Famous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 online

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potpourris of melodies idealized in a manner by the splendor of their
instrumentation, prevents them from aspiring to the dramatic dignity and
significance of such overtures as Mozart wrote for "Don Giovanni" and
Beethoven for "Fidelio." As a creative composer Weber was first of all a
melodist, secondarily a colorist. His want of constructive skill was held
up as a reproach to him by his colleagues all through his career. It is
not to make a plea in behalf of lawlessness to say that this deficiency
in Weber's artistic equipment was less detrimental to his works and
influence than a deficiency in any other department would have been. Not a
destruction of form but an extension of forms, an adaptation of the vessel
to its new contents, was a necessary consequence of the introduction
of the Romantic spirit as a dominant element in music. The Romanticism
of the poets who inspired the musical Romanticists, consisted not only
in their effort to overthrow the stilted rhetoric and pedantry of the
German writers who were following stereotyped French models, but also in
their effort to disclose the essential beauty which pervades the world of
mystery beyond the plain realities of this life. They found the elements
of their creations in the imaginative literature of the Middle Ages, - the
marvellous and fantastic stories of chivalry and superstition. A man like
Schumann touches hands with these poets in all of their strivings. His
music rebels against the formalism which had assumed despotic dominion
over the art, and also expresses the thousand and one emotions to which
that formalism refused adequate expression. Weber's art was so deeply
rooted in that of the last century that he could not place himself
wholly upon this level. His violations of conventional forms are less
the fruit of necessity than the product of incapacity. His Romanticism,
except that phase which we have already discussed in connection with his
patriotic lyrics, had more of an external nature and genesis - it sprang
from the subjects of his operas. The treatment of these subjects by an
instinctively truthful musical dramatist was bound to produce the features
in which that which is chiefly characteristic in Weber's music is found.
The supernaturalism of "Der Freischütz" and "Oberon," the chivalresque
sentiment of "Euryanthe" and the national tinge of "Preciosa," all made
new demands upon music so soon as the latter came to be looked upon as
only one vehicle of dramatic expression instead of the chief business of
the piece. The musical investiture of necessity borrowed local elements
from the subject. Without losing its prerogative as an expounder of the
innermost feelings of the drama it acquired a decorative capacity so
far as the externals of the play were concerned. Music became frankly
delineative. Whatever may be thought of descriptive music in connection
with the absolute forms of the art there can be no question as to its
justification in the lyric drama where text, action and scenery are so
many programmes, or guides to the purposes of the composer and the fancy
of the listener. The more material kind of delineation, that which helped
to heighten the effect of the stage pictures, to paint the terrors of the
Wolf's Glen with its infernal rout as well as the dewy freshness of the
forest and the dainty grace of the tripping elves, was paired with another
kind far more subtle. The people of the play, like their prototypes in the
mediæval romances, ceased to be representatives of universal types, and
became instead individuals who borrowed physiognomy from time, environment
and race. To give expression to the attributes thus acquired it became
necessary to study the characteristics of those popular publications of
emotion which had remained outside the artificial forms of expression.
The voice of the German people with their love for companionship, the
chase and nature, and their instinctive devotion to the things which have
survived as relics of a time when their racial traits were fixed in them,
Weber caught up from the Folk-song, which ever and anon in the history of
art, when music has threatened to degenerate into inelastic formalism,
has breathed into it the breath of life. For the delineation of spiritual
characteristics Weber utilized the melodic and rhythmic elements of the
people's self-created popular songs; for material delineation his most
potent agency was instrumentation. To the band he gave a share in the
representation such as only Beethoven, Mozart and Gluck before him had
dreamed of. The most striking feature of his treatment of the orchestra
is his emancipation of the wood-wind choir. His numerous discoveries in
the domain of effects consequent on his profound study of instrumental
_timbre_ placed colors upon the palettes of every one of his successors.
The supernatural voices of his Wolf's Glen scene are echoed in Verdi
as well as in Meyerbeer and Marschner. The fairy footsteps of Oberon's
dainty folk are heard not only in Mendelssohn but in all the compositions
since his time in which the amiable creatures of supernaturalism are
sought to be delineated. The reform, not only in composition, but also
in representation achieved by Richard Wagner is an artistic legacy from
Carl Maria von Weber. It is but the interest upon the five talents given
into the hands of a faithful servant who buried them not in the ground but
traded with them "and made them other five talents."

