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called himself) for singing. Even with imperfect cherishing, however, the
boy's creative faculty asserted itself. The first of his music which was
published consisted of six fughettos written under the eyes of Michael
Haydn. Guided by Kalcher he composed an opera, "Die Macht der Liebe und
des Weins," a mass and several vocal and instrumental pieces in the
smaller forms. All of this music is lost except a set of variations which
he dedicated to his teacher and printed himself by the new lithographic
method.

[Illustration: WEBER'S BIRTHPLACE IN EUTIN, NORTH GERMANY.]

We have written with somewhat disproportionate fullness of the beginning
of Weber's career because of the light which the recital throws upon
his moral as well as his musical development. Fate had it in store that
a lovely character and a genius of high order should emerge from the
unsightly and much-abused chrysalis; but before then another decade had
to be spent under such circumstances as ordinarily wreck men's souls. In
this period the interruptions of the peripatetics which had been the curse
of his childhood, were few and comparatively brief. Freiberg, in Saxony,
Chemnitz, Salzburg, and Augsburg, were in turn the lad's stopping-places,
and a tour was made through Northern Germany. Then came two years of
study in Vienna with Abbé Vogler, rewarded by an appointment which the
Abbé procured for the youth of seventeen and a half as Capellmeister in
Breslau. For two years he performed the duties of this office, and then
disaffections and quarrels between him and the citizens who maintained the
company led to his resignation. The influence of a pupil got him the title
of Musik-Intendant to Duke Eugene of Wirtemberg, which he intended to use
for advertising purposes on a concert tour; but war interfered with the
plan and he went to Schloss Carlsruhe to participate in the music-making
at the Duke's court. The conquest of Prussia by Napoleon in 1807 led the
Duke to dismiss his band, but he obtained for Weber the post of Private
Secretary to a brother, Duke Ludwig, at Stuttgart. The associations
into which this new life threw him were more demoralizing a thousand
times than any of his past experiences. The profligacy and immorality of
the official and theatrical life of the Suabian capital were notorious
throughout Europe. The charm of Weber's mind and manners drew about him
many good influences, particularly the friendship of Capellmeister Danzi,
but the moral stamina to withstand the temptations which beset him on
all hands had not been developed, and he abandoned himself to a course
of life which threatened his moral as well as artistic ruin. His boon
companions were one of the sirens of the theatre and the members of a
coterie known as "Faust's Descent into Hell." From the dangers which beset
him he was most rudely rescued. He had incurred the anger of the King
while delivering one of the many unpleasant messages of Duke Ludwig, who
was the King's brother, and avenged himself for the contumely poured on
him by directing an old woman, who had inquired for the Royal laundress,
into the King's cabinet. It required the intervention of the Duke to save
him from imprisonment, but the King's anger was not appeased, and he soon
found occasion to punish Weber for the insult. The misrepresentations
of a servant to a citizen from whom Weber borrowed money led the former
to believe that the loan would purchase an appointment for his son in
the Duke's household and consequent immunity from military service. The
appointment not following, Weber was denounced to the King, tried by a
process quite as summary as a drum-head court-martial, and banished from
Wirtemberg along with his father, in whose behalf the loan had been made.
It was the year 1810, and it marks Weber's moral regeneration. He resolved
thereafter to devote himself honestly and seriously to the service of
his art. His artistic achievements during this decade were scarcely
significant enough to outweigh the unhappy incidents of his life. At
