Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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wife a hope that he should "at length have a good night's rest." In the
morning he awoke calm and refreshed in spirit, but his physician at once
saw that the end was at hand. He lingered, surrounded by those he loved,
till Oct. 22, when at 10.30 in the evening he peacefully passed away. In
1883 a statue was erected to his memory.

* * * * *

Spohr's principal works are as follows: oratorios and cantatas - "Das
jüngste Gericht" ("The Last Judgment," first version, 1812), "Die Letzten
Dinge" ("The Last Judgment," second version, 1826), "Des Heilands letzte
Stunden" ("Calvary," 1835), "Der Fall Babylons" ("The Fall of Babylon,"
1841), and "Das befreite Deutschland" ("Free Germany"), MS.; operas - "Die
Prüfung" ("The Trial," 1806), "Alruna" (1808), "Die Eulenkönigin" ("The
Owl Queen," 1808), "Die Zweikampf mit der Geliebten" ("The Lovers' Duel,"
1811), "Faust" (1818), "Zemire und Azor" (1819), "Jessonda" (1823), "Der
Berggeist" ("The Mountain Spirit," 1825), "Pietro von Albano" (1827),
"Der Alchymist" ("The Alchemist," 1830), and "Die Kreuzfahrer" ("The
Crusaders," 1845); church music - mass for five solo voices and two
five-part choruses, opus 54: three psalms for double chorus and soli, opus
85; hymn, "Gott du bist gross" ("God thou art great"), for chorus, soli
and orchestra; symphonies - No. 1, E flat, opus 20; No. 2, D minor, opus
49; No. 3, C minor, opus 78; No. 4, "Consecration of Tones," F, opus 86;
No. 5, C minor, opus 102; No. 6, "Historical symphony," G, opus 116; No.
7, "The Earthly and Heavenly in Men's Lives," for two orchestras, C, opus
121; No. 8, G minor, opus 137; No. 9, "The Seasons," B minor, opus 143;
eight overtures, 17 violin concertos and concertinas, 15 violin duets, 33
string quartets, 8 quintets, four double quartets, 5 pianoforte trios, 2
sextets, an octet and a nonet, and many songs. Schletterer's catalogue of
his works (published by Breitkopf and Härtel) carries the opus numbers
up to 154, many of the _opera_ embracing six compositions, and there are
a dozen compositions without opus numbers, among which are some of his
operas and oratorios. In all he left over two hundred works, in all fields
of composition.

It is difficult for us at this day to fairly estimate the importance
of Spohr as a figure in musical history. Dates show us that his finest
works chanced to see the light about the same time as the over-shadowing
masterpieces of Weber and Mendelssohn. Thus "Faust" produced in 1818, was
eclipsed by "Der Freischütz," in 1821, and his "Calvary" (1835) by "St.
Paul" (1836). His "Last Judgment" alone had a free field for a time. But
though we with over half a century's perspective find the masterworks
of Weber and Mendelssohn still in the foreground, while Spohr recedes
into the middle distance, the contemporaries of these composers saw them
standing apparently shoulder to shoulder at the front of the picture.
Spohr's influence upon those who lived when he did was very considerable,
and, more than that, there are certain features of his style, which,
it cannot be doubted, presented themselves as attractive models to his
immediate followers along the path of musical progress.

Believing himself to be a disciple of Mozart, and striving to preserve
in his writings the suave beauty and sculpturesque repose of the Mozart
style, Spohr was at heart a romanticist, was in the vanguard of the
new romantic movement in Germany, and established in his compositions
some of those peculiarities which have come to be regarded as special
characteristics of romantic utterance. While, therefore, he created no
school and, except in violin playing, has had no large following, he
exercised over his younger contemporaries a discernible influence, which
cannot be disregarded. That no one in our time looks to the works of Spohr
for models, does not obliterate the fact that he was an influential factor
in the development of that romantic school which has given us all that is
greatest in music since the death of Beethoven. One critic has well said
of him: "Spohr's noble sentimentality and warmth of expression excited
during his lifetime all the youth of Germany into an unusual enthusiasm.
The composer's influence is now somewhat less than it was, and indeed
latterly his productions have been underrated, but as all that is genuine
resists momentary bias, Spohr's works are once again coming to the fore.
In history, Spohr stands as a most important link between the old and
new romantic schools of German tonal art. As a tone-poet he possesses an
individuality so strongly marked, and so important an idiosyncrasy, that
he cannot like Marschner, Kreutzer, Reissiger, and others, be identified
with the school of Weber, but stands almost independent between the
last-named master and men like Mendelssohn and Schumann."

