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8.550146 - GERMAN ROMANTIC OVERTURES
German Romantic Overtures
Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)
Heinrich Marschner (1795 - 1861)
Engelbert Humperdinck (1854- 1921)
Otto Nicolai (1810 - 1849)
Albert Lortzing (1801 - 1851)
Carl Maria von Weber, a cousin of Mozart's wife Constanze, was intended by his father to emulate his distinguished relative's early success. Franz Anton Weber was a man of varied abilities and professions and at the time of his son's birth had been employed as Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Luebeck at Eutin in Holstein. A year later he set up the Weber Theatre Company and embarked on a peripatetic existence, during the course of which Carl Maria pursued his fitful musical studies. He was to exhibit extraordinary precocity and in 1804, at the age of 18, became Kapellmeister in Breslau. Further appointments followed, with work at the opera-houses of Prague and Dresden, and a career in which he showed his virtuosity as a pianist, his innovative ability as a conductor and his creative power, above all in the composition of Der Freischuetz, the first German romantic opera.
The story of Der Freischuetz includes many of the essential elements of German romanticism, the forest, the huntsmen, magic and diabolical intervention. The opera was written between 1817 and 1821 and was first staged in the latter year in Berlin, where it was an. immediate success. The marksman of the title, Max, is urged by Caspar to enlist the support of Samiel, the ghostly Great Huntsman of the forest, in order to win the hand of Agathe, denied him if he fails in a shooting contest. With the midnight help of Samiel in the Wolf's Glen at the heart of the forest, Max helps to cast the magic bullets which in the final act kill Caspar, his evil counsellor, and would have killed his beloved Agathe, had it not been for divine intervention. She survives, however, to become Max's bride.
Euryanthe, a grand heroic-Romantic opera, was completed in 1821, using a libretto by Helmina von Chezy, the eccentric author of the unsuccessful Rosamunde, now remembered only for Schubert's incidental music. The libretto of Euryanthe was no more successful. Derived from a romance of the thirteenth century, it uses the tale of the husband driven to test his wife's fidelity. Adolar, Euryanthe's husband, wagers on his wife's constancy with the ill-disposed knight Lysiart. Matters are complicated by the jealousy of Euryanthe's friend Eglantine, secretly in love with Adolar, and by the restless ghost of Emma, Adolar's Sister. Lysiart and Eglantine are eventually thwarted in their evil designs, and Euryanthe is re-united with Adolar in final happiness at the end of a tale as improbable as it is complex.
Weber's last opera, Oberon, with a libretto by Planche after Wieland, was written for London and staged at Covent Garden in 1826, at a time when the composer was already seriously ill. He died in London the day before his planned return home to Germany, two weeks after his last appearance as conductor in the opera-house. Like Euryanthe, the opera has a medieval origin in a chanson de geste, embroidered by Wieland, who knew his Shakespeare. The piece opens with Oberon asleep, separated, as Puck informs us, from Titania, with whom he has quarrelled, to be reconciled only if they can find a constant couple, a search that ends in the proved fidelity of Huon of Bordeaux, who with the aid of a magic horn survives to be united once more with his beloved Reiza.
Heinrich Marschner was a leading figure in German opera in the period between Weber and Wagner. Born in Zwittau, he went to Leipzig to study law, but eventually chose instead a career in music. In 1815 he met Beethoven in Vienna and the following year settled in Pressburg (the modern Bratislava) in the service of a Hungarian nobleman. Five years later he moved to Dresden, where he enjoyed a friendly enough relationship with Weber, moving later once more to Leipzig and in 1830 to Hanover, where he was to spend the great part of his remaining career.
Hans Heiling, the ninth of Marschner's thirteen operas, was completed in 1832 and first performed in Berlin' the following year. The libretto by Eduard Devrient tells the sixteenth century story of Hans Heiling, son of the Queen of the Earth Spirits, who acquires mortal shape, woos and is rejected by Anna, who prefers the tenor Konrad to the baritone Hans, driven therefore to seek his own ghostly revenge. The opera opens with a Prelude in which Hans Heiling bids his mother farewell. This is followed by the Overture, introduced, in true Romantic style, by the horns.
The name of Engelbert Humperdinck is inevitably associated with his opera Haensel und Gretel, based on a fairy-tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. Originally destined by his father for a career in architecture, Humperdinck turned in his adolescence to music, entering the Cologne Conservatory in 1872 and later moving to Munich, where his teachers included Rheinberger and Lachner. He served as an assistant to Wagner at Bayreuth in the early 1880s, later moving briefly to Paris and to Barcelona. His first great dramatic success was with Haensel und Gretel, produced in Weimar in 1893. A further Grimm opera, Die sieben Geislein, was followed in 1897 by Koenigskinder, a fairy-tale in three acts, which was to reach its final operatic form in 1910, staged in that year in New York as a Maerchenoper. The Goose Girl, living in the woods with a cruel witch, falls in love with the king's son, disguised as a beggar. He promises they will meet again when a star falls into a lily flower. This happens, but they both die, poisoned by a cake the witch has prepared for them.
Otto Nicolai was unfortunate in his father, who was determined that his son should be a child prodigy. Running away, the boy was able to acquire a more congenial education, eventually under Mendelssohn's teacher, Zelter, in Berlin. Early poverty led him to accept a position as organist at the Prussian Embassy in Rome, where he developed an interest in opera and won success with Enrico II and Il Templario, the latter based on Scott's Ivanhoe. From 1841 he served at the Vienna Hofoper until the rejection of his last opera there led to his resignation and return to Berlin, where he died in 1849 two months after the first performance of his opera The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Albert Lortzing was the son of a German father and a French mother. When the family leather business failed, his parents turned to the stage, making a profession of what had been a leisured hobby. His father specialised in paternal roles and his mother was a soubrette. The boy appeared in both amateur and professional performances, while developing his abilities as a musician in a peripatetic existence, and continued as a young man this career as actor and singer. Lortzing's first success as an operatic composer was in 1837 with Die beiden Schuetzen, followed by the famous Zar und Zimmermann two years later. Der Wildschuetz, or The Voice of Nature, a comic opera in three acts after Kotzebue, was first staged in Leipzig on New Year's Eve, 1842. The comedy revolves around the schoolmaster Baculus, whose accidental act of poaching leads to a variety of complications.
Der Waffenschmied is set in 16h century Worms and was first performed in Vienna in 1846, affording the composer a temporary respite from the poverty that threatened him, in the absence of copyright legislation that might have brought proper reward for his successful compositions or secure employment. His final years were spent in intermittent indigence, as he failed to gain or retain positions as a conductor that might have brought him security.
Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra
Alfred Walter has appeared as a guest conductor in various pans of the world. In Vienna he has worked as guest conductor at the State Opera and in 1986 was given the title of Professor by the Austrian Government. In 1980 he was awarded the Golden Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society.
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