Freiberg he forgot his father's lithographic schemes long enough to set an
opera book written by Ritter von Steinsberg on the familiar folk-tale of
the Seven Ravens, entitled "Das Stumme Waldmädchen," which was performed
in Freiberg, Chemnitz, Prague and even Vienna and St. Petersburg, without
making a decided success. In the course of his second stay in Salzburg he
composed "Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn," which was brought out with
indifferent results at Augsburg. During his trip through Northern Germany
he developed a thirst for theoretical knowledge and also a bent toward
literature which grew with time, made him a student of the writings of
Kant and Schelling, in Stuttgart, and filled his head for a space with
thoughts of a critical journal. His choice of Abbé Vogler as a teacher
has generally been deplored, but it seems to have been beneficial in this
respect, at least, that under the influence of that man of brilliant if
superficial talents, he ceased the production of unripe works and took up
the analysis of masterpieces and the study of folk-music. The circumstance
that his writings for two years are practically summed up in a pianoforte
arrangement of the Abbé's opera "Samori" and two sets of variations
on themes from that opera and "Castor and Pollux" might be variously
interpreted. The Abbé had the gift of attaching young men to himself and
was probably not averse to such tributes as his affectionate pupils paid
him in the revamping of his ideas; but if Weber's own testimony is to
be accepted he must have helped him greatly in the direction where his
greatest needs lay. In Breslau he began the composition of "Rübezahl"
(text by J. G. Rhode, the managing director of the private company that
maintained the theatre), and composed an a Overturn Chinesa," utilizing
for the purpose a Chinese melody entitled "Lieu-ye-kin." This overture
he remodeled a few years later and prefixed it to Schiller's adaptation
of the Italian Gozzi's masque "Turandot" for which he also composed six
incidental pieces. How one who was so happy a few years later in the
application of local color should have persuaded himself to use a Chinese
melody with its characteristic pentatonic scale in an overture to a play
based on a Persian subject does not appear. Weber's stay with Duke Eugene
was not without profit, though his compositions were chiefly instrumental
and, barring two symphonies, in the smaller forms. In Stuttgart where
his musical services to Duke Ludwig were confined to instructing his
children, he undertook a resetting of "Das Stumme Waldmädchen," the book
of which had been worked over by Franz Carl Hiemer, the leading spirit
of the dissolute coterie known as "Faust's Höllenfahrt." Weber seems
to have spent two years on this work, or rather to have spread it out
over two years of time, a circumstance which, when contrasted with the
rapidity of his work on his second opera as a lad of thirteen, tells its
own tale of the effect of the influences which surrounded him. It was
at a rehearsal of this opera, renamed "Sylvana," that the King chose to
have him arrested to gratify a petty vengefulness. The work came into new
notice in connection with the German celebrations of Weber's centenary
in 1886 by reason of a second revision and revival after it had been
forgotten for full half a century. This "revision," however, for which
Ernst Pasqué and Ferdinand Langer are responsible, is almost if not quite
as original a piece of work as that done by Weber in the remodeling of
"Das Stumme Waldmädchen." The three-act play is expanded into one of four
acts; the dumb maiden is metamorphosed into a particularly brilliant
_soprano leggiero_; a ballet is introduced consisting of the "Invitation
to the Dance," which was composed in 1817, and the Polonaise in E-flat
which dates back to the Stuttgart period; several of Weber's songs are
interpolated (a hint of Widor's having seemingly been acted on), and vocal
numbers are constructed out of two sonata movements.

