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Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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structure his genius had reared, lifting it higher and extending it in all
directions, was for his physical body but a period of torment. His rewards
were many, but those which brought the greatest benison of felicity and
comfort flowed from his domestic life, or came from without the province
of his official labors. Dresden shared the glory which he had won in
Berlin and elsewhere, but his masters refused him the honors the rest of
the world was glad to give. His king denied him the petty insignias of
distinction which no man in the kingdom had so richly earned, yet, though
opportunities offered (such as an invitation to become musical director
at Hesse Cassel) he refused to change his field of labor, inspired by a
desperate determination to conquer the indifference of the Saxon court.
"Der Freischütz" had set Germany on fire, but its composer waited a year
before he was privileged to produce it in Dresden. Nearly three months
before that occurrence he received an invitation to compose an opera for
the Kärnthnerthor theatre, in Vienna, under the management of Barbaja.
He chose the blue-stocking, Helmina von Chezy, as his collaborator, and
began work on "Euryanthe." It was another tremendous stride in the path
of progress; but the world did not know it, for now Weber was the forward
man leading the way into the hitherto unexplored fields of dramatic
music. He went to Vienna in September, 1823, to bring out his new work.
Of all the incidents of the memorable visit none is more significant than
his meeting with Beethoven. It was a tardy meeting. As lad and youth he
had been in Vienna without manifesting the slightest desire to meet the
great master. In his self-elected capacity as critic he had attacked the
symphonies in E-flat and B-flat. It is not improbable that it was the
study of "Fidelio," which he produced at Prague, and afterward at Dresden,
that opened his mind to the significant relationship which Beethoven
bore to his own efforts to reanimate a national art-spirit in Germany.
At any rate when the composer of "Euryanthe" went to Vienna it was as a
musician filled with veneration for the composer of "Fidelio," and the
reception which he met with at the hands of the great man touched him
most profoundly. "We dined together in the happiest mood," Weber wrote to
his wife; "the stern, rough man paid me as much attention as if I were a
lady he was courting, and served me at table with the most delicate care.
How proud I felt to receive all this attention and regard from the great
master-spirit; the day will remain forever impressed on my mind and those
of all who were present." Beethoven, it is said, promised to attend the
first performance of "Euryanthe," which took place on October 25, but did
not. He would have heard nothing of the music if he had, but there is a
story that after the representation, which was tremendously successful, he
wrote to Weber: "I am glad, I am glad! For this is the way the German must
get the upper hand of the Italian sing-song." The success of the opera was
not lasting, however. It was marred by the dramatic faults of its book,
and after Weber's departure its score was horribly disfigured by excisions
made by Conradin Kreutzer.

[Illustration: MONUMENT TO WEBER IN DRESDEN. - From a photograph.

Ernst Rietschel, Sculptor.]