[Illustration: Fac-simile of Introduction to Spohr's fourth Double
Quartette in G minor. Original in possession of the Musical Library at

The special feature of his style, which the critic just quoted calls an
"important idiosyncrasy," was his mastery of chromatic modulations. The
use of chromatic harmonies is characteristic of the romantic school, its
further development being seen in the "Tristan und Isolde" of Wagner.
It may be well to add, for the further enlightenment of the lay reader,
that chromatic modulation is the secret of that flexibility of style and
largeness of tonal atmosphere which are found in Wagner's works; and for
the first determined movement in this direction we must thank Spohr.
Nevertheless, Spohr's use of chromatic modulations was wholly unlike
that of later composers. As Emil Naumann says, "If Salieri is justified
in saying of certain composers, who use venturesome skips in their
modulations, that they are like a man who jumps through the window when
the door is open, we may well say of Spohr that he passes the open door
at least six times before he decides upon entering." This circumlocution
is unquestionably the result of Spohr's endeavor to place upon his
natural impulses the curb of the Mozartean polish. The outcome of his
self-restraint is the reduction of his operas to a dead level of sweetness
that becomes wearisome.

It was this never-ceasing mellifluous quality that forced itself upon
the attention of Chorley and made even that eminent lover of Bellini
cry for something else besides candy. Says Chorley: "The most graceful
Italian garden, where 'grove nods to grove - each alley has its brother,'
is not arranged with a more perpetual reference to reflexion, parallel,
reply, repetition, than the largest or the least piece of handiwork put
forth by this arithmetically orderly composer. Further, Dr. Spohr's
vocal ideas and phrases have, for the most part, a certain suavity and
flow, belonging to the good school of graceful cantabile, eminently
commendable, when not indisputably charming. But it is difficult, nay,
I may say at once, impossible, to cite any motive from his pen, which,
by its artless vivacity, seizes and retains the ear; and there are few
of his melodies that do not recall better tunes by better men." This
sweet level of cantilena undoubtedly also impressed itself on Schumann,
who was expressing his admiration of Spohr when he said: "As he looks at
everything as though through tears, his figures run into each other like
formless, etherial shapes, for which we can scarcely find a name."

In fine Spohr's works reveal to us a man who was deficient in personal
force because he was not a creative genius, but who exerted all the
influence of an original mind upon his contemporaries because he was
wholly at heart and almost wholly in practice in touch with a movement
new and absorbing. If Spohr had possessed real creative genius, his
devotion to Mozart as a model would have dwindled before the incitements
of the movement toward national romanticism which was agitating German
literature and art. His yearning toward the freedom and infinite
possibilities of chromatic harmonies brought him into direct conflict with
the polished symmetry, the veneration for a set form and a conventional
distribution of keys, of the classic period of Mozart. Had he been a man
of aggressive individuality he would not have made the mistake of putting
an intellectual curb on his emotional impulses, but would have spoken
according to the promptings of his heart.

But Spohr, though earnest in his purposes and intolerant of all that was
not sincere in art, was altogether of too amiable a nature to rudely cross
the Rubicon and seize upon the new territory. He was among those who saw
the promised land, who felt the embrace of its atmosphere, and who yet
hesitated upon the borders. The trumpet call of modern romanticism was
sounded in 1821 when Vogl made Schubert's "Erl King" known to Germany,
and in the same year Weber thrilled the hearts of his countrymen by
giving them a national opera, "Der Freischütz," whose story, like that
of Schubert's song, was taken from the folk-lore of the people. Spohr
followed these leaders in making use of the national literatures as in
"Faust," and the tales of the fireside, as in "Zemire und Azor"; but he
emasculated his music in his endeavor to cling to the style of a period
which had terminated. What might have been a style leading directly into
the restless eloquence of the Wagnerian diction became a "lingering
sweetness, long drawn out," and it was reserved for Weber, who had the
necessary force, the resistless energy of creative power, to become the
founder of true German opera and the artistic progenitor of Richard Wagner.

