As we have already seen in the life
stories of a number of musicians, the
career they were to follow was often decided by the father, who
to form them into wonder children, either for monetary gain or for the
honor and glory of the family. The subject of this story is an example
such a preconceived plan.
Franz Anton von Weber, who was a capable
musician himself, had always
cherished the desire to give a wonder child to the world. In his idea
wonder children need not be born such, they could be made by the proper
care and training. He had been a wealthy man, but at the time of our
was in reduced circumstances, and was traveling about Saxony at the
a troupe of theatrical folk, called "Weber's Company of Comedians."
Little Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst, to
give his full name, was born
18, 1786, at Eutin, a little town in Lower Saxony. He was the first
of a second marriage, and before the baby boy could speak, his career
been planned; the father had made up his mind to develop his son into
extraordinary musical genius. It is not recorded what his young mother,
delicate girl of seventeen, thought about it; probably her ideas for
her baby son did not enter into the father's plan. Mother and child
obliged to follow in the train of the wandering comedians, so baby Carl
brought up amid the properties of stage business. Scenery, canvas,
and stage lights were the materials upon which Carl's imagination was
He learned stage language with his earliest breath; it is no wonder he
turned to writing for the stage as to the manner born.
As a child he was neither robust nor
even healthy, which is not
since he was not allowed to run afield with other children, enjoying
sweet air of nature, the flowers, the sunshine and blue sky. No, he
stay indoors much of the time and find his playmates among cardboard
castles and painted canvas streets. This treatment was not conducive to
rosy cheeks and strong, sturdy little legs. Then, before the delicate
was six years old, a violin was put into his hand, and if his progress
it was thought to be too slow by his impatient father, he was treated
raps and blows by way of incentive to work yet harder. His teachers,
were continually changing, as the comedians had to travel about from
to place. After awhile he was taken in hand by Michael Haydn, a brother
of the great Josef. Michael was a famous musician himself and seldom
lessons to any one. But he was interested in Carl and took charge of
musical education for some time.
It was not long before Carl Maria's
genius began definitely to show
for he started to write for the lyric stage. Two comic operas appeared,
"The Dumb Girl of the Forest," and "Peter Schmoll and his Neighbors."
were both performed, but neither made a hit.
When Carl was seventeen, the father
decided he should go to Vienna, for
there he would meet all the great musicians of the time. The boy was at
most impressionable age: he was lively, witty, with pleasant manners
amiable disposition; he soon became a favorite in the highest musical
circles. It was a gay life and the inexperienced youth yielded to its
allurements. In the meantime he did some serious studying under the
famous Abbé Vogler. The following year the Abbé
recommended him to the
conductorship of the Breslau Opera House. This was a very difficult
for a boy of eighteen, and he encountered much jealousy and opposition
from the older musicians, who did not relish finding themselves under
leadership of such a youth. A year served to disgust him with the work
he resigned. During the year he had found time to compose most of his
For the next few years there were many
"ups and downs" in Carl's life. From
Breslau he went to Carlsruhe, and entered the service of Prince Eugene.
For about a year he was a brilliant figure at the Court. Then war
gathered and the gay Court life came to an end. Music under the present
conditions could no longer support him, as the whole social state of
Germany had altered. The young composer was forced to earn his
in some way, and now became private secretary to Prince Ludwig of
Wurtemburg, whose Court was held at Stuttgart. The gay, dissolute life
at the Court was full of temptation for our young composer, yet he
considerable time for composition; his opera "Sylvana" was the result,
besides several smaller things. During the Stuttgart period, his
became so low, that on one occasion he had to spend several days in
for debt. Determined to recruit his fortunes, he began traveling to
towns to make known his art. In Mannheim, Darmstadt and Baden, he gave
concerts, bringing out in each place some of his newer pieces, and
enough at each concert to last a few weeks, when another concert would
the wolf from the door a little longer.
In 1810, when he was twenty-four, he
finished his pretty opera "Abu
Hassan," which, on the suggestion of his venerable master, Vogler, he
dedicated to the Grand Duke. The Duke accepted the dedication with
pleasure, and sent Carl a purse of gold, in value about two hundred
dollars. The opera was performed on February 6, 1811, and its reception
very gratifying to the composer. The Grand Duke took one hundred and
tickets and the performance netted over two hundred florins clear
It was after this that Carl Maria went on a tour of the principal
cities and gave concerts in Munich, Prague, Berlin, Dresden and other
places. He was everywhere welcomed, his talents and charming manners
winning friends everywhere. Especially in Prague he found the highest
noblest aristocracy ready to bid him welcome.
Weber paid a visit to Liebich, director
of the Prague theater, almost
soon as he arrived in town. The invalid director greeted him warmly.
