportant ones for single voice
are omitted, but the 2-part songs. Italian dueU. numerous chorusef
for men's voices (arranged), part-songs for various voices with
accompaniments, bring up the number to 100.



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422



WEBER.



treatment too of songs in dialect, especially those
of a humorous or rollicking character, was ex-
cellent ; instances are ' Trariro, der Sommer, der
ist do/ ' Mein Schatzerl is hubsch,' and ' I und
mein junges Weib.' The form of these songs is
most simple, and generally strophical ; the accom-
paniment frequently for the guitar. This sim-
plicity is their greatest merit, and though the
taste of the day is unfavourable to simple songs,
and Weber's have been cast into the shade by
Schubert's and Schumann's magnificent songs
' with their almost orchestral treatment, they are
not lost to the musical world, but bear the stamp
of imperishability.

Besides these Lieder Weber oomposed other
songs of a more ambitious character, with PF.
accompaniment, each stanza having a different
melody. In this branch of composition he is,
next to Beethoven, the earliest great master.
There is, however, an essential difference between
his songs and those not only of Beethoven, but
of Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Schumann, his
being all more or less of a dramatic character.
His genius spread its wings best when he
had a distinct character, or a sharply-defined
situation, to portray. It is a significant fact
that some of the most charming of his strophi-
cal songs were written for interpolation into
plays, • Ueber die Berge mit Ungestfim,' and
1 Lass mioh schlummern, Herzlein, schweige,' for
instance. It is only by keeping steadfastly in
view a certain personage, or picturing a certain
scene, that one is fully able to realise the in-
tended impression. It is most remarkable to see
how much the music assists the imagination in
this respect. Take, for instance, Voss's 'Rei-
gen ' ; in a moment the whole picture of a village
fair in full swing rises up before one's mind's
eye. The extraordinary flexibility of his musi-
cal speech stood Weber in good stead here.
Not only did it enable him to adapt his vocal
melodies to each rise and fall in the words,
but it gave him, to a degree hitherto un-
known, the power of choosing the precise notes,
or series of notes, vocal and instrumental, fitted
to impress on the hearer some mental picture
called up by perhaps a single word. A perfect
model of composition in this kind is the Lied —
one of his finest indeed in all respects — 'Das
Madchen an das erste Schneeglockchen.' Not
that Weber ever degenerates into mere declama-
tion ; his songs are always good in form, with
a flowing, well-connected melody. Well aware
of this plasticity he ventured on poems of in-
volved construction, by no means easily adapt-
able to music. For instance, he managed a
triolet ('Keine Lust ohn' treues Lieben') with
great skill, and his are the first completely suc-
cessful settings of the sonnet ('Da liebes,
holdes, himmelsusses Wesen,' and ' Die Wunde
brennt, die bleichen Lippen beben'). Among
his characteristic pieces for single voice and
PF. may be soecified • Die vier Temperamente,'
and, above all, the delicious ' Unbefangenheit '
I'Frage mich immer, fragest umsonst'), a
sketch of a merry, saucy, roguish, but tender-



WEBER.

hearted girl, and truly a chef cCceuvre, Thus
Weber's vocal compositions contain the two
main elements of which German opera is con-
stituted — the Lied and the dramatic song.
These too appear in turn in the ten splendid
songs from Korner's ' Leyer und Schwert,' four
of which are for single voice and PF., and six
for male chorus unaccompanied. Of the single
songs, ' Vater ich rufe dich ' and ' Die Wunde
brennt,' are magnificent tone-pictures in Weber s
own style. Even in the strophical choruses there
are touches of great power. The beginning of
'Du Schwert an meiner Linken' rings like a
sword-thrust. ' Liitzow's wilde Jagd ' contains
a complete dramatic scene within a single stanza
of a I bars. The horsemen plunge forward out
of the forest gloom, rush by in tearing haste,
shout one wild hurrah, and are gone. 1