The vital forces were rapidly leaving Weber's frail body. For nearly a
year and a half after the completion of "Euryanthe" he composed nothing
except a French romance for voice and pianoforte. Then he marshalled his
intellectual and physical forces for a last endeavor. Charles Kemble
in 1824, stimulated by the success of "Der Freischütz" in London,
commissioned him to compose an opera for Covent Garden. The work was to
be in English, and after some correspondence on the subject Weber agreed
to compose an opera and produce it in person for an honorarium of £1,000.
While the negotiations were in progress he consulted his physician, who
told him the acceptance of the commission would bring about his death in
a few months, or even weeks, whereas a year's respite from all work in
Italy would prolong his life five or six years. The sum offered was large
and Weber's mind had been haunted by the apprehension of leaving his wife
and children unprovided for. He decided to sacrifice his life for the
welfare of his family, and accepted the commission. The decision made, his
physical and intellectual lassitude gave way to another fit of energy.
The subject agreed on was "Oberon," and Planché was to prepare the book.
As a preparation, the dying composer learned English. The first two acts
of the book came into his hands on January 18, the third on February 1,
1825. He began at once but suspended it in order to take the waters at Ems
during the summer. He resumed work in the fall and completed the overture,
which, in the usual manner of composers, he composed last, in London, on
April 29, 1826. He had reached the city a week before, having travelled to
Calais in his own carriage and made a stop in Paris, where he was cheered
by the kind attention of men like Cherubini, Rossini, Onslow and others.
No time was wasted in beginning the preparations for the production of
"Oberon," nor, indeed, was there any time to waste. He superintended
sixteen rehearsals, and conducted the first performance on April 12, 1826.
It was his last triumph; "The composer had an even more enthusiastic
reception than Rossini two or three years before," says Spitta. Weber
conducted twelve performances according to contract, took part in a few
concerts, gave one of his own which was a failure financially because
of the indifference of the aristocracy, and then in feverish anxiety to
see his family again, began preparations for his return journey. On the
morning of June 5, 1826, his host, Sir George Smart, found him dead in
his bed: "his head resting on his hand as if in sweet slumber; no traces
of his suffering could be seen in these noble features. His spirit had
fled - home indeed!" His body was buried in Moorfields Chapel on June
21, but eighteen years later, largely through the instrumentality of
Richard Wagner, it was brought to Dresden and interred in the family
vault with impressive ceremonies. Wagner pronounced the oration at his
final resting-place, and thus emphasized the trait in his character which
lay at the foundation of his greatest achievement in art: "Never lived a
musician more German than thou! No matter where thy genius bore thee, in
what far-away unfathomable realm of fancy, always did it remain fastened
with a thousand sensitive fibres to the heart of the German people,
with which it smiled and wept like an undoubting child listening to the
fairy tales of its native land. This ingenuousness it was which led thy
manhood's mind like a guardian angel and preserved it chaste; and in this
chastity lay thy individuality: preserving this glorious virtue unsullied
thou wast lifted above the need of artificial invention. It was enough for
thee to feel, for when thou hadst felt then hadst thou already discovered
the things which have been from the beginning. And this lofty virtue
didst thou preserve even into thy death. Thou couldst not sacrifice it,
nor divest thyself of this lovely heritage of thy German lineage; thou
couldst not betray us! - Behold, now the Briton does thee justice, the
Frenchman admires thee, but only the German can _love_ thee! Thou art his,
a lovely day out of his life, a warm drop of his blood, a fragment of his
heart - who will blame us for wishing that thy ashes might become a portion
of his earth, his precious German earth?"

* * * * *

[Illustration: Fac-simile letter from Weber replying to inquiry concerning
his "Jubel Overture" and pianoforte Concerto. Also recommending Naumann's
"Pater Noster" as a beautiful work.]

The works of Weber comprehend examples of nearly all the vocal and
instrumental forms, except the sacred oratorio. He completed and
published six operas, and left fragments of three others. Of his first
boyish effort, "Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins," not a bar has
been discovered, and it is believed that he destroyed it. Of smaller
dramatic works including the melodrama "Preciosa," the overture, and
incidental music for "Turandot," airs for interpolation in operas of other
composers, etc., he wrote twenty-eight. His cantatas, using the word in
both its old and newer sense as a composition for soli and chorus with
accompaniment, number eight. He wrote two masses and a separate offertory
for each; ninety songs, ballads and romances for single voice with
pianoforte or guitar accompaniment; nineteen part-songs for men's voices;
fourteen canons, part-songs, etc., for mixed voices with and without
accompaniment; and he arranged ten Scotch songs. The summary of his purely
instrumental music is not so large. He was not a master of the great epic
form, and the two symphonies which he composed have no significance in
an estimate of his work. In addition to the overtures to his published
operas he wrote three overtures which have appeared separately: that of
"Peter Schmoll" published as "Grande Ouverture à plusieurs instruments,"
"Rübezahl," known as "Beherrscher der Geister," and "Jubel"; he also
wrote five orchestral dances and marches. He composed three pianoforte
concertos, ten smaller works with pianoforte accompaniment, thirteen
concerted pieces for various solo instruments (clarinet, bassoon, flute
and violoncello) and orchestra, four pianoforte sonatas, seventeen
pianoforte pieces of various other forms for two hands (counting sets of
Fughetti, Allemandes, Ecossaises and Waltzes as single numbers) and twenty
similar pieces for four hands.

