(vi) Theatre music.
A particularly obscure area of Weber's output is his music for the spoken theatre, which he composed between 1809 and 1822 for specific productions of mostly long-forgotten plays and Festspiele. Understanding of Weber's contributions in this area is plagued by the relatively poor survival of musical and theatrical sources and questions of authenticity. In general, these pieces fulfil functions specified by the plays, which – with the exception of the celebratory Festspiele – tend to introduce music in a ‘realistic’ fashion. Thus much of the incidental music is song presented as such, like the narrative ballads and Romanzen to guitar accompaniment in Der arme Minnesänger and Das Nachtlager von Granada, or the singing of nuns to an organ-like wind accompaniment in Carlo. Comparably realistic uses of music include marches and/or dances (Turandot, Das Haus Anglade, Der Tod Heinrichs IV, Sappho, Preciosa) and fanfares (König Yngurd). In conjunction with its tendency to such functional realism, Weber's theatre music is frequently also a locus for couleur locale, as Weber sought to enhance the atmosphere of a play through reference to folk or exotic melodies and use of characteristic instrumentation and harmonization; examples include the chinoiserie in the overture and marches to Schiller's Turandot, the allegedly authentic Spanish melody in Das Nachtlager von Granada (its florid style provoked criticism that Weber did not allow to go unanswered), the quotation of the well-known folksong ‘Vive Henri quatre’ in Der Tod Heinrichs IV, the archaizing harmonies of the chorus for Grillparzer's Sappho and the vaguely Mediterranean flavour for the Provençal setting of Das Haus Anglade.
By far Weber's most important contribution to spoken theatre is the music for P.A. Wolff's Preciosa, commissioned and composed in 1820 for a Berlin production of the play which received its first performance on 14 March 1821. Wolff's play, based on one of Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares, calls for an unusually large amount of music to characterize the opposed Spanish and gypsy elements in the drama and to take advantage of the singing and dancing talents of Auguste Stich, who performed the title role in Berlin (Ziegler, O1996). In response, Weber wrote some of his most affecting music, which includes choruses and dances that supply the musical couleur locale as well as songs that convey the feelings of the title character, a Gypsy orphan who turns out to be of aristocratic Spanish birth. The Preciosa music also manifests certain operatic attributes, most obviously in the programmatic overture, the melodramas for Preciosa, and the use of recurring melodies. The play (with Weber's music) rivalled the popularity of Der Freischütz in the Dresden repertory and was widely disseminated, but with the disappearance of Wolff's play from the stage Weber's music has also largely vanished from public consciousness.
Weber: (9) Carl Maria von Weber
Despite his self-professed ‘inclination to the dramatic’ (Autobiographische Skizze) and the dominance of the operas in his posthumous reputation, Weber's activities as a composer of opera are not spread evenly throughout his career. For biographical and stylistic reasons it is perhaps most meaningful to group his operas into three phases: early operas written between 1799 and 1806; the two operas that grew out of his collaboration with the Stuttgart librettist F.C. Hiemer; and the three masterworks of the Dresden years.
(i) Early works.
(ii) The Hiemer operas.
(iii) Mature operas.
Weber: (9) Carl Maria von Weber, §13: Operas
(i) Early works.
Our understanding of Weber's early attempts at opera is greatly hampered by the incomplete survival of these works. Beyond its title, nothing is known of Weber's first operatic work, Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins, which the would-be prodigy evidently began to compose shortly after his arrival in Munich in autumn 1798. And only a couple of fragments survive from his second opera, Das Waldmädchen, despite the fact that it apparently circulated to a few theatres after its première in Freiberg (24 November 1800), possibly including the Leopoldstadt Theater in Vienna in 1804–5. A playbill for the performance in Chemnitz in December 1800, which designates it as a ‘romantic-comic opera’, allows us to infer a medieval-chivalric setting in which are mixed serious aristocrats and comical servants; further, the long list of dramatis personae suggests a plot essentially identical with that of the later opera Silvana. Musically, Das Waldmächen evidently grew from the post-Zauberflöte tradition of ‘heroic-comic’ operas, as one of the surviving fragments is a bravura rage aria for soprano whose coloratura rivals that of the Queen of Night, whereas the other is an ensemble with distinct echoes of the Act 2 finale of Die Zauberflöte.
In the case of Weber's third opera, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (composed 1801–2; première 1803, Augsburg), the music survives in two complete scores, but since the extant printed libretto (Munich, 1802) provides only the texts of the musical pieces, the plot and dramatic situations must be inferred from the novel of the same name by C.G. Cramer. The opera seems to be a kind of drame bourgeois whose dramatic issues are essentially familial, small-scale problems treated in a sentimental and moralizing fashion. Musically, Peter Schmoll is a modest work that derives its basically consonant, diatonic and syllabic approach from the lighter forms of musical comedy of J.B. Schenk and Wenzel Müller. Echoes of Mozart are strong in the overture and in many of the vocal pieces, and the music for the comical figure Hans Bast takes up traditional basso buffo features like patter. A strophic romance for the female character Minette also betrays some familiarity with French music. At the same time, the work presents a number of features that at least hint at the development of a more personal style: the frequent recourse to obbligato solo instruments in the orchestral accompaniment; experimentation with unusual or characteristic instrumentation; a preference (to the point of mannerism) for dance-like rhythms in triple and compound metres and dotted rhythms; and an urge to interpret the text, gesture and situation through music.
The unfinished ‘romantic opera’ Rübezahl was the major project of Weber's years in Breslau. J.G. Rhode's libretto, based on a folktale in Musäus's Volksmärchen der Deutschen about a mountain spirit who abducts a human princess to be his wife, was partially published in the Breslauer Erzähler in early 1804, before Weber's arrival in the Silesian capital; differences between the published excerpts and a surviving manuscript libretto with holograph indications by Weber (D-Bsb) suggest that even at this early stage in his career he was able to exert a certain degree of influence over his texts. Despite Weber's claim to have composed about half the opera, only two vocal pieces and a fragment of a third survive; from the work done in Breslau also survive the closing bars of the first violin part of the original version of the overture, which Weber later revised as the overture Der Beherrscher der Geister. The extant quintet, which Weber plundered for several later pieces, shows a young composer still indebted to 18th-century models in some respects but free from them in others: thus, whereas its overall fast–slow structure is reminiscent of the Act 1 Zauberflöte quintet, its tonal plan has little to do with traditional tonic–dominant polarities.
Weber: (9) Carl Maria von Weber, §13: Operas
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