i a. It has often been felt as a difficulty that
Weber should pass straight from such operas as
Silvana and Abu Hassan to a masterpiece like Der
Freischutz. One explanation of this sudden and
startling progress may probably be found in the
songs which were his main occupation from 1811
to 181 7. Another important landmark is the
cantata Katnpf und Sieg (181 5). This is not s>
cantata in the modern sense— i. e. an essentially
lyric vocal piece — but one rather in the sense of
the 17th and 18th centuries, when the word
signified solo songs representing a specific cha-
racter in a specific situation. The only difference
was that Weber employed the full resources of
solo-singers, chorus, and orchestra. The central
idea is the battle of Waterloo, with various
episodes grouped round it, and a grand chorus,
'Herr Gott dich loben wir,' as finale. The
description of the battle forms what we should
now call a grand dramatic scene, an opera finale,
only without action. It is led up to by warlike
choruses, animating the battalions as they mus-
ter to the fight. Even the arming of the Aus-
trian troops is indicated by the Austrian Grena-
diers' March heard in the distance. A wild
march announces the approach of Napoleon's
army, while the Germans sing Korner's solemn
prayer : —

WIe auoh die HOlle breast. As rage the powers of hen.

Gott, delne starke Faust God. let Thy mighty hand

8turxt das Geblude der Luge. Falsehood's stronghold overthrow.

FQhr uns, Herr Zebaoth. Lead us. Lord God or Hosts

Fflhr uns. drelelnger Gott. Lead us, Thou triune God,

FQhr uns zur Schlaoht und sum Lead us to strife and victory.
Siege.

The battle, which then commences, is at first
left entirely to the orchestra. The day is going
against the Allies. The French tune ' £a ira '
is heard shrilling out wildly and triumphantly
above the other instruments, while broken eja-
culations, such as ' De* Feindes Spott ! ' (' Sport
of our foes!') 'O Hbllengraun I ' ('0 hor-
ror!') 'Verlasst Du Gotfc, die Dir vertraunl*
(• Wilt Thou, O God, forsake those who trust in
Thee?') burst from the allies scattered about
the field. The tumult is just dying away,
when lo 1 the Prussian horns, first faint in the

1 It Is by no means uncommon to hear the last four bars repeated!
a fact which shows without explanation how entirely Weber's Idea
has been misunderstood.



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WEBER.

distance, then louder and louder; the Chorus
listens,

Anf WInde» FlOfeln On wings of the wind

Sprengts Ton den HOgebi Down from the hills

Die Flur entlanc! It rushes along the plain 1

Die Fahnen welien, The beon-ra ware.

Die HOraer schaUen. The trumpets blare.

and then bursts into the air of Weber's Lied,
'LUtzows wilde Jagd,' to the words

O Hlmmelalntt nach Todesdranf,

Dm 1st Preussen* muthlger Schlachtgesanf 1

O hearenly Joy from deadly peJn.
Tie Prussia's roualng battle-sons 1

This passage, and the redoubled violence with
which the onslaught is renewed, produce a
dramatic effect of the strongest kind. From this
point the voices are employed continually. The
* <Ja ira,' at first so loud and bold, is now, as it
were, hustled and put down by the rest of the
orchestra; it is at length wholly silenced, the
enemy flies with the victors at his heels, till at
last ' God save the King!' 1 peals solemnly forth
from the orchestra, and the colossal tone-
picture is at an end. The same dramatic treat-
ment may be discerned in all the episodical
pieces, especially the orchestral introduction,
which is not an abstract piece of music, but
is intended as a picture of the state of mind of
the nations, who, after a brief foretaste of peace,
are again plunged into the horrors of war by
Napoleon v 8 return from Elba. 'The introduc-
tion is of a rugged, stormy, mournful, angry
spirit, broken in its accents; rising in force
towards the end, and dying in dry, hard, sullen
strokes.' So says Weber in his explanatory
notice written for the first performance at
Prague. 1 The closing chorus alone is wholly
lyric in character ; though not absolutely free
from technical imperfections, it is full of fire
and inspiration, and contains some grand pas-
sages. The cantata however as a whole too far
exceeds ordinary limits to take its duo place in
the concert-room. There is in it a certain contra-
diction of styles. Although at first frequently
performed, and never failing to make a great
impression, it has gradually slipped out of the
musical world, now that the events which gave
it birth are less vividly remembered. The
'Leyer und Schwert' choruses are still in full
life, because they are in all respects true to their
species. And yet the enthusiasm for liberty,
with all its impetuosity and all its pathos, is
expressed quite as forcibly in the cantata. Its
popularity may be less great, but it is an even
more valuable piece of evidence for the history of
Weber's development as a dramatic composer.