"So, you are the Weber! I
suppose you want me to buy your
One fills an evening, the other doesn't. Very well, I will give fifteen
hundred florins for the two. Is it a bargain?" Weber accepted, and
to return the next spring to conduct the operas. He kept his promise,
the result was much better than he ever dreamed. For beyond the
of his operas, he was offered the post of music director of the Prague
theater, which post was just then vacant. The salary was two thousand
florins, with a benefit concert at a guaranteed sum of one thousand
and three months leave of absence every year. This assured sum gave
Weber the chance of paying his debts and starting afresh, which, he
"was a delight to him."
The composer now threw himself heart and
soul into improving the
placed in his charge. Before long he had drilled it to a high state of
excellence. Many new operas were put on the stage in quick succession.
Thus Weber worked on with great industry for three years. The success
achieved created enemies, and perhaps because of intrigues, envy and
feeling which had arisen, he resigned his post in 1816. The three years
Prague had been fruitful in new compositions. Several fine piano
a set of "National Songs," and the Cantata, "Kampf und Sieg," (Struggle
Victory). This last work soon became known all over Germany and made
gifted young composer very popular. During this period Weber became
to Caroline Brandt, a charming singer, who created the title rôle
opera of "Sylvana."
Weber had many kind, influential friends
in Prague, who admired his zeal
and efficiency as music director. One of them, Count Vitzhum, did all
could to secure Weber for Dresden. On Christmas morning, 1816, he
the appointment. He wrote to Caroline: "Long did I look on Count
letter without daring to open it. Did it contain joy or sorrow? At
I took courage and broke the seal. It was joy! I am Capellmeister to
Majesty the King of Saxony. I must now rig myself out in true Court
Perhaps I ought to wear a pigtail to please the Dresdeners. What do you
say? I ought at least to have an extra kiss from you for this good
He went to Dresden, and at first looked
over the situation. On nearer
the prospect was not as bright as it had appeared at first. There was a
rival faction, strongly opposed to his plans for the promotion of
opera. There had never been anything tolerated at Dresden but Italian
opera, and there were many talented Italian singers to interpret them.
Weber was encouraged by a new national spirit, which he felt would
German opera, and was determined to conquer at all costs. He finally
succeeded, for, as he wrote to a friend, "The Italians have moved
earth and hell also, to swallow up the whole German opera and its
But they have found in me a precious tough morsel; I am not easily
swallowed." It was the same kind of fight that Handel waged in England,
that Gluck fought against the Piccinists.
"Joseph and his Brethren," by Mehul, was
the first opera to be taken up
the new conductor. He drilled the orchestra much more carefully than
had been accustomed, and while, in the beginning, some were sulky at
strictness they were subjected to, yet they finally saw the justice of
and at last took pride in doing their work well. "Joseph" was brought
January 30, 1817. The King and Court were present, and everything
off well, indeed remarkably well. His majesty was greatly pleased and
not cough once during the whole performance, as he used to do when
did not go to suit him.
In spite of Italian opposition which
still continued, Weber's efforts
to establish German opera kept right on, until at last it became a
institution, and the composer was appointed musical director for life.
this bright prospect in view he was able to wed his beloved Caroline.
were married on November 4. A quotation from his diary shows the
musician had become a serious, earnest man. "May God bless our union,
grant me strength and power to make my beloved Lina as happy and
as my inmost heart would desire. May His mercy lead me in all things."
Weber was now entering the most prolific
and brilliant period of his
His music became richer, more noble and beautiful. The happy union with
Caroline seemed to put new life and energy into him, and as a result
works became quickly known all over Europe. His mind was literally
with original themes, which crowded each other, struggling to be
First there was the "Mass in E flat," a beautiful, original work; then
a festal Cantata, "Nature and Love," written to celebrate the Queen of
Saxony's birthday. After this the "Jubilee Cantata," composed to
the fiftieth anniversary of the reign of Augustus, of Saxony. The
faction prevented a performance of the whole work, and only the
was given. When the entire work was heard it made a great sensation.
came a Jubilee Mass and some piano pieces, among them the charming and
famous "Invitation to the Dance," with which every one is familiar.
writing all these works, the composer was busy with one of his greatest
operas, "Der Freischütz." On May 8, 1820, a hundred years ago, the
of "Der Freischütz," was sent to the director of the Berlin
directly put in rehearsal. The rehearsals had not proceeded very far
Weber, the tireless ceaseless worker, had finished his important opera,
"Preciosa," which was also despatched to Berlin. "Preciosa" was brought
out before "Der Freischütz," which was just as it should be, as
needed to be educated up to the "Freischütz" music. "Preciosa" was
on a Spanish story, "The Gypsy of Madrid," and Weber has written for
it some of his most charming melodies, full of Spanish color, life and
vivacity. Nowadays the opera is neglected, but we often hear the
It is to be noted that the overtures to each of Weber's operas contain
leading themes and melodies of the operas themselves, showing with what
skill the artist wrought. When Weber's widow presented the original
of "Der Freischütz" to the Royal Library in Berlin, it was found
not a single erasure or correction in the whole work.
