Weber, Carl Marie von


Founder of the German romantic opera; the first composer to create German musical liberty and to do away with Italian Opera in Germany. Like Bach he was the most celebrated member of a musical family who all followed the same general line of work; but while Bach's field was Protestant church-music, Weber's was national opera. The family is first heard of in Lower Austria, where Johann Baptist was made a noble in 1622. His brother, Joseph Franz Xaver was the first musically inclined member of the family, and his son and grandson, both bearing the name Fridolin, followed in his steps; the second Fridolin becoming Mozart's father-in-law when that great artist married Constance, one of his many musical daughters. Fridolin abandoned the family title, but it was continued by his brother, Franz Anton, the father of Carl Marie. Franz Anton von Weber was an extremely eccentric and picturesque character. He was devoted to music, led a veritable gypsy life of wandering, and sampled many professions, from that of a soldier to a theatrical manager. In the course of his everchanging career, he played in the Court band of the Elector Palatine at Mannheim, fought against Frederick the Great at Rosbach, directed the theatre at Lubeck, was chapelmaster to the Prince-Bishop of Eutin, and later directed the town band there. In his fifty-second year, while serving in this last capacity, Carl Marie was born of his second wife, who was then eighteen years old. When the child was scarcely a year old his father took up the management of a theatrical troupe and began traveling about with it, and from that time the young Carl Marie may be said to have lived behind the scenes. This was disastrous as far as his education was concerned, but valuable in that it early made him acquainted with human nature, which he so successfully portrayed later in his great works. The family connection with Mozart had made Franz Anton von Weber ambitious to be the father of a genius. The sons by his first marriage had shown only mediocre musical ability, so he looked eagerly for signs of talent in his youngest son. At first they failed to appear. When the boy was ten years old he was given his first valuable musical instruction by Heuschkel, the famous oboist, pianist, organist and composer, and his talent became apparent. He next studied in a training school for chorister boys at Salzburg, and then with Michael Haydn, under whose instruction he progressed rapidly, although he did not at first take kindly to the methodical study imposed upon him. In 1798 his mother died of consumption. Going then to Munich he took lessons from Wallishauser and Kalcher, and under the latter's instruction composed his first opera, The Power of Love and Wine, while still in his twelfth year.

With the characteristic instability of his family, he then lost interest for a time in music and became absorbed in the work of lithography, which he learned from Aloys Senefelder, the inventor of it. He even thought he made some new discoveries in it, and with his father, who was always ready for some new scheme, he moved to Freiberg to continue the work. As soon as he reached there he was given the libretto of Ritter von Steinberg's Forest Maiden, so he dropped the lithography plan, which proved an utter failure, and took up music again. This second opera, The Forest Maiden, was produced with success in Freiberg, Vienna, Prague and St. Petersburg. In 1801 von Weber went back to Salzburg and studied again with Haydn. About this time he wrote another opera, Peter Schmoll and his Neighbor. After further travels he went to Vienna, where he attached himself to Abbe Vogler, who was also the teacher of Meyerbeer. In 1804 the Abbe found a position for von Weber as conductor at the Breslau Stadttheatre, which he held for two years and gave up to become musical director to Prince Eugene of Würtemberg at Carlsruhe, in Silesia. The war ended this work and he next became secretary to Prince Ludwig at Stuttgart and musical instructor to his daughters. This was almost a fatal circumstance in his career, for the Prince was a dissipated and even dishonest man, and in his capacity as secretary, von Weber became involved in much of his employer's double-dealing. He also fell in love with Margarethe Lang, an actress of rather bad character, and fell in with a society of reprobates known as "Faust's descent into Hell." The one fortunate circumstance of this period of his life was his friendship with Danzi. He composed his opera, Sylvana, about this time and was just on the point of staging it, when by some indiscreet actions of his own and some misdeeds of his father, he aroused the anger of King Frederick, the brother of Prince Ludwig, and with his father was expelled from Würtemberg. This proved to be a turning-point in his life, for from that time he reformed and set about his work with more earnestness than he had ever shown before. He continued to go about from place to place. At Mannheim in 1810 he brought out his first symphony, and in the same year Sylvana was produced at Frankfort-on-the-Main, with Margarethe Lang as one of the principals, and Caroline Brandt, who was later to be his wife, as another. Returning to Darmstadt, he again studied with Abbe Vogler, and while with him did some valuable work along the literary criticism line. In 1811 his comic opera, Abu Hassan, appeared at Munich, and in 1812 Sylvana, in revised form, was given at Berlin. From 1813 to 1816 he was director of the Landstandisches Theatre at Prague, but he was then called to Dresden to organize and conduct the new German Opera. In 1817 he married Caroline Brandt, and in the years just following his marriage he composed his greatest work, Der Freischütz, which opened up a newepoch in German Opera, and was the first step towards Wagnerisra. It was produced with phenomenal success, and in 1823 was followed by Euryanthe, which, while a great work, was somewhat less favorably received. It was first performed at Vienna, and later in Berlin was more successful. By this time the composer's health was seriously undermined. In 1825 he undertook his last great work, Oberon, which was an order for Charles Kemble to be given at Covent Garden, London. Von Weber went to England himself to superintend the production of this opera and died suddenly while there. He was buried first at Moorfield's Chapel, and in 1844 his remains were moved to Dresden. Wagner said of von Weber: "There never was a more German composer than thou." This is the quality which more than any other has given him his place in the musical world. His work is very simple and strong and is naturally dramatic in character. His invention of great, simple themes was wonderful, but he lacked Beethoven's power of relating them. " He illustrates," says Ernest Newman, " the conflict between the form that has been born and bred from music pure and simple and the idea that comes from the infusion into music of poetry or drama or the plastic arts. . . . Finally, what keeps Weber's music still alive is above all his sincerity, his pure naturalness, his freedom from any sophisticated attempts at subtlety or profundity. Everything he wrote has the stamp of having come straight from the heart." H. E. Krehbiel says of him: "The reform, not only in composition, but also of representation achieved by Richard Wagner, is an artistic legacy from Carl Marie von Weber. It is but the interest upon 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."