[Illustration: PORTRAIT OF WEBER, IN HIS TWENTY-FOURTH YEAR.

Painted by Jos. Lang, the actor-painter (brother-in-law of Mozart).
Engraved by Joh. Neidl.]

With the expulsion from Stuttgart Weber's wanderings began again, and
for several years, the rest of the time indeed which may be counted
in the period preparatory to his entrance upon his estate as a genius
conscious of a mission and equipped for its performance, his life is like
that of a minstrel knight of old, save for the difference in social and
artistic environment. At the very outset of these final peregrinations
there is noticeable a sign of his moral regeneration, preceding only by
a little most convincing evidences of a determination to make good also
the artistic shortcomings due to his desultory early training and his
later frivolities. Toward the close of 1810 he wrote in his journal: "I
can say calmly and truthfully that I have grown to be a better man within
the last ten months. My sad experiences have made me wiser, I am become
orderly in my business affairs and steadily industrious." The men whose
friendship he cultivated on his travels were worthy of the best he could
offer, and he made no more companionships that were hindrances to his
growth. In Mannheim, whither he first went with letters from Danzi, it was
the theoretician Gottfried Weber who gave him encouragement, help and a
friendship that lasted till death. In Darmstadt began a lovely intercourse
with Meyerbeer, who was then studying with Vogler, and whose parents
received him like one of the family when he went to Berlin. In Hamburg
he met E. T. A. Hoffman, that incarnation of the Romantic spirit; and in
Munich he formed a social and artistic connection with the clarinettist,
Bärmann, which was a source of delight and profit to them both. Duke Emil
Leopold August, of Saxe Gotha, with all his crazy eccentricities, was a
kind patron, at whose court he came into close relationship with Spohr,
whom he had first met at Stuttgart, and on whom he had made an unfavorable
impression. He went to Weimar, and learned to love Wieland and would
also doubtless have bent the knee to Goethe, had that great man treated
him with a little more than scant courtesy. It would seem, however, as
if the great poet had imbibed, consciously or unconsciously, some of the
prejudice against Weber which his musical oracle, Zelter, cherished.
Weber's resolve to give truer devotion to his art bore fruit first in a
heightened appreciation of the value of criticism. Not only did he seek
to profit by the censure bestowed on his own works on the score of a want
of plastic beauty and soundness of form, but he sought to give greater
dignity to criticism by cultivating it himself. In Darmstadt he joined
Meyerbeer and others in organizing a secret society which had for a motto
"the elevation of musical criticism by musicians." He even recurred to his
old project of founding a critical journal, and though he did not carry it
out, he was thus in a sense a forerunner of Schumann, as the "Harmonischer
Verein" (thus the critical coterie called itself) was a prototype of the
"Davidsbündler." His conviction that he was profiting by his more serious
studies and loftier determination is seen, moreover, in his desire to
better his earlier work. He did not try to complete the opera "Rübezahl,"
but he remodelled its overture, which he thought his finest achievement
up to that time, and also the overture to "Peter Schmoll." In his one-act
operetta "Abu Hassan," composed during a second stay in Mannheim after
his return from Frankfort, where he had produced "Sylvana" successfully,
modern critics have found the buds of that dramatic genius which came into
full flower in "Der Freischütz." His fondness for literary composition
grew so strong in this period that, not content with critical essays,
he ventured upon a work of fiction. It is impossible not to see in this
circumstance and also in the title chosen for the romance, "Tonkünstler's
Erdenwallen," a suggestion which Wagner acted on when a generation later
he wrote: "Ein Ende in Paris," and "A Pilgrimage to Beethoven."

We have reached a point in Weber's career when his aims, ambitions,
methods and achievements present so many parallels with those of his
direct successor in art that the temptation is strong to put aside the
story of the man in favor of an essay in comparative criticism. Each
succeeding event in the next few years of his life helps to bring those
parallels into a light which is particularly vivid to us who view them
from the vantage ground of to-day. When he goes to Prague in January,
1813, to organize a German Opera, we see him enter the portal of the
temple which enshrined the goddess of his later idolatry. When he emerges
from that temple it is as the High Priest of a new cult, consecrated for
the greater task which he accomplished in Dresden, whither he went in
1817. The consecration was two-fold; it entered into his moral life and
purged it of the last husks of folly when he married Caroline Brandt on
November 4, 1817; it entered into his artistic life when he conceived his
mission to be to stimulate a national art-spirit in his country worthy
of the spirit of patriotism which had enabled the German people to rid
themselves of a foreign oppressor. In Prague he formed his last ignoble
attachment. It was for the wife of a dancer at the opera, whose purposes
were all mercenary, and whose husband was willing to trade in his wife's
honor. The _liaison_ caused immeasurable suffering to the gentle soul of
Weber, and was the last of his purging fires. The solace which he found in
the love of the singer who had sung in his "Sylvana" at Frankfort and been
engaged at Prague at his instance, was perfect. Caroline Brandt did not
accept him lightly, and he had time, while wooing her, to learn the value
of her sweet purity and recover from the wounds struck by a degrading
passion.