[Illustration: [Music]

Fac-simile of full score of the beginning of Agatha's great aria, from
"Der Freischütz."]

[Illustration: H. E. Krehbiel]

[Illustration: WEBER'S COAT OF ARMS.]


_Reproduction of a lithograph portrait drawn by T. A. Jung and published
by Johanning & Whatmore, London, 1830._]



It is a little less than a generation since Heinrich Marschner died after
having for the same time been one of the most picturesque and significant
figures in the art-life of Hanover. For twenty-eight years he had been
Royal Chapelmaster with salary and duties; for two years thereafter
General Director of Music with a pension. Affecting a custom common
among the men of learning in Germany and the academic musicians of Great
Britain, he prefixed the title of his honorary university degree to his
signature. He was Dr. H. Marschner. On court occasions he could bedizen
his breast with baubles enough to make a brave show amongst the civil and
military servants of his Hanoverian Majesty King George V. He was Knight
of the Order of the Saxon-Ernestine House; Knight of the Guelphic Order;
Knight of the Order of Danebrog; possessor of the Bavarian and Austrian
medals for Merit in Art and Science. He was also Honorary Citizen of
Hanover. He died suddenly of apoplexy at the age of sixty-six, before his
capacity for work had become seriously impaired; his mind was occupied
with a new opera when death overtook him. In his day and generation he was
one of the most admired of Germany's opera writers. He lived to see nearly
all of the colleagues and rivals of his prime die and their creations
fade out of public memory. Lindpaintner, Dorn, and Reissiger are names
that come to our ears like faint echoes of once-living voices. Kreutzer
and Lortzing wake at long intervals in sporadic performances in small or
provincial theatres. Marschner is in a more fortunate case, for his was
greater genius. Three of his operas still have a considerable degree of
vitality, and some of his stirring part-songs for men's voices are yet
sung and heard with delight. But only in Germany. Dust lies deep upon
his pianoforte and chamber music wherever it is. Yet it is less than a
generation since he died. Day by day it becomes more difficult to assign
him the place to which he is entitled in the Temple of Fame, for he wrote
for but one people and his memory is perishing even amongst them.

