Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

(born Eutin, ?18 November 1786; died London, 5 June 1826).

He studied in Salzburg (with Michael Haydn), Munich (J.N. Kalcher) and Vienna (Abbé Vogler), becoming Kapellmeister at Breslau (1804) and working for a time at Württemberg (1806) and Stuttgart (1807). With help from Franz Danzi, intellectual stimulation from his friends Gänsbacher, Meyerbeer, Gottfried Weber and Alexander von Dusch and the encouragement of concert and operatic successes in Munich (especially Abu Hassan), Prague and Berlin, he settled down as opera director in Prague (1813-16). There he systematically reorganized the theatre's operations and built up the nucleus of a German company, concentrating on works, mostly French, that offered an example for the development of a German operatic tradition. But his searching reforms (extending to scenery, lighting, orchestral seating, rehearsal schedules and salaries) led to resentment. Not until his appointment as Royal Saxon Kapellmeister at Dresden (1817) and the unprecedented triumph of "Der Freischütz" (1821) in Berlin and throughout Germany did his championship of a true German opera win popular support. Official opposition continued, both from the Italian opera establishment in Dresden and from Spontini in Berlin; Weber answered critics with the grand heroic opera "Euryanthe" (1823, Vienna). His rapidly deteriorating health and his concem to provide for his family induced him to accept the invitation to write an English opera for London; he produced "Oberon" at Covent Garden in April 1826. Despite an enthusiastic English reception and every care for his health, this last joumey hastened his decline; he died from tuberculosis, at 39.

Weber's Romantic leanings can be seen in the novel emotional flavour of his music and its relevance to emergent German nationalism, his delicate receptivity to nature and to literary and pictorial impressions, his parallel activities as critic, virtuoso pianist and Kapellmeister, his dedication to the evolution of a new kind of opera uniting all the arts and above all his wish to communicate feeling. His role as a father-figure of musical Romanticism was acknowledged by those who succeeded him in the movement, from Berlioz and Wagner to Debussy and Mahler. His melodic and harmonic style is rooted in classical principles, but as he matured he experimented with chromaticism (the diminished 7th chord was a particular favorite). He also was among the subtlest of orchestrators, writing for unusual but dramatically apt and vivid instrumental combinations (clarinet and horn, muted and unmuted strings etc). All his most successful music, including the songs and concertos, is to some degree dramatically inspired.

Weber won his widest audience with "Freischütz", outwardly a Singspiel celebrating German folklore and country life, using an idiom touched by German folksong. Through his skilful use of motifs and his careful harmonic, visual and instrumental designs notably for the Wolf's Glen scene, the outstanding example in music of the early Romantic treatment of the sinister and the supernatural - he gave this work a new creative status. "Euryanthe", despite a weak libretto, makes a further advance in the unity of harmonic and formal structures, moving towards continuous, freely composed opera. In "Oberon" Weber reverted to separate numbers to suit English taste, yet the work retains his characteristically subtle motivic handling and depiction of both natural and supernatural elements. Of his other works, some of the German songs, the colouristic "Konzertstück" for piano and orchestra, the dramatic clarinet and bassoon concertos and the virtuoso "Grand duo concertant" for clarinet and piano deserve special mention.