The spirit of Romanticism which had long before been breathed into German
literature and encouraged patriotism by disclosing the treasures of
German legendary lore, became a vital force when patriotic sentiments
were transmuted into deeds of valor. Theodor Körner was the incarnation
of that political ecstacy which had been nourished by the Tugendbund. In
the youth of Germany, especially in the students, his songs produced a
sort of divine intoxication. Part of Weber's summer vacation in 1814 was
passed in Berlin. Prussia was leading in the struggle to throw off the
yoke of Napoleon, and Weber drank daily of the soma-juice in Körner's
"Lyre and Sword." On his return trip to Prague he visited his old friend
the Duke Emil August at his castle Gräfen-Tonna. From this old feudal
pile he sent his settings of "Lützow's wilde Jagd" and "Das Schwertlied"
to his love in Prague. The world has never ceased to marvel at the fire
of those settings; who shall describe their effect in Germany at the time
they were written? They were sparks hurled into the powder-magazine of
national feeling. All things were conspiring to develop Weber's Germanism
from an emotion into a religion. The "Hurrah!" of his apostrophe to the
sword found an echo at Waterloo. He planned a cantata to celebrate the
event. It was not musical taste as much as patriotic ardor to which
the circumstances compelled him to appeal. "Kampf und Sieg" is another
"Wellington's Victory," containing the same vulgar realism (the noises of
battle, etc.), but disclosing also a higher artistic striving. Beethoven
used national melodies to characterize the warring soldiery: the "Chanson
de Malbrouk" for the French, and "Rule Britannia" for the English. Weber
utilized the revolutionary "Ça ira" for the French "God save the King"
for the English, the Austrian and Prussian grenadier marches and the
refrain from his own "Lützow." The latter circumstance may be looked upon
as evidence of the popularity which the spirited song had won within a
year.

[Illustration: WEBER

_Drawn and executed in lithography by G. Minasi_ (Artist to the King of
Napler &c.,) _and most respectfully dedicated by him with their permission
to the directors and subscribers of the Philarmonic Society_

Pale genius strives in vain to check a sigh
And points in silence to his laurell'd bust:
While all the tuneful nine sit by.
No does Britannia generous maid. Forget
What loth is unassuming worth is due;
But marks with sympathy and deep regret,
The cheerless scene which opens to her view,
Observes with plaintive eye where he is laid
And drops a tear of pity to his shade.

Ds Mirore 211.

London Dec. 15th, 1826 Pub.ᵈ by J. Linibird, 143 Strand. Printed et
Pub.ᵈ by Engelmann Graf Coindeta Cᵒ. 66 St. Martins Lane Strand. ]

It was when Romanticism became militant that it fired the heart of Weber
and enlisted him as a soldier. In Berlin Brentano offered him the subject
of "Tannhäuser" for treatment. He had considered the story of "Der
Freischütz" as far back as 1810. He was not ready for such work until he
had fought the fight for a German operatic institution in Prague and in
Dresden. In one respect the conditions were more favorable in the Bohemian
capital than in the Saxon. In the former it was chiefly indifference and
ignorance with which he had to contend; in the latter the patriotic fires
which might have been helpful were buried under the ashes of hatred of
Prussia. The splendid Teutonism of Weber was tolerated with ill grace,
and the intrigues of his associate Morlacchi, at the head of the Italian
opera, were permitted to make fourfold more difficult the stupendous task
of building up a German opera in a city that had always been dominated by
Italian influences in art. It was four years before Weber could take the
step which to us looks like an appeal from the Saxon court to the German
people. The case was that of "Der Freischütz" against the Italian régime,
and it was tried and won on June 18, 1821, in the new opera house in
Berlin.

The Italian régime was maintained in Dresden through the efforts of the
conductor of the Italian Opera, Morlacchi, the concert-master Polledro,
the church composer Schubert, and Count von Einsiedel, Cabinet Minister.
The efforts of these men placed innumerable obstacles in Weber's path and
their influence heaped humiliations upon him. Confidence alone in the
ultimate success of his efforts to regenerate the lyric drama sustained
him in his trials. Against the merely sensuous charm of suave melody
and lovely singing he opposed truthfulness of feeling and conscientious
endeavor for the attainment of a perfect _ensemble_. Here his powers of
organization, trained by his experience in Prague, his perfect knowledge
of the stage imbibed with his mother's milk, and his unquenchable zeal
gave him amazing puissance. Thoroughness was his watchword. He put
aside the old custom of conducting while seated at the pianoforte and
appeared before his players with a _bâton_. He was an inspiration, not a
figure-head. His mind and his emotions dominated theirs and were published
in the performance. He raised the standard of the chorus, stimulated
the actors, inspected the stage-furnishings and costumes and stamped
harmony of feeling, harmony of understanding, harmony of efforts upon the
first work undertaken - a performance of Méhul's "Joseph in Egypt." Nor
did he confine his educational efforts to the people of the theatre. He
continued in Dresden the plan first put into practice by him in Prague
of printing articles about new operas in the newspapers to stimulate
public appreciation of their characteristics and beauties. For a while the
work of organization checked his creative energies, but when his duties
touching new music for court or church functions gave him the opportunity
he wrote with undiminished energy. His masses in E-flat and G were thus
called forth, and his "Jubilee Cantata," the overture to which, composed
later, is now a universal possession.

