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8.553006 - WEBER: Piano Music, Vol. 4
Carl Maria van Weber (1786 - 1826)
It was natural that there should be an element of the operatic in the music of Weber. The composer of the first great Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz, spent much of his childhood with the peripatetic theatre company directed by his father, Franz Anton Weber, uncle of Mozart's wife Constanze and, like his brother, Constanze's father, at one time a member of the famous Mannheim orchestra. At the time of Weber's birth his father was still in the service of the Bishop of Lübeck and during the course of an extended visit to Vienna had taken a second wife, an actress and singer, who became an important member of the family theatre company established in 1788.
Weber's musical gifts were fostered by his father, who saw in his youngest son the possibility of a second Mozart. Travel brought the chance of varied if inconsistent study, in Salzburg with Michael Haydn and elsewhere with musicians of lesser ability. His second opera was performed in Freiberg in 1800, followed by a third in Augsburg in 1803. Lessons with the Abbé Vogler led to a position as Kapellmeister in Breslau in 1804, brought to a premature end through the hostility of musicians long established in the city and through the accidental drinking of engraving acid, left by his father in a wine-bottle.
A brief and idyllic period in the service of Duke Eugen of Württemberg-Öls at Karlsruhe was followed by three years as secretary to Duke Ludwig of Württemberg, a younger brother of the reigning Duke. The financial dealings of his father, who had joined him there, led to imprisonment and expulsion, and a return to a career as an active musician, at first mainly as a pianist, appearing in the principal cities of Germany. A short stay in Berlin proved fruitful, before his appointment to the opera in Prague in 1813. In 1817 he was invited to Dresden, where it was hoped he would establish German opera, although the first performance of Der Freischütz was given in Berlin in 1821. While the rival Italian opera in Dresden continued to cause Weber trouble, he was invited to write an opera for Vienna. Euryanthe, described as a grand heroic-Romantic opera, with a libretto by the blue-stocking authoress of Schubert's Rosamunde, had a mixed reception.
In spite of deteriorating health, the result of tuberculosis, Weber accepted a commission from Covent Garden for an English opera, Oberon, which was first performed there in April 1826 under the direction of the composer. A pioneer in the use of the conductor's baton, his first appearance with this potential weapon caused initial alarm among English musicians at his possibly aggressive intentions. The English weather could only further damage his health and he died during the night of 4th June on the eve of his intended departure for Germany.
Weber's achievement was both considerable and influential. In German opera he had opened a new and rich vein that subsequent composers were to explore: as an orchestrator he demonstrated new possibilities, particularly in the handling of wind instruments: as a conductor and director of performances he instituted a number of reforms, as he had first attempted as an adolescent Kapellmeister in Breslau. In style his music follows classical principles of clarity, with a particular lyrical facility shown both in his operas and his instrumental and vocal compositions.
Weber's fourth and last piano sonata is entirely different from the preceding three, and is the most "Weberish" of the four. He composed the Sonata No.4 in E Minor, Opus 70, between 1819 and 1822, dedicating it to the German music critic Johann Friedrich Rochlitz. This work has been characterized as his "Programme Sonata". The composition is a picture of melancholy and despondency, which runs through all the psychological stages of hope and despair, culminating at last in mental and physical exhaustion and death.
The Seven Variations on a Theme from Méhul's opera Joseph, Opus 28, are called by Benedict undoubtedly the most important set of variations by Weber. Based on the popular romance À peine au sortir de l'enfance, the set of variations was composed in 1812 and dedicated to his student Fanny von Wiebeking (whose father was director of public works for Munich). Benedict considers the set of variations a showy brilliant concert piece, replete with difficulties of style and execution, which to conquer will reward any musical student.
Les Adieux, Opus 81, is a curious oddity. No published list of Weber's compositions shows an Opus 81. The complete edition of Weber's piano works published by C. F. Peters (edited by Kohler and Ruthardt) excludes this work. Only in the 1893 G. Schirmer edition, edited by Dr. William Mason will you find this mysterious little piece. Dr. Mason does list it as "posthumous", yet, even the authoritative Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians seems to ignore the existence of this work. Curiously, Weber's Les Adieux has the same opus number as its more famous (and similarly named) cousin, Beethoven's Sonata No.26 in E flat, Opus 81a. Is Weber's Opus 81 a practical joke perpetrated by Dr. William Mason, or a legitimate re-discovered work by Weber? You be the judge.
The Rondo brillante (La gaité), Opus 62, was composed by Weber in 1819. It is one of the composer's most deservedly popular concert pieces. Also composed in 1819, the Polacca brillante ("Lhilarité"), Opus 72, is one of Weber's most famous pieces of pure piano virtuosity. It was Felix Mendelssohn's favourite solo piano piece which he played almost in preference to all his own compositions. In this work we do not find Polish sentiment. Polacca is simply the Italian word for polonaise, but a shade of difference is commonly understood. Grove's Dictionary states that Polaccas may be defined as Polonaises treated in the Italian manner. The brilliant Italian style prevails in Weber's work. Vivacious dotted rhythms characterize the first theme and the piece as a whole, rapid sixteenth-note triplets giving variety of motion. Franz Liszt most skilfully scored the work for piano and orchestra, interpolating the introduction of the Grande polonaise, Opus 21 as part of his transcription.
1994 Victor and Marina A. Ledin
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