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Carl Maria von Weber - Composer

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Carl Maria von Weber (Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber) was a late 18th and early 19th Century composer, born in Eutin, a town in Germany about 30 miles north of Hamburg, and about 50 miles South of Denmark on the 18 November, 1786. Weber shares several traits with another famous composer of the late 18th Century, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died in 1791. In addition to having a certain penchant for composing for the clarinet, Weber was the cousin of Mozart's wife, Constanze.

Other similarities abound between the two composers: Weber's father was musical. He owned a travelling theatre company, and hence Weber was afforded a good musical education. In his earlier years he studied under Haydn in Salzburg, under Kalcher, an organist(?) in Munich, and Vogler, a German theorist and composer, who influenced both Weber and Meyerbeer, another young composer. Vogler was noted for his improvisation, and travelled widely in order to study, and use, interesting and new melodies. There is, perhaps, a hint of this in the chromaticism in Weber's later work.

Weber's Life

Weber was born to musical parents: Weber's father, originally working as a town musician, formed the 'Weber Theatre Company' shortly after Weber's birth, and the troupe travelled throughout Bavaria, performing plays and songs. But by contrast with Mozart, Weber was a failure as a composer at the beginning of his life.

His early attempts at composition and conducting were not notable, but records remain of his first opera, entitled Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins at 13, and Das Waldm├Ądchen. The scores do not remain, and - from the small amount of information we still have - it seems better they be laid to rest, as they were not musical triumphs.

At this point in Weber's life, his involvement with Vogler begins, and it is as a result of his involvement with Vogler and as a result, Weber was suggested for the job of Kapellmeister (Vogler was very impressed with Weber). Weber worked as the Kapellmeister (bandmaster) in Breslau in 1804, but his appointment was short-lived: the reforms which he attempted to exercise were met with fierce resistance, and after having 'mistakenly' drunk engraving acid from a wine bottle, Weber became ill. He resigned, and in the following years, moved through W├╝rttemberg and Stuttgart, pursuing different jobs.

While secretary to a duke in Stuttgart, Weber composed the opera Silvana. However, after it was discovered that his father had appropriated money from the duke, Weber was banished from the state in February, 1810. After his opera Abu Hassan had been well received at its first official performance (Frankfurt, 1812) he became convinced of the possibilities of a career in this genre of music, and accepted a post as director of the Prague opera. Between 1813 and 1816 he brought striking reforms to the way in which the opera company worked.

Although in Breslau he had attempted to play much French opera, now he introduced German opera, concentrating especially on Beethoven's work Fidelio. Despite the better reception, Weber was still opposed by the opera's staff, and his scenery, lighting, orchestral seating, rehearsal schedules, and salaries were contested, causing Weber to resign in 1816. Weber moved to the Dresden Opera, where - again, and ever patriotic - he tried to introduce German opera and reform to a predominantly Italian opera company.

It was in 1817 that he married Caroline Brandt, a singer from Prague, but his baby girl died, and the grief caused by his wife's miscarriage exacerbated the tuberculosis which he was eventually to die from. Although this was one of the many low points in Weber's live, causing him to take a short break from composition, his Freischutz (which won his largest audience through its patriotic base in German folklore and country life, possibly inspired by his childhood) was exceptionally popular. It was shortly followed by another opera, commissioned by a theatre in Vienna, and completed in 1823. Weber's deteriorating health was a constant worry, and - coupled with his worries for his family and the withdrawal of the opera Euryanthe from the stage - Weber accepted an invitation to write another opera, this time in England, where he would eventually die.

Weber's concern for his family was so great that he was prepared to learn English, just to write this opera. He began writing Oberon for Covent Garden, a work eventually premiered on 12 April, 1826. Less than two months later, on 5 June, he died at the age of 40, the result of the stress he had been subjected to, and the English weather.

Weber's Works

By the time of his death, Weber had written:

  • Two Clarinet Concertos

  • One Clarinet Concertino (a short piece almost parodying a concerto, and in one large movement). As with Mozart, Weber wrote for a specific clarinettist, Heinrich Baermann, a friend, and the principal clarinettist of the Munich Court Orchestra.

  • Clarinet Quintet in Bb Major, Op. 34

  • Grand Duo Concertant in E Flat Major for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 48

  • Introduction, Theme and Variations for clarinet and string quartet

  • Seven Variations on a Theme from Silvana for Clarinet and Piano in B Flat Major, Op. 33

  • Der Freischutz (The Marksman1, 1821)

  • Euryanthe (1823)

  • Oberon (1826)

  • Two Symphonies

  • Two Piano Concertos

  • Incidental Music to the play Turandot

The Mozart - Weber Link

As previously mentioned, many features in the lives of Mozart and Weber are similar. Certain passages in the clarinet music in particular of the two composers seem to share a certain musical spirit, and there are many ties between the two, least of all Weber's relationship to Mozart's wife. Carl Maria von Weber's father (Franz Anton Weber) was the brother of Constanza's (Maria Constanze Caecilia Josepha Johanna Aloisia) father, Franz Fridolin.

In 1777, Mozart toured with his mother hoping to find a court position; travelled to Mannheim where he met and fell in love with Aloysia Weber, a sister of the Weber girl he was eventually to marry (Constanze). He write several Arias for Aloysia, who was a talented singer.

Both Weber and Mozart loved opera: Mozart is known to have said 'You know my greatest desire is to write operas'. Weber was the director of several opera companies, and wrote several operas himself.

Weber's father (Franz Anton) was so impressed by tales of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that he made sure that his son was given the most intensive musical education possible: Carl Maria was taught to play piano and sing at the same time that he could speak.

Carl Maria was a pupil of Michael Haydn, a composer who also influenced Mozart much. Mozart declared that he had learned from Haydn how to write quartets and dedicated a superb set of six such works to his 'beloved friend'.

A Final Word

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.
- Carl Maria von Weber
1Sometimes translated as 'The Freeshooter'.

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