Weber's significance lies in his dramatic works. His songs, charmingly
poetical and beautiful as many of them are, have been pushed into the
background by those of his contemporary Schubert and his successors in the
song-field, Schumann, Franz and Brahms. His part-songs for men's voices,
especially his settings of Körner's patriotic lyrics, will probably be
sung as long as the German gives voice to his love of Fatherland through
the agency of _Männergesangvereine_. It is no depreciation of their
artistic merit, however, to say that they fill a much larger page in the
social and political history of Germany than in the story of musical
evolution. As a composer for the pianoforte Weber long ago became archaic.
His sonatas are seldom heard now-a-days outside of historical recitals
whose purpose is, in the first instance, instructive. The "Concertstück,"
once the hobby of nearly all performers of the brilliant school, is
rapidly sinking into neglect, and one might attend concerts for a decade
in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, Boston or New York without hearing
either of the other concertos. The circumstance that in the "Concertstück"
and the "Invitation to the Dance," Weber displayed a distinctly Romantic
tendency in the sense of striving to give expression to a poetical conceit
placed at the foundation of the composition and kept in mind throughout,
accounts in a great degree for the greater vitality of these two works.
Yet even the "Invitation" is admired more to-day in the embellished
version of Tausig and the orchestral paraphrase of Berlioz than in its
original shape. The value of this exquisite little dramatic poem in
tones, we are inclined to place so high that the estimate may seem out
of all proportion with the rest of this review. The world has learned,
however, that merit lies in contents and felicity of expression rather
than pretension and dimension, and in view of the subsequent idealization
of the dance by Chopin and his followers, we incline to the belief
that what once may have been regarded as a trifle really outweighs in
importance the bulk of Weber's pianoforte pieces whose formal titles give
them dignity. The professor and the amateur are one in their admiration
for this delicious composition, and there is no one so unlearned in music
that he may not arrive at the composer's purpose from a simple hearing, so
he bring love and a bit of fancy into the concert-room. How many pretty
pictures of brilliant ball-rooms and loving couples has not this music
conjured up in the minds of imaginative people. Even old Dr. Brown, whose
"Rab and his Friends" will ever keep him dear to Anglo-Saxon hearts, felt
the intoxication of these strains a quarter century ago, and put on record
in _The Scotsman_ one of the most eloquent critical rhapsodies extant.
He pictures the ball-room, the lovers, the meeting in a shadowy recess,
where she (the interested maiden) had been left by her mother. He (a
Lochinvar, of course) is bending down and asking her to tread a measure.
She, - but we must let Brown go on in his own way - "She looks still more
down, flushes doubtless, and quietly in the shadow says 'No' and means
'yes' - says 'Yes' and fully means it, and they are off! All this small,
whispered love-making and dainty device, this coaxing and being coaxed,
is in the (all too short for us, but not for them) prelude to the waltz,
the real business of the piece and evening. And then such a waltz for
waltzing! Such precision and decision! Whisking them round, moulding them
into twin orbs, hurrying them past and away from everything and everybody
but themselves." And so old Brown goes on until you are almost dizzy with
reading and entirely ready to vote that his rhapsody is only a little less
delicious than Weber's music. The decadence of the liking for chamber
music with wind instruments and of solos for them has relegated Weber's
compositions for the clarinet and its brethren of the harmonious choir to
the museum of musical history.