The year which gave him his wife also gave him the opera book with the
composition of which it was destined he should crown his career as a
National composer. Apel's "Gespensterbuch" had fallen into his hands
seven years before, and he had marked the story of "Der Freischütz" for
treatment. His mind reverted to it again in the spring of 1817. Friederich
Kind agreed to write the book and placed it complete in his hands on March
1st, nine days after he had undertaken the commission. Weber's enthusiasm
was great, but circumstances prevented him from devoting much time to the
composition of the opera. He wrote the first of its music in July, 1817,
but did not complete it till May 13, 1820. It was in his mind during all
this period, however, and would doubtless have been finished much earlier
had he received an order to write an opera from the Saxon court. In this
expectation he was disappointed, and the honor of having encouraged the
production of the most national opera ever written went to Berlin, where
the patriotism which had been warmed by Weber's settings of Körner's
songs was still ablaze and where Count Brühl's plans were discussing to
bring him to the Prussian capital as Capellmeister. The opera was given
under circumstances that produced intense excitement in the minds of
Weber's friends. It was felt that the patriotic interest which the name
and presence of Körner's collaborator aroused would not alone suffice to
achieve a real triumph for a work of art. The sympathies of the musical
areopagus of Berlin were not with Weber or his work, - neither before nor
after the first performance; but Weber spoke to the popular heart and its
quick responsive throb lifted him at once to the crest of the wave which
soon deluged all Germany. The overture had to be repeated to still the
applause that followed its first performance, and when the curtain fell on
the last scene a new chapter in German art had been opened.

[Illustration: THE OLD MARKET SQUARE IN DRESDEN - From a photograph.

The house bearing sign on roof "RENNER" bears this inscription - "Hier
schrieb 1819 - C. M. von Weber - Der Freischütz." - (Here C. M. von Weber
wrote 1819 "Der Freischütz.")]

The difficulties which surrounded the production of "Der Freischütz" and
the doubt felt touching its fate seemed to have almost unnerved Weber's
friends. He alone had remained undisturbed. For a year his mind had been
in a fever of creative activity. The incidental music for the melodrama
"Preciosa" had gone to Berlin with the score of "Der Freischütz," and
before he left Dresden to produce his opera he had begun to work on the
music of "Die drei Pintos," a comic opera for which Theodor Hill had
supplied the book. On the eve of the great "Freischütz" day he composed
his "Concertstück," which until recent years was the most universally
popular of his pianoforte compositions and now is esteemed as only second
to the exquisitely graceful, eloquent and romantic "Invitation," which he
composed and dedicated to his wife shortly after his marriage.

Weber had begun the hopeless fight against the disease that robbed him of
his mother at the age of twenty-six years, before he came to Dresden. He
did not possess the physical constitution for a long combat. He was small
and narrow-chested. Much of the superhuman energy which marked the last
five years of his life was due to the unnatural eagerness of his mind to
put forth the whole of his artistic evangel before bodily dissolution
should silence the proclamation.

There is no doubt that it was sheer will-power that kept the vital fires
burning in his tortured body until the uttermost faggot of fuel which
could nourish them was burned to ashes. The picture which Sir Julius
Benedict draws of him as he appeared when Sir Julius entered his house
to become his pupil in February, 1821, is indescribably pathetic in its
simple eloquence: "I found him sitting at his desk and occupied with the
pianoforte arrangement of his 'Freischütz.' The dire disease which but
too soon was to carry him off had made its mark on his noble features;
the projecting cheek-bones, the general emaciation, told their sad tale;
but in his clear eyes, too often concealed by spectacles, in his mighty
forehead fringed by a few straggling locks, in the sweet expression of
his mouth, in the very tone of his weak but melodious voice, there was a
magic power which attracted irresistibly all who approached him." The last
period of his life, the period in which he went on uninterruptedly from
one great achievement to another, strengthening the foundations of the new



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 20 of 32)