Wagner showed a warm appreciation of Spohr. He expressed his admiration
for the composer in a letter to a Dresden friend written from Paris, in
1860, when he was preparing to produce "Tannhäuser" in the French capital.
He wrote thus: "Almost simultaneously I lost by death two venerable men
most worthy of respect. The death of one came home to the whole musical
world, which deplores the loss of Ludwig Spohr. I leave it to that world
to estimate what wealth of power, how noble a productiveness departed
with the master's death. To me it is a painful reminder that with him
departed the last of that company of noble, earnest musicians whose youth
was directly illuminated by the glowing sun of Mozart and who like vestals
fed the flame received from him with touching fidelity and protected it
against all storms and winds on their chaste hearths. This lovely office
preserved the man pure and noble; and if I were to undertake to express
in a single phrase what Spohr proclaimed to me with such ineradicable
impressiveness, I would say: He was an earnest, upright master of his
art. The 'handle' of his life was faith in his art; and his greatest
refreshment flowed from the potency of this belief. And this earnest faith
emancipated him from all personal pettiness. All that was entirely foreign
to him he severely let alone without attacking it or persecuting it. This
was the coldness and brusqueness with which he was so often charged. That
which was comprehensible to him (and the composer of 'Jessonda' may be
credited with a deep, fine feeling for everything beautiful), that he
loved and cherished, without circumlocution and with zeal, so soon as he
recognized one thing in it - seriousness, a serious intention toward art.
Herein lay the bond which attached him in his old age to the new endeavors
in art. He could remain a stranger to it, but not an enemy. Honor to our
Spohr; venerate his memory! Let us imitate his example."

Another feature of Spohr's music which calls for mention is his
predilection for a programme. He was a believer in the ability of the
composer to convey his emotions through the medium of absolute music
to the hearer. His "Consecration of Tones" symphony, for instance, is
an attempt to depict in music the part which music plays in life and
nature - an attempt not wholly successful. But these labors give Spohr a
place among the founders of modern romantic writing for orchestra, and
as such he must be respected. His chamber music is distinguished by the
general characteristics of his style, and by a beautiful clearness of

As a composer of violin music and as a performer on the instrument Spohr
exercised influence which is still felt. His pupils were Hubert Ries, St.
Lubin, David, Bott, Blagrove, Kömpel and C. L. Bargheer, all players of
note. David was the teacher of Wilhelmj, whose Doric style preserved all
forcible simplicity and repose of the Spohr manner. Spohr's playing was
based on the solid principles of the Mannheim school, modified somewhat
by the style of Rode, for whom Spohr had a great and well-grounded
admiration. But, as we should expect, Spohr in his maturity arrived
at the possession of a style which was wholly the product of his own
individuality. The fundamental and vital characteristic of his playing was
his treatment of the violin as a singing voice. He played with immense
breadth and purity of tone, with subtle delicacy of touch, and with
exquisite refinement of phrasing. He had no taste for the free style of
bowing cultivated by Paganini and was opposed to anything approaching the
_saltato_. He had a large hand and was thus enabled to execute difficult
passages of double stopping with accuracy.

Violin technics have been developed so much since Spohr's time that his
compositions do not present alarming difficulties to contemporaneous
performers. Nevertheless, they were sufficiently difficult at the time of
their production, and they remain among the acceptable works for violin.
His concertos - at any rate, the best of them - are heard occasionally
in concert rooms to-day, not without pleasure, though they are open to
those objections which have been made against his operatic and orchestral
music. His earlier concertos show the immediate influence of Viotti and
Rode, but his later works were the most valuable contribution that had
been made to the literature of the violin, except the Beethoven concerto
up to the time when Spohr ceased to compose them. Indeed Spohr must be
credited with fully as earnest an endeavor to raise the violin concerto
from the level of a mere show piece to that of a serious and artistic
composition as either Beethoven or Mendelssohn. Paul David has rightly
said: "It was mainly owing to the sterling musical worth of Spohr's violin
compositions that the great qualities of the classical Italian and the
Paris schools have been preserved to the present day, and have prevented
the degeneration of violin-playing.... He set a great example of purity
of style and legitimate treatment of the instrument - an example which has
lost none of its force in the lapse of more than half a century."