It is then to his operas that we must go to study Weber's music as an
expression of artistic feeling and conviction and as an influence. He was
one of the forward men of his art, one whose principles and methods are
as vital now as they were when he was yet alive in the body. In a very
significant sense they are still new to a large portion of the musical
world. They are just dawning in Italy. It is through Wagner's restatement
of them that they are acquiring validity in new fields. Weber's full
stature, indeed, can only be seen in the light which the example of Wagner
throws upon him. This light goes out in several directions, but in each
instance it discloses Weber as a precursor. The intense Teutonism of
Wagner which led him to aim at a resurrection in a new and glorified body
of the "dramma per musica" of the Florentine reformers was an inheritance
from his father-in-art and predecessor as Capellmeister at the Dresden
opera. The Romanticism of Weber displayed in his choice of subjects had
a literary tincture; it went no further than it was propelled by the
example of Tieck, Schlegel and their companions, and it was colored by
the mystical and sentimental Catholicism which was one of the singular
reactionary fruits of the Romantic movement in German literature. Wagner's
Romanticism is that of a period in which the pendulum had swung back
again; it is psychological, almost physiological. The old myths will
not serve in their mediæval form; they must be reduced to their lowest
terms. Yet though we note this difference in manifestation, the root of
Wagner's Romanticism strikes through Weber's. We have seen how Weber's
sincerity of purpose led him to overturn the humdrum routine of operatic
representation. His made his intelligence and his feeling to illuminate
all sides of the work in hand. He was an intermediary not only between
the composer and the performers in all departments, but also between the
art-work and the public. He was wholly modern in his employment of all the
agencies that offered to induct the public into the beauties and meanings
of the operas which he conducted. He was the precursor of Schumann, Liszt,
Wagner, and all the present tribe of literary musicians. To do things
perfunctorily seems to have been foreign to his nature. He labored as
conscientiously to win appreciation for Marschner's "Heinrich IV. und
d'Aubigné" and Meyerbeer's "Abimelek" as for Beethoven's "Fidelio." It
is to Weber that we must trace the essential things which are recognized
to-day as marking the difference between German and Italian opera outside
of language and style of composition.

It is a fact, the bearing of which ought to be borne in mind while
studying the significance of Weber in the development of music, that he
did not enjoy the favor of the leading men amongst his contemporaries.
The popularity of "Der Freischütz" always remained an enigma to Spohr,
and Schubert could find nothing to admire in "Euryanthe." His want of
skill in the handling of form, which in the early part of his career
we are justified in attributing to insufficient study, was an offence
which these men and the majority who were like-minded with them could
not forgive. In his orchestral treatment, too, and his obvious leaning
toward dramatic and spectacular effectiveness, they could only perceive
what is now termed sensationalism. The old notions of the relationship
between music and poetry were still almost universally valid. Beauty had
not come to be looked upon as a relative thing; it was believed that to
be real it must appeal to all alike and that those of its elements which
rested upon individual or national predilections were false in art.
Characteristic beauty was an unknown quantity. Weber's definition of an
opera when it was put forth sounded in the ears of his contemporaries like
a heresy the realization of which would mean the destruction of operatic
music. We are become familiar enough with it since Wagner achieved his
reform, and therefore can scarcely appreciate how revolutionary it must
have sounded three-quarters of a century ago. The opera, said Weber, is
"an art work complete in itself, in which all the parts and contributions
of the related and utilized arts meet and disappear in each other, and,
in a manner, form a new world by their own destruction." A society in
Breslau applied to Weber for permission to perform "Euryanthe" in concert
style. Weber denied the request with the memorable words: "'Euryanthe'
is a purely dramatic attempt which rests for its effectiveness upon the
coöperation of all the sister arts, and will surely fail if robbed of
their help." To these two definitions let us add two others touching
singing and form: "It is the first and most sacred duty of song to be
truthful with the utmost fidelity possible in declamation"; "All striving
for the beautiful and the new good is praiseworthy; but the creation of
a new form must be generated by the poem which is setting." Here we find
stated in the plainest and most succinct terms the foundation principles
of the modern lyric drama. It may be urged that Weber did not pursue his
convictions to their extremity as Wagner did, but returned in "Oberon"
to the simpler operatic style; but this, we are convinced, was partly
because of the intellectual and physical lassitude due to the consumption
of his vital forces, and partly because of his wish to adapt himself to
the customs of the English stage and the taste of the people for whom he
composed his fairy opera. This is obvious not only from his letters to
Planché, the librettist of "Oberon," but from his subsequent effort to
remodel the opera to suit his own ideas "so that 'Oberon' may deserve the
name of opera." On February 16, 1825, he wrote: "These two acts are also
filled with the greatest beauties. I embrace the whole in love, and will
endeavor not to remain behind you. To this acknowledgment of your work
you can give credit, the more as I must repeat, that the cut of the whole
is very foreign to all my ideas and maxims. The intermixing of so many
principal actors who do not sing, the omission of the music in the most
important moments - all these things deprive our 'Oberon' of the title of
an opera, and will make him unfit for all other theatres in Europe, which
is a very bad thing for me, but _passons là dessus_." His adherence to the
belief in the necessity of an intimate and affectionate relation between
poetry and music, moreover, has beautiful assertion in the concluding
words of the same letter: "Poets and composers live together in a sort of
angels' marriage which demands a reciprocal trust."

