Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (18–19 November 1786 – 4–5 June 1826) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school.
Weber's works, especially his operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in Germany. He was also an innovative composer of instrumental music. His compositions for the clarinet, which include two concertos, a concertino, a quintet and a duo concertante, are regularly performed, while his piano music—including four sonatas, Invitation to the Dance, two concertos and the Konzertstück (Concert Piece) in F minor—influenced composers such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. The Konzertstück provided a new model for the one-movement concerto in several contrasting sections (such as Liszt's, who often played the work), and was acknowledged by Igor Stravinsky as the model for his Capriccio for piano and orchestra.
Weber's contribution to vocal and choral music is also significant. His body of Catholic religious music was highly popular in 19th century Germany, and he composed one of the earliest song-cycles, Die Temperamente beim Verluste der Geliebten (Four Temperaments on the Loss of a Lover).
Weber's orchestration has also been highly praised and emulated by later generations of composers - Hector Berlioz referred to him several times in his Treatise on Instrumentation while Claude Debussy remarked that the sound of the Weber orchestra was obtained through the scrutiny of the soul of each instrument.
His operas influenced the work of later opera composers, especially in Germany, such as Heinrich Marschner, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Richard Wagner, as well as several nationalist 19th-century composers such as Mikhail Glinka, and homage has been paid him by 20th century composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Gustav Mahler (who completed Weber's unfinished comic opera Die drei Pintos and made revisions of Euryanthe and Oberon) and Paul Hindemith (composer of the popular Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes of Weber).
Weber also wrote music journalism and was interested in folksong, and learned lithography to engrave his own works.
Weber was born in Eutin, Holstein, the eldest of the three children of Franz Anton von Weber (who seems to have had no real claim to a "von" denoting nobility), and his second wife, Genovefa Brenner, an actress. Franz Anton started his career as a military officer in the service of the Duchy of Holstein; later he held a number of musical directorships; and in 1787 he went on to Hamburg, where he founded a theatrical company. Weber's cousin Constanze was the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Weber's father gave him a comprehensive education, which was however interrupted by the family's constant moves. In 1796, Weber continued his musical education in Hildburghausen, where he was instructed by the oboist Johann Peter Heuschkel.
On 13 March 1798, Weber's mother died of tuberculosis. That same year, Weber went to Salzburg, to study with Michael Haydn; and later to Munich, to study with the singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser, and organist J. N. Kalcher.
1798 also saw Weber's first published work, six fughettas for piano, published in Leipzig. Other compositions of that period, among them a mass, and his first opera, Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins (The Power of Love and Wine), are lost; but a set of Variations for the Pianoforte was later lithographed by Weber himself, under the guidance of Alois Senefelder, the inventor of the process.
Carl Maria von Weber
In 1800, the family moved to Freiberg, in Saxony, where Weber, then 14 years old, wrote an opera called Das stumme Waldmädchen (The silent forest maiden), which was produced at the Freiberg theatre. It was later performed in Vienna, Prague, and St. Petersburg. Weber also began to write articles as a critic, e.g. in the Leipziger Neue Zeitung (1801).
In 1801, the family returned to Salzburg, where Weber resumed his studies with Michael Haydn. He later continued studying in Vienna with Abbé Vogler (Georg Joseph Vogler), founder of three important music schools (in Mannheim, Stockholm, and Darmstadt); another famous pupil of Vogler was Giacomo Meyerbeer, who became a close friend of Weber.
In 1803, Weber's opera, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (Peter Schmoll and his Neighbors) was produced in Augsburg, and gave Weber his first success as a popular composer.
Vogler, impressed by his pupil's talent, recommended him to the post of Director at the Opera in Breslau (1806), and from 1807 to 1810, Weber held a post at the court of the Duke of Württemberg, in Stuttgart. Weber sought to reform the Opera by pensioning off older singers, expanding the orchestra, and tackling a more challenging repertoire. His attempts at reform were met with strong resistance from the musicians and the Breslau public. Weber's time at Breslau was further complicated one night when he accidentally ingested engraver's acid that his father had left stored in a wine bottle. Weber was found unconscious and took two months to recover. The incident permanently ruined his singing voice.
He left his post in Breslau in a fit of frustration, he was on one occasion arrested for debt and fraud and expelled from Württemberg, and was involved in various scandals. However he remained successful as a composer, and also wrote a quantity of religious music, mainly for the Catholic mass. This however earned him the hostility of reformers working for the re-establishment of traditional chant in liturgy.
In 1810, Weber visited several cities throughout Germany; from 1813 to 1816 he was director of the Opera in Prague; from 1816 to 1817 he worked in Berlin, and from 1817 onwards he was director of the prestigious Opera in Dresden, working hard to establish a German Opera, in reaction to the Italian Opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century. On 4 November 1817, he married Caroline Brandt, a singer who created the title role of Silvana. In 1819 he wrote perhaps his most famous piano piece, Invitation to the Dance.
The successful premiere of Der Freischütz on 18 June 1821 in Berlin led to performances all over Europe. On the very morning of the premiere, Weber finished his Konzertstück in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, and he premiered it a week later.