[Illustration: Signature]


Illustrating Spohr's Opera "Jessonda."]


_Reproduction of a portrait at the British Museum drawn by C. Vogel,
Dresden, 1823, and engraved by C. A. Schwerdgeburth. Weber in his
thirty-seventh year._]



The plenitude of genius in the classical period of German music has a
striking illustration in the rapid succession in the kingship which
followed the wresting of the musical sceptre from Italy. Beginning with
Bach, there has been no break in the line of succession. Had such a
thought occurred to the father of modern music, he might have established
a sentimental foundation, a handgrasp, a kiss, or an apostolic laying on
of hands, which might have been transmitted down to our day without once
leaving the direct and royal line. In the musical succession there is
an over-lapping, a concurrence of reigns, nearly all the time. The most
significant phrase of this phenomenon is exemplified in the subject of
this study. Gluck and Mozart might have come like the good fairies of the
nursery tale to kiss him in his cradle. Haydn and Beethoven might have
waited till their salutations would inspire his youth. He himself might
have blessed the infancy of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Wagner.
This it is which helped to give Carl Maria von Weber a position in musical
history which now we recognize to be commanding in a sense never realized
so fully before. His activities range over the territory through which
is drawn the indeterminate line of demarcation between the Classic and
Romantic schools. He embodies the spirit of both tendencies, though not
in an equal degree. Not only does he touch hands with the kings of the
eighteenth century and their successors of the nineteenth, but some of
his life threads in the fabric of history were interwoven with theirs. We
shall see how in the story of his life.

The influence of heredity has a twofold illustration in this story. The
musical talent of Weber and, indeed, the general bent of his artistic
predilections were an inheritance. An ardent devotion to music and the
drama can be traced back a century in the family from which he sprung.
The family belonged to the minor nobility of Austria. Of the tastes
and inclinations of the first Freiherr von Weber, who was endowed with
the title in 1622, nothing is known. But a brother, who had taken up a
residence in Suabia, probably after the loss of the family estates in the
Thirty Years' War, was musical. He was the ancestor of Fridolin Weber,
who, in turn, was the father of several daughters who would have merited
a paragraph in the annals of music had they not won a page through the
circumstance that Mozart fell in love with one, Aloysia, and married
another, Constance. Franz Anton von Weber, a brother of this Fridolin,
was the father of Carl Maria, who through Constance became cousin by
marriage to Mozart. The brothers, though many other things besides, during
the latter portion of their existence were, for the purpose of gaining a
livelihood, musicians. Fridolin, who had dropped the "von" from his name
when Mozart met him in Mannheim, was reduced to the position of a sort
of general utility man in the Court Theatre; Franz Anton, who clung to
the sign of nobility and conveyed other titles to himself to which he had
less right, enjoyed the distinction of being one of the best viola players
of his time and was also an admirable performer upon the double-bass. He
even ventured upon the sea of composition with some songs with pianoforte
accompaniment, which frail craft bore him up for a considerable time.