The birth-place of Heinrich Marschner was Zittau in Saxony. He was born
August 16, 1795 and imbibed his love for music as most German boys of
good family imbibe theirs. His father was fond of the art and it was
industriously practised in the family. When the lad manifested an unusual
degree of talent, the father, instead of becoming alarmed, encouraged its
use, though he had no mind that his son should become a musician. Karl
Gottlieb Hering, an eminent musical pedagogue at the time a teacher in
the town Seminary, was called in to be the lad's teacher. Meanwhile he
pursued his other studies and in due time entered the Gymnasium where his
musical gifts and lovely voice found occupation in the Gymnasial choir.
At the solicitation of the music teacher in the Gymnasium at Bautzen he
went thither for a space and sung the soprano solos in the Bautzen choir,
but his voice changing he returned to his native town and there completed
his lower studies. The political situation (it was in 1813 and Germany
was preparing to rid herself of Napoleon) interfered with his father's
wishes to have him proceed at once to Leipsic to take up the study of
jurisprudence at the University. There was a brief respite which he spent
in Prague until the suspension of the truce compelled him to leave the
Bohemian Capital. He returned to his home in Zittau for a short time, then
proceeded to Leipsic and was there a witness of the great three-days'
battle. The brief stay in Prague had helped to keep the artistic fires
burning on the altar of his heart, for there he became acquainted with
Johann Wenzel Tomaschek, the Bohemian composer and teacher. Marschner was
matriculated at the University so soon as the return of more peaceful
times permitted the step to be taken, and began his study of the law.
His experience, however, was like that of Schumann later. While trying to
be faithful to his Corpus Juris, he found the fascinations of Dame Music
stronger than his will. Some of his essays in composition were applauded
and he resolved to become a musician instead of a lawyer. Schicht, one
of Bach's successors in the position of Cantor of the Thomas School was
now his teacher, and in 1815 he felt himself sufficiently strong as a
pianoforte virtuoso to undertake a concert tour to Carlsbad. There he
met the Hungarian Count Thaddeus von Amadée, who persuaded him to seek
his fortune in Vienna. He went thither in 1816, made the acquaintance
of Beethoven and, aided by the music-loving Count, was appointed to a
position as teacher in Pressburg where three years later he married his
first wife, Eugenie Jaggi, and completed the first of his operas which
achieved the distinction of a representation. This opera was "Henry IV.
and d'Aubigné" which he sent to Weber at Dresden in 1818. A year earlier
he had set Kotzebue's "The Kyffhaus Mountain." The title of this, his
first opera, indicates that his mind was from the beginning turned toward
the legendary materials which afterward became the inspiration of the
Neo-Romantic school. It is possible, too, that this predisposition toward
the supernatural was strengthened by an incident which has been related
by Louis Köhler in connection with the first representation of "Henry
IV. and d'Aubigné." This story is to the effect that one night in 1819
Marschner, living far from Dresden (the year must have been 1820, the
place Pressburg) dreamed that he was witnessing a performance of his
opera. The applause so excited him that he awoke and sprang from his
bed. Ten days later he received a letter from Weber enclosing ten ducats
honorarium and conveying the intelligence that on the night of the dream
"Henry IV. and d'Aubigné" had been produced at Dresden with great success.
As has already been indicated in one respect the credibility of the story
suffers somewhat from analysis of its details. The fact that he dreamed
of a performance of his opera and the possibility of the influence of the
dream upon his mind need not be disputed. It is extremely improbable,
however, that he was ignorant of the date set for the performance as is
implied in the story, for on July 7, 1820, twelve days before the first
representation, Weber, in continuance of the friendly policy which he
adopted five years before in order to introduce Meyerbeer to Prague,
published a description of the opera in the _Abendzeitung_ of Dresden.
It seems to be beyond question, however, that Weber produced the opera
chiefly to encourage the young composer.

After spending over five years in Pressburg, Marschner visited Saxony to
look after some family affairs. The kindness with which Councillor von
Könneritz, Theatrical Intendant, and Weber received him, determined him
to remove to Dresden. His wife had died soon after marriage. He now took
up a residence in the Saxon Capital, and after he had composed incidental
music for Kleist's drama, "Prince Frederick of Homburg," he was by royal
rescript, dated September 4, 1824, appointed Royal Music Director of the
German and Italian Opera, becoming thus an associate of Weber, whose
friendship manifested itself daily in the most helpful manner.

Marschner's "Henry IV." was brought out by Weber in the year which gave
"Der Freischütz" to the world. It was followed by "Saidar," words by Dr.
Hornbostel, composed in 1819, "The Wood Thief," words by Kind, the poet
of "Der Freischütz," and "Lucretia," words by Ehschlagen. "Saidar" was
performed without success in Strassburg, "The Wood Thief" in January,
1825, in Dresden, and "Lucretia" in 1826 in Dantsic under Marschner's
direction. Weber's death in London on June 5, 1826, marked a turning-point
in the energetic young composer's career. Failing in the appointment to
the post made vacant by Weber's death, he severed his connection with the
Dresden Theatre, married a singer named Marianne Wohlbrück on July 3, and
a few months later removed to Leipsic.

His second marriage was celebrated at Magdeburg. A brother of the bride
was Wilhelm A. Wohlbrück, to whom Marschner submitted the subject of "The
Vampire" before he returned to Leipsic. Two years afterwards the opera had
its first representation. Its immediate success, and possibly his newly
attained domestic happiness, were a mighty spur to his industry and fancy.
"The Templer and the Jewess," founded on Scott's "Ivanhoe," followed in
1829, and "The Falconer's Bride" in 1830, Wohlbrück being the poet in both
cases. The triumph of "The Vampire" was eclipsed by that of "The Templar
and the Jewess," whose chivalresque subject was naturally much more
amiable than the gruesome story of "The Vampire." Marschner's attention
was drawn to Scott's "Ivanhoe" when, having been invited like Weber to
compose an opera for London, he imitated Weber's example and prepared
himself for the work by learning English. "The Vampire," translated by
Planché, the librettist of "Oberon," had been well received in London,
though Planché took the liberty of changing the scene from Scotland, where
the author of the story had placed it, to Hungary. Nothing came of the
London invitation, because of the burning of the Covent Garden Theatre.