On June 18, 1821, came the first
performance of Weber's masterpiece,
Freischütz." The theater was beseiged for hours by eager crowds,
the doors were at last opened, there was a grand rush to enter. The
house from pit to galleries was soon filled, and when the composer
the orchestra, there was a roar of applause, which it seemed would
end. As the performance proceeded, the listeners became more charmed
carried away, and at the close there was a wild scene of excitement.
success had been tremendous, and the frequent repetitions demanded soon
filled the treasury of the theater. Everybody was happy, the composer
of all. The melodies were played on every piano in Germany and whistled
by every street urchin. Its fame spread like lightning over Europe, and
quickly reached England. In London the whole atmosphere seemed to
with its melodies. In Paris, however, it did not please on first
perhaps because it was so thoroughly German. But somewhat later, when
renamed "Robin des Bois,"—"Robin of the Forest,"—it was performed some
three hundred and fifty times before being withdrawn.
Weber kept ever at work. Two years after
the production of "Der Freischütz"
the opera of "Euryanthe" was completed. The libretto was the work of a
demented woman, Helmine von Chezy, but Weber set out to produce the
opera he was capable of, and to this story he has joined some wonderful
music. It was his favorite work; he wrote to his beloved wife two hours
before the first performance: "I rely on God and my 'Euryanthe.'" The
was produced at the Kärnthnertor Theater, in Vienna, on October
The composer, though weak and ill, made the long journey to the great
that he might personally introduce his favorite to the Viennese. He
his wife after the performance: "Thank God, as I do, beloved wife, for
glorious success of 'Euryanthe.' Weary as I am, I must still say a
sweet good night
to my beloved Lina, and cry Victory! All the company seemed in a state
singers, chorus, orchestra;—all were drunk, as it were, with joy."
The title rôle was taken by
Henrietta Sontag, a young girl, still
teens, though giving high promise of the great things she achieved a
years later. Strange to say, a short time after its first appearance,
"Euryanthe" failed to draw. One reason might have been laid to the
poor libretto, another to the rumor, started, it is said, by no less an
authority than the great master Beethoven, that the music of the opera
"only a collection of diminished sevenths."
The composer lost no time in laying his
score before Beethoven, who
should have visited him before, not after the
advised him to do what he himself had done to "Fidelio," cut out nearly
third of the score. Weber took this advice, and remade parts of the
where he deemed it necessary.
The strain of the production of
"Euryanthe" told severely on the
delicate health, and he returned to Dresden in an exhausted state.
was no rest for him here, as official duties were pressing. The malady
afflicting his lungs had made rapid progress and he began to fear he
not be long spared to his wife and little ones.
He shook off the apathy and took up his
pen once more. His fame was
all over Europe and many tempting offers came in from all directions.
of these was from Covent Garden Theater, London, in the summer of 1824,
which resulted in a visit to the English capital. Charles Kemble,
the director of Covent Garden, desired Weber to write a new opera for
production there. "Oberon" was the subject at last decided upon; it was
taken from an old French romance. Weber at once set to work on the
this fairy opera, and with the exception of the overture, had finished
work in time to bring it to London in 1826. He was ill and suffering at
time he left home, February 7, and it seemed as though he were bidding
final good-by to his wife and little ones.
Arrived in London, Sir George Smart
invited him to take up his
his house. Here he had every comfort, a beautiful piano too was placed
his disposal by one of the first makers in London. "No King could be
with greater love and affection in all things," he wrote; "I cannot be
sufficiently grateful to heaven for the blessings which surround me."
he composed the beautiful Overture to "Oberon" which was only completed
few days before the first performance of the opera.
"Oberon" was given at Covent Garden on
April 12. The house was packed from
pit to dome, and the success was tremendous. Next morning the composer
in a highly nervous and exhausted state, but felt he must keep his
to Kemble and conduct the first twelve performances of "Oberon." He was
have a benefit concert, and hoped through this to have a goodly sum to
back to his little family. Sad to relate, on the evening chosen, May
heavy rain fell and the hall was nearly empty. After the concert he was
so weak he had to be assisted from the room. The physician ordered
postponement of the journey home, but he cried continually, "I must go
my own—I must! Let me see them once more and then God's will be done."
The next morning, when they came to call
him, all was still in his
he had passed away peacefully in sleep.
Weber was buried in London. His last
wish—to return home,—was finally
fulfilled. Eighteen years after, his remains were brought to Dresden,
the composer was at last at home.