In 1823, Weber composed the opera Euryanthe to a mediocre libretto, but containing much rich music, the overture of which in particular anticipates Richard Wagner. In 1824, Weber received an invitation from Covent Garden, London, to compose and produce Oberon, based on Christoph Martin Wieland's poem of the same name. Weber accepted the invitation, and in 1826 he travelled to England, to finish the work and conduct the premiere on 12 April.
Other famous works by Weber include: Invitation to the Dance (later orchestrated by Hector Berlioz); Polacca Brillante (later orchestrated by Franz Liszt); two symphonies, a concertino and two concertos for clarinet, a quintet for clarinet and strings, and a concertino for horn (during which the performer is asked to simultaneously produce two notes by humming while playing - a technique known in brass playing as multiphonics).
Weber was already suffering from tuberculosis when he visited London; he died at the house of Sir George Thomas Smart during the night of 4–5 June 1826. Weber was 39 years old. He was buried in London, but 18 years later his remains were transferred on an initiative of Richard Wagner and re-buried in Dresden.
His unfinished opera Die drei Pintos ('The Three Pintos') was originally given by Weber's widow to Meyerbeer for completion; it was eventually completed by Gustav Mahler, who conducted the first performance in this form in Leipzig on 20 January 1888.
Weber's grave in Dresden.
Weber's mastery of the orchestra was equaled in his time only by Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert. During the 19th century, his Polacca Brillante, Invitation to the Dance, Second Piano Sonata and Konzertstück for piano and orchestra were frequently heard. Liszt frequently performed Weber's music and made editions of his piano sonatas. Other 19th-century admirers included Wagner, Meyerbeer and Berlioz.
Weber's piano music all but disappeared from the repertoire, but there has been a revival of interest in these works in recent times. One possible reason for its earlier lack of attention is that Weber had very large hands and delighted in writing music that suited them. There are several recordings of the major works for the solo piano (including complete recordings of the piano sonatas and the shorter piano pieces, by Garrick Ohlsson, Alexander Paley and others), and there are recordings of the individual sonatas by Claudio Arrau (1st Sonata), Alfred Brendel (2nd Sonata), Sviatoslav Richter (3rd Sonata) and Leon Fleisher (4th Sonata). The Invitation to the Dance, although better known in Berlioz's orchestration (as part of the ballet music for a Paris production of Der Freischütz), has long been played and recorded by pianists (e.g. Benno Moiseiwitsch [in Carl Tausig's arrangement]). Invitation to the Dance also served as the thematic basis for Benny Goodman's swing tune Lets Dance.
His orchestral music, clarinet works, the opera Der Freischütz (his most famous composition), as well as the overtures to Oberon and Euryanthe are still performed. The last two operas have been performed more and more often since the 1990s.
- See List of operas by Weber.
- Missa sancta No. 1 in E flat, J. 224 (1818)
- Missa sancta No. 2 in G, Op. 76, J. 251 (1818–19)
- Symphony No. 1 in C (1812)
- Symphony No. 2 in C (1813)
Vocal works with orchestra
- Cantata Der erste Ton for chorus and orchestra, Op. 14, J. 58 (1808 / revised 1810)
- Recitative and rondo Il momento s'avvicina for soprano and orchestra, Op. 16, J. 93 (1810)
- Hymn In seiner Ordnung schafft der Herr for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 36, J. 154 (1812)
- Cantata Kampf und Sieg for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 44, J. 190 (1815)
- Scene and Aria of Atalia Misera me! for soprano and orchestra, Op. 50, J. 121 (1811)
- Jubel-Cantata for the 50th royal jubilee of King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony for soloist, chorus and orchestra, Op. 58, J. 244 (1818)
- Bassoon Concerto in F major, Op. 75, J. 127 (1811 / revised 1822)
- Andante and Rondo Hungarian (Andante e Rondo Ongarese) for Bassoon and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 35, J. 158 (1813), revised as J. 79
- Grand Potpourri for Cello and Orchestra in D major, Op. 20, J. 64 (1808)
- Variations for Cello and Orchestra in D minor, J. 94 (1810)
- Romanza Siciliana for Flute and Orchestra, J. 47 (1805)
- Six Variations on the theme A Schüsserl und a Reind'rl for Viola and Orchestra, J. 49 (1800 / revised 1806)
- Andante and Hungarian Rondo for Viola and Orchestra, J. 79 (1809)
- Adagio and Rondo for Harmonichord and Orchestra in F major, J. 115 (1811)
- Friese-Greene, A. (1993) Weber, The Illustrated lives of the great composers, New ed., London : Omnibus, ISBN 0-7119-2081-8
- Henderson, D.G. and Henderson, A.H. (1990) Carl Maria von Weber : a guide to research, Garland composer resource manuals 24, New York ; London : Garland, ISBN 0-82404-118-6
- Meyer, S.C. (2003) Carl Maria Von Weber and the Search for a German Opera, Indiana University Press, ISBN 0-253-34185-X
- Reynolds, D. (Ed.) (1976) Weber in London, 1826, London : Wolff, ISBN 0-85496-403-7
- Warrack, J.H. (1976) Carl Maria Von Weber, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-241-91321-7
- Warrack, J.H., Macdonald, H. and Köhler, K-.H. (1985) Early romantic masters 2: Weber, Berlioz, Medelssohn, The composer biography series, London : Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-39014-8