13. Between 1810 and 18 15 Weber wrote six
grnnd Concert-airs with Italian words, and these
also have their share in explaining the extraor-
dinary maturity of • Der Freischutz.' Several are
of high artistic merit, notably the fourth ('Signor,
se padre sei '), composed in 1 8 1 a for Prince Frede-

l The Volkshymne ' Hell dlr Im Blegeskranx' If tang to this air In
Germany, and Weber evidently bad tbe word* In his mind here. He
need the same tune for the finale to the Jubel-ourertore. [See Goo
•ays the Kixo, vol. i. p. Wla.)

« Reprinted complete In the ' Lebensblld,' lit M.



WEBER.



423



ric of Gotha.* It is written for tenor and double
chorus, and is in fact a grand dramatic scena. None
of these Italian airs however come up to a Ger-
man seena written in 181 8 for insertion in Che-
rubini's ' Lodoi&ka.' It was intended for Frau
Milder-Hauptmann, then in Berlin, and was tc
be the 1st number in the 2nd act. It is a work of
the first rank, and of itself proves that the
creator of 'Der Freischiitz' had now attained
his full stature. How it comes to be now wholly
forgotten it is difficult to understand.

14. Among Weber's remaining vocal composi-
tions we have still some Cantatas and the two
Masses to consider. 'Der Erste Ton' (181 8),
words by Rochlitz, must be mentioned among the
cantatas, although tbe term scarcely applies to it
The greater part of the poem is declaimed to an
orchestral accompaniment, but a 4-part chorus is
introduced near the end. The form is peculiar
and new. It cannot be called a melodrama, be-
cause the poem is narrative and not dramatic.
The nearest approach to it is in some of the
descriptive recitatives in Haydn's oratorios. The
descriptive part of the music shows already,
though indistinctly, that plasticity which he was
presently to make use of in such an incomparable
way. The closing chorus does not satisfy the
requirements of art, and Weber himself spoke
of it as 'rough' part-writing. Another hymn
of Rochlitz' s, 'In seiner Ordnung schafft der
Herr,' is a fine work of art. It was composed in
1812, and dedicated to the ' Musik-Gesellschaft*
of Zurich, which had elected him an honorary
member. At first the composer has evidently had
a difficulty in warming to his work, on account
of the half-dogmatic, half-descriptive nature of
the words ; and the hearer, though occasionally in-
terested, is not carried away by the earlier move-
ments. The introduction of the chorale ' Drum
lerne still dich fassen ' (to the tune of ' Haupt
voll Blut und Wunden ') is scarcely to be jus-
tified on aesthetic grounds. But then cornea
the chorus 'Gelobt sei Gott,' and all that has
hitherto failed to please is forgotten, and the
hearer swept away in the rushing torrent of
foamy music The fugue of this chorus, ' Im
Wettersturm, im Wogendrang,' is a character-
piece of the first rank. To criticise each detail of
this polyphonic movement would be pedantic ; it
is a work of genius, and its flashing enthusiasm
bears comparison, at a distance of course, to cer-
tain parts of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. 4

Of the six occasional cantatas composed for
the Court of Saxony, the J ubel- Cantata, written
for the 50th anniversary of Friedrich August's
accession (1818) is the most important, both in
size and matter. The four choral movements,
Nos. I, 4, 7, and 9 are ripe examples of Weber's
talent for delineating a specific situation, and
make one regret that the work as a whole, from
the circumstances of its origin, is unavailable
for general use. It is essentially a Saxon, nay,
almost a Dresden composition, and no sympa-
thy is now felt for Friedrich August. Wendt's

» Op. OS. Schlestnger. Berlin, tooal score.