Marschner was now at the zenith of his fame. Toward the close of 1830
he accepted an invitation to become Royal Chapelmaster at Hanover and
distinguished himself at once in his new position by composing "Hans
Heiling," his finest work and the strongest prop of his present fame. The
book of this opera had been submitted to him anonymously. When the opera
was first performed in 1833 in Berlin the librettist sang the titular
rôle. It was none other than Edward Devrient. Marschner's reception at
Hanover was in every way distinguished, but long before his death he
forfeited some of the good will of the court circles and the portion of
society influenced by them. Domestic misfortunes doubtless contributed
much to embitter his disposition. He lost his wife in 1854. The immediate
cause of his withdrawal in 1859 from active service was the appointment
of C. L. Fischer as second Chapelmaster against his wishes. He lost
his interest in the orchestra which he had brought to a high state of
efficiency and was pensioned off as a General Music Director. Before then
he married a third wife, a contralto singer named Therese Janda of Vienna,
who survived him. He died of an apoplectic stroke on December 15, 1861, at
nine o'clock in the evening. Besides the works mentioned in the foregoing
recital, he composed "The Castle on Aetna," "The Babü," "Adolph of
Nassau," and "Austin," operas, and incidental music to Kind's "Fair Ella,"
Hell's "Ali Baba," Rodenberg's "Waldmüller's Margret" and Mosenthal's "The
Goldsmith of Ulm."

[Illustration: Fac-simile of a letter thanking an unnamed composer for a
set of variations on themes from his opera "Hans Heiling."]

Marschner was not an old man when he died, yet his life compassed the
climax of the Classic Period of German Music, the birth and development
of the Romantic School and the first vigorous stirrings of the spirit
exemplified in the latter-day dramas of Richard Wagner. He knew Beethoven,
stood elbow to elbow with Weber, fought by the side of Spohr and exerted
an influence of no mean potency in the development of Wagner. He was
the last of the three foremost champions who carried the banner of
Romanticism into the operatic field. It is likely that had he asserted
his individuality more boldly instead of fighting behind the shields of
his two great associates the world would know better than it does that he
was a doughty warrior; and criticism would speak less often of his music
as a reflection and of him as merely a strong man among the _epigonoi_
of Beethoven and Weber. Wagner set his face sternly against the estimate
which lowers him to the level of a mere imitator. Schumann esteemed his
operas more highly than those of any of his contemporaries, in spite of
their echoes of Weber's ideas and methods. His record of the impression
made on his mind by a performance of "The Templar and the Jewess" is a
compact and comprehensive estimate of Marschner's compositions: "The music
occasionally restless; the instrumentation not entirely lucid; a wealth of
admirable and expressive melody. Considerable dramatic talent; occasional
echoes of Weber. A gem not entirely freed from its rough covering. The
voice-treatment not wholly practicable, and crushed by the orchestra. Too
much trombone."

