6. Between ‘Der Freischütz’ and ‘Euryanthe’, 1821–3.
The triumph of Der Freischütz in Berlin changed Weber's life. After the première in Berlin, all the principal German theatres acquired and staged it within the next couple of years. Weber became a national celebrity of the first order. In August 1821 he received from Kassel a firm offer of appointment as Kapellmeister at a generous salary of 2500 thalers, which he declined after obtaining a modest increase of his salary in Dresden from 1500 to 1800 thalers. The production of Der Freischütz at the newly remodelled Dresden court theatre on 26 January 1822 at last gave the German opera a work that equalled the popularity of even the most frequently performed Rossini operas at the Italian opera. And in Vienna the enthusiastic response to the first performance of Der Freischütz there in early November 1821 led the Kärntnertortheater, under the management of the famous Neapolitan impresario Domenico Barbaia, to offer Weber a commission for a new opera. He eagerly accepted the commission as an opportunity to write an ambitious through-composed opera for the most important centre for music and theatre in the German world (Tusa, P(v)1984–5).
At the same time, Weber's life after Der Freischütz took on decidedly darker hues as well. He and Kind grew apart as the librettist became envious of the praise lavished upon the composer. The progress of Weber's disease was such as to cause him to make a last will and testament on 21 July 1821, and he was bedridden again in October 1821. Frustrations with his colleagues and the feeling that the German opera was treated like a stepchild by the court caused him to express again, in late 1821, his wish for the dissolution of the German company in letters to Brühl and I.F. von Mosel. Recognizing the need to husband his fragile health for his own compositional projects and desiring to avoid the charge of self-promotion, he declined to direct a new series of subscription concerts organized by the court orchestra (although in the event he did participate as soloist in his Concert-Stück in November and conduct a performance of the Jubel-Cantate in December). The reasons advanced in his letter of 14 October 1821, published in Kapp (F1922, revised 1931), also shed some light on the almost total cessation of Weber's critical and literary activities after 1820 and on his rejection of the editorship of a new musical supplement to the Abend-Zeitung offered to him by its publisher in early 1822.
As a composer Weber's output after 1821 was conspicuously reduced, as evidenced by the fact that a new contract with Schlesinger in autumn 1822 stipulated mainly older pieces from his unpublished backlog. The little time that his duties and declining health left for composition were focussed at first on the opera commissioned by Vienna. Because of his estrangement from Kind, he turned to a lyric poet, Helmina von Chézy, who by the end of 1821 had drafted the libretto of Euryanthe based on the 13th-century Roman de la violette by Gerbert de Montreuil. Weber was in Vienna in February and March 1822 to observe the company for which he would write the opera and to show an early version of the libretto to the conservative censors who had mutilated the Viennese Freischütz. In Vienna Weber had his first encounter with the young Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient, whose benefit performance of Der Freischütz he conducted on 7 March, and also his first inkling that the overwhelming popularity of this one work would pose a serious threat to any subsequent operas he would write.
Though Weber had initially agreed to have the opera ready in autumn 1822, the genesis of Euryanthe stretched until autumn 1823, for two main reasons. First, the longer Weber lived with the libretto, the more aware he became of its shortcomings; as a result of his own misgivings and consultations with outside parties including Ludwig Tieck and Ludwig Rellstab, he made repeated requests for revisions from Chézy well into 1823. Secondly, Weber had little time to devote to the opera. He began to compose it in May 1822, following the birth of his son Max Maria on 25 April and the family's move to the summer house in Hosterwitz on 15 May. However, his progress was frequently interrupted by the need to return to Dresden to conduct in the place of the assistant conductor Franz Anton Schubert, who had fallen gravely ill. After moving the family into a spacious new apartment in Dresden at the end of September, he made another attempt to finish the opera, but was hindered by Chézy's extended sojourn in Berlin, the illness of Morlacchi and a royal wedding in late 1822. In February 1823 Weber was finally able to mount a sustained effort to finish the opera, which progressed efficiently to completion with his move to Hosterwitz on 10 May for the summer. By 29 August the opera was completed apart from the overture.
Accompanied by his pupil Julius Benedict, Weber travelled to Vienna on 16 September 1823 for the première of Euryanthe. During his first days in the imperial capital he attended the last performances of Barbaia's Italian company and was greatly impressed by the virtuosity and dramatic skills of its members. With the return of the German company Weber made his final recommendations about casting his own opera. As he completed the overture and the piano score and supervised the rehearsals, he enjoyed the company of the ‘Ludlamshöhle’, a convivial society of actors, writers and musicians. A highpoint of his stay was a trip on 5 October to Baden to meet Beethoven, with whom he had entered into correspondence (mostly lost) in early 1823 in conjunction with the Dresden performance of Fidelio.
Weber conducted the première of Euryanthe on 25 October and the next two performances as well, at which he introduced a few small cuts to shorten the playing time. He also attended the fourth, conducted by Conradin Kreutzer. Weber was convinced that the performances at which he was present were triumphs, and after his return to Dresden on 10 November he never tired of pointing out the number of curtain calls he had received. But the press reports suggest that Euryanthe had been greeted with mixed feelings by the Viennese, who, expecting a second Freischütz, received instead a much more complicated work. The ambivalent reception accorded Euryanthe in Vienna set the tone for its subsequent dissemination. Under Weber's supervision and with Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient in the title role, Euryanthe proved a great success at its first performance in Dresden on 31 March 1824; but its failure in other centres was a source of increasing disappointment for the ailing composer. Weber's desire to have it performed in Berlin was a source of further irritation, as Euryanthe became the pawn in a highly publicized power struggle between Spontini and Brühl throughout the first half of 1824. As a result, Euryanthe was not performed in the Prussian capital until December 1825.