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9.70263 - WEBER, C.M. von: 6 Violin Sonatas, Op. 10 (Saeijs, Gvetadze)

Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826)
Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano, Op. 10(b)


Weber 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, at one time a member of the famous Mannheim orchestra. At the time of Carl Maria 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 theatre-company established in 1788. Weber’s musical gifts were fostered by his father, who saw in him 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. 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 Carlsruhe was followed by three years as secretary to Duke Ludwig of Württemberg, a younger brother of the reigning Duke. The financial dealings of Weber’s father, who had joined him there, led to imprisonment and expulsion, and a return to a career as an active musician, at first principally as a pianist, appearing in the major 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 his best known opera, 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, with a libretto by the bluestocking authoress of Rosamunde, Helmina von Chézy. It had a mixed reception.

In spite of his health deteriorating as the result of tuberculosis, Weber accepted a commission from Covent Garden for an English opera, Oberon, which was first performed in London in April 1826 under the direction of the composer. Weber was a pioneer in the use of the conductor’s baton, and his first appearance with this potential weapon caused alarm among English musicians at his possibly aggressive intentions. The English weather could only further damage his health and he died in London 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 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.

1810 was initially an unfortunate year for Weber, with his expulsion in February from Württemberg. He had already finished much of the opera Silvana and was now obliged to earn his living once again as a composer and performer, and pay off his debts The Six Sonatas for Violin and Piano Op. 10(b), were written in response to a commission from the publisher and composer Johann Anton André, an important figure in the publication of works by Mozart, particularly after the latter’s death. André seems to have envisaged a series of undemanding sonatas, suited to the more lucrative amateur market. Weber found the task troublesome, as he explained in a letter to his friend Gottfried Weber: “I have a devil of a job now for six little sonatas with violin for André: it costs me more sweat than so many symphonies, but what is to do” (“Eine Hundföttische Arbeit habe ich jetzt vor. 6 kleine Sonaten mit 1 Violin für André; kostet mich mehr Schweiss als so viel Simphonien, aber was ist zu machen”). André rejected the sonatas, which were published by Simrock the following year. Weber explained the matter to Gottfried Weber: “The—has sent my sonatas back, on the excellent pretext that they are too good and must be plainer.” (“Der—hat mir meine Sonaten zurückgeschickt unter dem vortrefflichen Grunde—sie seyen zu gut, das müsste viel platter sein.”)

The first of the set, the Sonata in F major, starts with a sonata form movement, its exposition repeated, leading to a central development. The second movement, a B flat major Romanze, allows the violin to introduce the gently lilting melody, followed by a cheerful Rondo, to be repeated before the final coda. The second work, the Sonata in G major, brings a first movement described as Carattere espagnuolo, its Spanish character introduced after a short opening prelude by a distinctive Spanish accompanying rhythm in a sonata form structure. The C minor Adagio that follows offers a winding violin accompaniment, its quavers continuing throughout. This is followed by a lively Air polonais, the basis of a Rondo.

The third of the set, the Sonata in D minor starts with an Air russe, the second of its two movements a D major Rondo. It is followed by the Sonata in E flat major, demanding more of the piano than of the violin and making much of the triplet accompanying rhythms that characterise the piano writing. Dance rhythms predominate in the cheerful final Rondo.

Weber’s opera Silvana was first staged in Frankfurt in September 1810. Derived in part from music written for Carl von Steinsberg’s Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden) the Singspiel tackles the problem posed by the presence of a heroine who is largely mute. Count Rudolph is betrothed to Mechthilde, who is in love with Albert von Cleeburg, son of an enemy of her father, Count Adelhart. Count Rudolph is out hunting, accompanied by his men and his bragging squire Krips, a Papageno to his Tamino. He comes across the mute Silvana and takes her back to Count Adelhart’s castle, where he is a guest. Count Adelhart insists that his daughter must marry Count Rudolph, but matters are settled to general satisfaction when Ulrich, a former servant of Count Adelhart, who has protected Silvana from infancy in the forest, reveals that she is the daughter of Count Adelhart. The revelation allows Silvana to speak. The theme Weber takes for the first movement of the fifth of his sonatas, the Sonata in A major, is that of an aria for Mechtilde, later dropped from the opera score, Warum musst ich je erblicken. The melody is entrusted first to the piano. There follow a triplet variation, a Vivace in semiquavers, a Marcia maestosa and a Più agitato syncopated version of the theme. The second of the two movements is an A minor Siciliano.

The last of the set, the Sonata in C major, starts with an Allegro con fuoco and makes what André might have perceived as excessive demands on the performers. The second subject in the repeated exposition is in A minor and duly returns in the recapitulation in the appropriate key. The C minor Largo serves as a short bridge to the final Polacca in which both players are now equally involved.

Keith Anderson

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