It is scarcely to be marvelled at that the world should have accepted
the old verdict. Outside of Germany Marschner has had no existence for
more than half a century. In Germany three of his operas may occasionally
be heard. All the rest of his list have disappeared from the stage as
completely as the hundreds of his compositions in the smaller forms.
These three operas, "The Vampire," "The Templar and the Jewess" and
"Hans Heiling," not only contain his best music but also exemplify the
sum of his contributions to the Romantic movement. In them he appears in
his fullest measure complementary to Weber and Spohr. Yet to appreciate
this fact it is necessary to view them in the light of the time and the
people for which they were created. It is scarcely possible to conceive
their existence, much less to perceive their significance under changed
conditions and beyond the borders of the German land. The measure of their
present popularity in Germany is also the measure of their comparative
merit. In them is exhibited Marschner's growth in clearness, truthfulness
and forcefulness of expression and his appreciation of Romantic ideals.
At this late day it is impossible to perceive anything else than a wicked
perversion of those ideals in "The Vampire"; yet it finds a two-fold
explanation in the morbid tendency of literature and the stage in Europe
two generations ago, and the well-known proneness of the Germans to
supernaturalism. The story is an excresence on the face of Romanticism
for which the creators of the literary phase of the movement are not
responsible. It tells of a nobleman who, having forfeited his life,
prolongs it and wins temporary immunity from punishment by drinking the
life-blood of his brides, three of whom he is compelled by a compact with
the Evil One to sacrifice between midnight and midnight once a year. At
the base of this dreadful superstition lies the notion that the Vampire's
unconquerable thirst for blood is a punishment visited upon a perjurer. It
may be largely fanciful, but it must, nevertheless, not be overlooked in
accounting for the popularity of this subject that a degree of sympathy
for it among the German people may have been due to the fact that it
contains a faint mythological echo. In the Volüspa perjurers are condemned
in their everlasting prison-house to wade knee-deep in blood. It is this
superstition which prolongs the action in the opera until the fiend has
killed two of his victims and stands before the altar with her who had
been selected as the third. In treating this gruesome subject Marschner
and his librettist compelled their hearers to sup full of horrors; nor
did they scorn the melodramatic trick, which survived in the Bertrams
and Rigolettos of a later time, of investing a demon with a trait of
character calculated to enlist sympathetic pity in his behalf. The direct
responsibility for this bit of literary and theatrical pabulum rests with
Byron. He wrote the tale for the delectation of his friends in Geneva.
But the time was ripe for it. Planché adapted a French melodrama on the
subject for London six years before he performed a similar service to
Marschner's opera, and Lindpaintner composed his "Vampire" a year after
Marschner's work had been brought forward.

[Illustration: [Music]

Fac-simile autograph manuscript from "Hans Heiling," written by Marschner.]

The frank supernaturalism of "The Vampire," though it can only present
itself to us in the light of perverted and vulgarized Romanticism, made a
powerful appeal to the Germans with their innate if unconscious sympathy
with the dethroned creatures of paganism. It was the vivid embodiment
of this sympathy which gave to the Romantic School the characteristic
element which Marschner represents in his estate of originality. The
supernaturalism which is little more than an influence in "Der Freischütz"
is boldly personified in "The Vampire." Already at the outset of the
opera, the silent diabolism of Weber's _Samiel_ is magnified and
metamorphosed into a chorus of witches, ghosts, and devils. The opening
scene is a choral Wolf's Glen, the copy going so far as the choice of
Weber's key, F-sharp minor. Yet in spite of the imitation it is here
that Marschner first struck the keynote of the strongest element of his
dramatic music, - the demoniac. It was the fault of the subject that he
could not give a sign here of the element in which he is stronger still,
or at least, more original, - the element of rude humor. That manifestation
had to wait for the coming of Friar Tuck in his setting of the story of
"Ivanhoe." The third element in which the strong talent of the composer
moves most freely and effectually is the delineation of folk-scenes.
Here he has followed closely in the footsteps of Weber and caught up the
spirit of the common people as they gave it expression in their songs and
dances. As Luther, in transforming a dialect into a literary language,
caught the idiom from the lips of the people in the market-place, so Weber
and Marschner went for their folk-music to the popular revels in tavern,
field, and forest.

A want of dramatic cohesion and homogeneity has militated against "The
Templar and the Jewess," the only opera of the three which might by
virtue of its subject, have achieved and retained popularity in England,
France and America as well as Germany. It suffers, too, in contrast with
Weber's "Euryanthe" by reason of its failure to reach the lofty plane
of chivalresque sentiment on which Weber's almost ineffable opera moves
with an aristocratic grace and ease that put even "Lohengrin" to shame.
Nevertheless, some of the significance of "The Templar and the Jewess"
may be found in the evidences that "Lohengrin" is in part its offspring.
The parallelisms are too striking to be overlooked, especially in the
ordeals by which the two heroines are tried. The prayers of Rebecca and
Elsa, the reliance of each upon a heaven-sent champion, the employment
of the accompanying wood-winds stamp them as sisters in art. In "Hans
Heiling," the supernaturalism is greatly purified and idealized. The hero
of the opera is a king of underground spirits, who relinquishes his throne
for love of a mortal maiden. He is deceived in his love, but stifles
his desire for vengeance and returns to his old dominion. The musical

Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 22 of 32)