« 8oore, parts, and PF. score, published by Sohlaalnfer of Berlin.



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424



WEBER.



attempt to turn it into a harvest cantata proved
fairly successful in one or two cases, especially
Nos. 4 and 7 ; but the music is, as a rule, too
closely wedded to the words to be divorced from
them, unless at great sacrifice. 1

15. As to Weber's Masses, those acquainted
with the state of Catholic church-music at the
beginning of the 19th century will not expect
to find them written in a pure church-stylo.
Church music of this description is now almost
a thing of the past ; in the great centres it is en-
tirely tabooed in favour of the music of the
15th and 1 6th centuries. Under these circum-
stances Weber's masses have little prospect of
revival. They are probably never heard except
in the Hofkirche of Dresden, and rarely there,
and are bound to succumb to the fate which has
overtaken those of Haydn, Mozart, and Hummel.
Fine music they contain in abundance. As
previously mentioned, they were produced within
a short time of each other, in 18 18 and 1 810.
After Weber's fashion they contrast sharply
with each other, while each has one prevailing
tone running consistently through to the end.
1 81 8 being the 50th year of the king's reign, he
gave to the Eb mass a tone of solemnity and
splendour noticeable specially in the Sanctus.
That in G, being for a family festival, is quite
idyllic in character. 'I mean to keep before
myself,' he wrote to Rochlitz, 'the idea of
a happy family party kneeling in prayer, and
rejoicing before the Lord as His children.' It is
worth while to examine the mass, and see how
this idea is worked out. The Kyrie, Sanctus
(with an exquisite Benedictus), and Agnus Dei,
are delightful music. Occasional suggestions of
well-known passages in his operas jar on a
modern ear, but a composer is scarcely to be
blamed for retaining his identity, even in a mass.
His love of contrast, and habit of never remain-
ing long occupied with one musical idea, give
these pieces a somewhat restless and piecemeal
effect, and for this reason those who were accus-
tomed to Haydn's and Mozart's masses felt these
too 'secular.' 3

16. When a youth of twenty Weber wrote
two Symphonies, clever and to a certain ex-
tent interesting, but parti-coloured and with-
out form. The indications they gave of his
future position as an orchestral composer were
very inadequate, and in later years they by no
means satisfied himself. Of wholly different
import are his ten overtures, Peter Schmoll
(remodelled 1807 as * Grande Ouverture a plu-
sieura instruments'), Rtibezahl (remodelled 181 1
as 'Ouverture zum Beherrscher der Geister,'
'Ruler of the Spirits'), 'Ouverture Chinesa*
(remodelled 1819 for Turandot), Silvana, Abu
Hassan, Jubelouverture, Freischiitz, Preciosa,
Euryanthe, and Oberon. Of these, Peter
Schmoll and Silvana are unimportant and
immature. In Turandot the local colouring

» The wore, with the two sets of words, and preceded by the Jubel-
Ourerture. U published by Schleainger (Berlin). A full analysis
with ample quotatto s It given In the ■ Monthly Musical Record,' 1673.

* The score of the Eb mass was published by Riehault (Paris), that
of the one Id G by Haslinger (Vienna, tdiiian <U Jmmj.



WEBER.

furnished by a Chinese air is pushed into an
extreme which becomes ugly. The remaining
seven are amongst the finest, and excepting
perhaps Rtibezahl and Abu Hassan, the most
popular pieces in the world. They hold a middle
position between simple introductions and ab-
stract orchestral works, sounding equally well in
the concert-room and the theatre. This they
share with the overtures of Mozart and Cheru-
bini, while much of the effect of Beethoven's, and
the whole of the effect of Schumann's Genoveva
and Manfred is lost when played on the stages
There are, however, important differences of style
between these overtures and those of Mozart and
Cherubini. This is not so much because Weber



Online LibraryJohn Alexander Fuller-Maitland Sir George GroveA dictionary of music and musicians (A.D. 1450-1889) → online text (page 102 of 194)