Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst, Freiherr Von Weber - German composer and opera director. 1786 - 1826

"What love is to man, music is to the arts and to mankind. Music is love itself, - it is the purest, most ethereal language of passion, showing in a thousand ways all possible changes of colour and feeling; and though true in only a single instance, it yet can be understood by thousands of men - who all feel differently."

Weber was born in Eutin (in Holstein, now part of Germany) on the 18th November 1786. Many members of his family were musical - his father, a violinist, also ran a theatrical company, his mother was a singer, and he was also a cousin of Mozart's wife. His childhood was less than ideal, as he was born with a deformed hip that gave him much trouble and caused him to limp his way through life. Being a part of his father's travelling troupe, his education was sketchy, although his father recognised his musical ability and encouraged the boy to study with the best teachers he could find in whichever towns they visited. He also studied lithography in the hope of publishing his own music, and the later consequences of this almost lost him his life. From an early age, he had been taught piano and organ, and at the age on nine, wrote his first known work, Vom Himmel Hoch. Shortly after this, a theatre manager in Carlsbad, impressed by the boy’s talent, commissioned him to write Das Waldmädchen, a comic opera.

Among his greatest mentors were Michael Haydn (brother of Joseph) and Abbé Vogler, both of whom encouraged him to develop his talents in composition and theatrical direction. In 1804 he was appointed Kapellmeister at Breslau, enabling him to continue his artistic talents in a working environment. It was here that he has a close brush with death, accidentally swallowing some nitric acid used for engraving (it being stored, stupidly, in a wine bottle), and causing permanent damage to his throat, which in turn affected his voice. He was intent on developing a German operatic style, incorporating elements of Germanic culture, something which was not popular with everyone. Following disputes over his organisational changes and musical reforms, he was forced to resign. Still nomadic, he found work in Württemberg, firstly as director of music to Duke Eugen, then as a secretary in King Frederick I's court. He ran up a number of debts, however, and was forced to move on.

Having spent some time in Stuttgart he moved to Prague, where he accepted the role of opera director in Prague. Between 1813 and 1816 he worked to reorganise and improve the theatre's operations to develop the German operatic tradition, feeling that he had been given free rein. Here again, many of his musical reforms were not appreciated.

He continued to receive criticism, especially from those who considered that Italian opera was superior. He was undeterred, however, and following his appointment as Royal Saxon Kapellmeister at Dresden in 1817, he wrote Der Freischütz (1821), gaining a great deal of respect and support throughout the musical world. He continued working and writing in Dresden, and following Euryanthe in 1823, was persuaded by failing health to move to London to produce an English opera. This went against the wishes of his wife and family, who thought it would be a bad move. (Incidentally, he was succeeded in Dresden by one Richard Wagner.)

He felt that he did not have long to live, and wishing to provide for his family after his death, worked with James Robinson Planché, an English librettist to produce the work. Following great acclaim for Oberon at Covent Garden in 1826, his health continued to decline, possibly exacerbated by the long journey. Following an enthusiastic English reception and despite the efforts of his hosts to look after him, he died of tuberculosis in London on 5th June 1826, aged just 39. Wagner removed his remains to Germany in 1844, and held a ceremony for him with music composed specially for the event.

Let it not be said that he failed either his homeland or the musical world. Weber's contribution to the form was an encouragement to many who followed him, most notably Richard Wagner, whose grand operas have become favourites worldwide. His works, both great and small are still played, sung and produced.

Major Works

1799?   Das Waldmädchen
1807    Symphonies No.1 and No.2 
1809    Incidental music to the play Turandot 
1810    Piano Concerto No.1 
1811    Clarinet Concertos No.1 and No.2   
        Abu Hassan
1812    Piano Concerto No.2 
1815    Clarinet Quintet
1819    Invitation to the Dance 
        Mass in E Flat Major
        Mass in G Major, op. 76
1821    Der Freischütz
1823    Euryanthe 
1826    Oberon

Encyclopædia Britannica

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