In the case of the Concert-Stück the unusual form is also tied to a poetic conception, a private programme that Weber divulged only to family and close associates like his pupil Benedict (who passed it on to Weber's son, Max Maria) but was otherwise unwilling to circulate openly for fear of being misunderstood and branded a ‘charlatan’ (as he explained in a letter to Rochlitz of 14 March 1815 concerning an early plan for this piece). To put it another way, Weber did not wish his musical expression of emotional states to be misconstrued as imitative ‘tone-painting’. Another suppressed programme, again transmitted by Benedict, apparently lies behind the Fourth Piano Sonata, whose exceptional thematic economy probably owes as much to an underlying poetic conception as to any abstract developments in Weber's style. And of course the mature overtures offer poetic interpretations of the stage works with which they are associated, not because they quote themes from the works or attempt to follow the details of the plot, but because they suggest the different dramatic spheres, conflicts and overall emotional trajectory of the drama through the use of evocative characteristic styles, strongly drawn musical antitheses and musical processes that can symbolize dramatic concepts like struggle (e.g. counterpoint) and triumph (e.g. the apotheosis of the second theme).
Weber's extant output of approximately 85 lieder and Gesänge, the great majority of which were published in 14 authorized collections, is largely overlooked in histories of German song, despite the fact that contemporaries like Rochlitz and the poet Wilhelm Müller considered Weber a major figure in this genre (H.W. Schwab, N1986). Out of a stated desire not to set texts that had already been set to music, Weber largely avoided the great German poets of the 18th and early 19th centuries and tended instead to set the verses of poets with whom he had personal connections. Folk poetry, culled from Des Knaben Wunderhorn and other sources, provided the basis for a number of songs. Songs originating as incidental music for the spoken theatre also made their way into various of Weber's published collections. In certain cases Weber, an accomplished interpreter of his own songs, set texts pertinent to the circumstances of his own life, like his frequent leave-taking (j105 and the duet j208), and it is tempting to relate the incipient song cycle op.46 (j200–03), on four poems by F.W. Gubitz about rejection, to the nadir of Weber's relationship with Caroline Brandt in autumn 1815, about which time he began to think about these poems.
Conceived largely for convivial music-making in intimate circles, Weber's songs rarely attain (or attempt, for that matter) the depth and intensity of expression associated with Schubert and the later Romantics, although j140 and j156 portray passionate states with great conviction. More often, Weber's songs aim to entertain through wit or sentiment; they include settings of humorous poems about the opposite sex (j52, 67, 213), songs about art and the artist's condition (j73, 105), and sentimental songs about the blessings of domestic life (j161) and requited love (j62, 72), as well as pessimistic songs about the human condition (j63, 97, 274). The patriotic texts from Theodor Körner's Leyer und Schwerdt form a source to which we shall return in conjunction with the choral music. Given Weber's dramatic instincts, it is not surprising that many of his most memorable songs project the feelings of a well-defined protagonist (j57, 74, 157, 196, 200, 201) or a vivid scene, situation, or dialogue (j91, 159, 202, 217, 270, 278). The folk texts, composed mainly in 1817 and 1818 during the early stages of work on Der Freischütz and published mostly in opp.54 and 64, also afforded the opportunity to portray sharply drawn characters and scenes and to indulge in various verbal and musical folklorisms.
Like much of his music, Weber's songs straddle the 18th and 19th centuries in ways typical of his time. His views on the nature of the lied conventionally emphasize the primacy of the poem and the resultant need for correct declamation and close relationship between verbal and musical syntax. But at the same time, Weber acknowledged in a remarkable letter (November 1817) to the playwright Adolf Müllner that the character and ‘inner life' of the words occasionally overruled the demands of strict prosody. Similarly, although Weber generally limited his songs – both those written for voice and piano as well as the 15 or so conceived for voice and guitar (Huck, N1993) – to unobtrusive accompaniments, his quest to convey emotion and character yielded on occasion more elaborate accompaniments (j157, 159, 174, 270).
Though he is frequently considered a conservative exponent of the genre, Weber's songs actually demonstrate a remarkably wide variety of formal approaches (Heuer-Fauteck, N1967), as he typically strove to match form to expression in ways that transcend the 18th-century ideals of the lied. Weber made frequent use of strophic form in cases where the parameters of feeling and poetic structure are consistent from stanza to stanza. Songs that are primarily strophic often entail variants in one or more stanzas to accommodate irregular versification (e.g. j231) or to make an interpretative point (j68, 74, 200, 202, 213). ‘Through-composition’ takes on a number of guises, including quasi-strophic approaches in which each stanza begins with similar music only to continue differently (j57, 73), rondo form (j71), ternary form (j63, 201), forms in which material from the first stanza recurs in no predictable fashion (j62, 130, 157, 159, 161), and forms in which there is hardly any melodic reprise at all (j28, 48, 156, 175).
(ii) Italian settings.
With the exception of the concert aria j181 (1815) and an Italian cantata, L'accoglienza (j221), composed for a royal wedding in Dresden in 1817, Weber's Italian settings date from 1810 to 1812, when his persisting hope of travel to Italy may have led him to seek experience in setting the language. The three canzonettas op.29 (1811), conceived with guitar accompaniment and written in ternary form, affect a studied simplicity corresponding to an idealized vision of ‘italianità’ shared by a number of German composers of the early 19th century (Leopold, N1996). The three duets of op.31 (1811; j107, 123, 125) are longer, with an opening slow section followed by a quicker one. More significant are the five concert arias (j93, 121, 126, 142, 181), written for specific singers either for use in Weber's public concerts or to satisfy commissions. These arias merit study for the evidence they provide for Weber's understanding of Italian operatic styles, and also because they furnish – along with the two new arias for the Berlin Silvana production of 1812 and the two substitute arias to German texts (j178 and 239) – important insight into Weber's development as a dramatic composer between the completion of Abu Hassan (1811) and the composition of Der Freischütz (1817–21) (Huck, N1999).