It is the manner in which he has wedded the drama with music which
makes "Euryanthe" a work that, at times, seems almost ineffable. There
is no groping in the dark such as might have been expected in the case
of a pathfinder. Weber is pointing the way to thitherto undreamed-of
possibilities and means, yet his hand is steady, his judgment all but
unerring. The eloquence and power of the orchestra as an expositor of the
innermost sentiments of the drama are known to him. Witness his use of
the band in the _largo_ episode of the overture, designed to accompany
a picture which Weber wished to have disclosed during the music for
the purpose of giving coherency and intelligibility to the hopelessly
defective book of the opera. Witness the puissance of the orchestra
again in _Lysiart's_ great air, "Wo berg ich mich?" _Euryanthe's_
recital of the secret, _Eglantine's_ distraught confession, and more
strikingly than anywhere else in the wondrously pathetic scene following
_Adolar's_ desertion, and the instrumental introduction in the third
act in which is to be found the germ of one of Wagner's most telling
devices in "Tristan" and "Siegfried." Witness also how brilliantly its
colors second the joyous, sweeping strains which publish the glories of
mediæval chivalry. Will it ever be possible to put loftier sentiment and
sincerer expression into a delineation of brave knighthood and its homage
to fair woman than inspire every measure of the first act? Whither could
we turn for more powerful expression of individual character through the
means of musical declamation than we find in the music of _Euryanthe_
and _Eglantine_? To Wagner's honor it must be said that he never denied
his indebtedness to Weber, but if he had it would have availed him
nothing while the representatives of the evil principle in "Euryanthe"
and "Lohengrin" present so obvious a parallel, not to mention Wagner's
drafts upon what may be called the external apparatus of Weber's score.
Somewhat labored at times, and weighted with the fruits of reflection, the
music unquestionably is, but for each evidence of intellectual straining
discernible how many instances of highly emotionalized music, real,
true, expressive music, present themselves to charm the hearer, and with
what a delightful shock of surprise is not the discovery made that the
old-fashioned roulades, when they come (which they do with as much naïveté
as in Mozart) have been infused with a dramatic potency equalled only by
Mozart in some of his happiest inspirations? Of finest gold is the score
of "Euryanthe." That it is come so tardily into its estate, and that
even to-day it is still underestimated and misunderstood, is the fault
of its libretto. Dr. Spitta has gallantly broken a lance in defence of
the book, but no amount of ingenious argumentation can justify the absurd
complication created by the prudery of a German blue-stocking to avoid
Shakespeare's simple expedient, the "mole, cinque-spotted." After all has
been said and done in defence of the book, the fact remains that it is the
attitude of the hero and heroine of the play to a mystery which is wholly
outside the action and cannot be brought within the sympathetic cognizance
of the spectators, that supplies the motive to the conduct of _Adolar_ and
_Euryanthe_.

[Illustration: WEBER LEADING HIS OPERA OF "DER FREISCHÜTZ" AT COVENT
GARDEN THEATRE IN 1826.

From a characteristic and truthful lithographed sketch made shortly before
his death and published by J. Dickinson, 114 New Bond Street, London.]

The device of introducing the _largo_ episode in the overture of
"Euryanthe" to accompany a tableau temporarily disclosed by the withdrawal
of the curtain, the tableau having a bearing on the ghostly part of the
dramatic tale, may be said to serve not only to prove Weber's appreciation
of the fundamental defect of the book, but also to indicate his anxiety
to establish a more intimate relationship between the instrumental
introduction and the drama. The choral "Ave Maria" in the overture to
Meyerbeer's "Dinorah" and the Siciliano in the prelude to Mascagni's
"Cavalleria Rusticana" are but variations of Weber's futile invention.
It would be unavailing to deny that the want of symphonic development
in Weber's overtures, the circumstance that they are little else than



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 21 of 32)