Here was one manifestation of the law of heredity; contemplation of the
other is less agreeable. From Franz Anton von Weber his son inherited an
instability of character which for a time threatened to make shipwreck
of his divine gifts. The whole of Franz Anton's life was the career of
an adventurer. In his youth he was a titled rake in Mannheim. He became
a soldier and was slightly wounded fighting against Frederick the Great
at Rosbach. The Elector of Cologne, Clément Augustus, gave him an
appointment and on the death of his father-in-law advanced him to the
posts which the latter had held - Steward and Court Councillor. From
these posts he was dismissed with a small pension by Clément Augustus's
successor in the Electorate. It is said that his devotion to music was
partly the cause of his dismissal. He was fonder of his fiddle than of
his duties, and often went walking in the fields, playing on his viol,
his eight children trooping behind him as if he were another Pied Piper.
He married into a councillorship and fiddled himself out of it. The
Prince-Bishop who appointed him was the gay prelate who "danced himself
out of this world into another" and who gave employment to Beethoven's
grandfather and father in his court band; the Prince-Bishop who dismissed
him was the serious-minded and thrifty Maximilian Frederick, who became
the master of Beethoven himself. Those who are fond of delving for remote
causes may associate the birth of Weber with this action of Beethoven's
patron. Franz Anton, having lost his position and squandered his wife's
fortune, started out on a dramatic and musical itinerancy. His wife did
not survive her humiliation. He wandered through Germany after three years
of service as Chapelmaster to the Bishop of Lübeck and Eutin, and in
1784 found his way to Vienna, where he placed two of his sons under the
tuition of Haydn, and a year later married the sixteen-year-old Genoveva
von Brenner, a daughter in the family that had given a home to his sons.
This delicate flower the adventurer of fifty plucked out of its genial
surroundings in the Austrian capital and transplanted to Eutin, whither he
now returned to accept the post of town musician, another having meanwhile
won the once despised but now coveted chapelmastership. Small wonder
that when Carl Maria Friedrich Ernest, the first child of this mistaken
marriage was born he should have brought with him into the world a frail
and puny body afflicted with a disease of the hip which was the cause of
the composer's lifelong lameness.

Concerning the date of Carl Maria's birth there is still controversy. The
church records in Eutin give it as November 18, 1786. The date commonly
accepted is December 18, 1786. When the boy's first composition was
published the father did not hesitate to falsify his age by a year in
order to irritate the attention of the _cognoscenti_. The impulse which
prompted what must have seemed a trifling peccadillo to the unscrupulous
Franz Anton sprang from an ambition which had long consumed his heart and
had been intensified by the marvelous career of his nephew by marriage,
Mozart: He wished to figure in the world as father of a prodigy. He had
been disappointed in the children of his first marriage who, with finer
facilities than Carl Maria ever enjoyed, had turned out to be simply good
working musicians. The forcing process which he applied in the case of his
youngest son was in no respect beneficial. The boy, too, was ambitious to
be a Mozart, but in later life, speaking of his second opera, composed at
the age of thirteen, he mentioned the circumstance that he had written the
second act in ten days, and added: "This was one of the many unfortunate
consequences of the numerous tales of the great masters which made so
great an impression on my juvenile mind, and which I tried to imitate."
The demand which the father made upon the precocious mind of his son was
in reality greater than that made upon the boy Mozart's. Leopold Mozart
was an ideal instructor and a man of fine moral fibre. In his exploitation
of Wolfgang he never sacrificed the things which make for good in art. He
may have been injudicious in fanning the spark of genius so industriously
that it burst into the too-fierce flame which consumed his son's life
prematurely, but the technical training which Wolfgang enjoyed was sound
and thorough. This boon was never accorded to the boy Weber. While his
father continued the roving life which began anew a year after Carl
Maria's birth, he and his son Frederick cared for the lad's education.
There was no more stability in the life of the family than in that of a
gypsy band. Within a dozen years the father figured in one theatrical
capacity or another in Vienna, Cassel, Meiningen, Nuremberg, Augsburg,
Weimar, Erlangen, Hilburghausen and Salzburg. Only in the last two
towns does it appear that he procured proper instruction for the child.
Evidently with all his desire to play the rôle of a second Leopold Mozart
he mistrusted his son's gifts, for he once contemplated making a painter
out of him, and even after he had exhibited noteworthy fruits of the few
months of study pursued under Michael Haydn in Salzburg, and Kalcher in
Munich, he seemed willing to sacrifice his son's musical talents to the
prospect of making money with Senefelder's new invention of lithography,
in which both father and son took a keen interest. The influence of such
an irresolute life upon the lad's moral character must also have been
pernicious. He grew up behind the scenes of a theatre. One can easily
imagine the value of the familiarity with the mimic world thus obtained
after he had become a dramatic composer, but it fastened a clog upon his
talent which he was never quite able to fling off. When a good teacher,
who valued his gifts and devoted himself assiduously to their development,
was found in Hilburghausen, study had already become irksome to the lad.

Michael Haydn had been his master for only six months when, his mother
having died of consumption in March, 1798, he accompanied his father to
Vienna and remained there till July. Next came a removal to Munich, and
study under Kalcher for composition and Wallishauser (of Valesi, as he

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 19 of 32)