Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/415

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WEBER.

the ideal life of Germany at that period, and for the first time rounded it off, so to speak, into a full chord. The love of the antique, whether in history, the life of the people, or national melody, was then newly awakened, and gave its stamp to the period, not only in know- ledge and matters of art, but in manners, in- dividual and social. Thus Weber became the embodiment of the ancient troubadour who, in Eichendorff's words, went through the country, singing his melodies from house to house.

In 1813 this roving life came to an end, and was succeeded by a settled existence, with ties of place and circumstance, and definite duties. The wandering impulse was indeed too ingrained in his nature not to have a secret influence on his after life, but hence- forth it was sufficiently under control to admit of that collectedness of spirit, without which the creation of great and enduring works of art is impossible. On Jan. 1 2, 1 8 1 3, Weber arrived at Prague, intending to go on by Vienna to Venice, Milan, and the rest of Italy, and then back through Switzerland and France. This tour he calculated to take fully two years, and from it he hoped for great results. At Prague, how- ever, there was a vacancy in the Capellmeister- ship of the theatre, owing to Wenzel Miiller's resignation. Liebich, the director, knew Weber's value, and offered him the post, with a salary of 2000 gulden (about £ 200), a furlough of two or three months, an annual benefit guaranteed at 1000 gulden, and absolute independence at the Opera. This gave him not only a fixed income, but the prospect of paying off the debts contracted at Breslau and Stuttgart, a decisive considera- tion to a man of his honourable nature. The grand tour, planned with so much expectation, was given up, and Liebich's offer accepted.

Wenzel Müller, admirably adapted for the lower forms of national opera, was not the man to be at the head of an institution whose main object was to foster dramatic music of a higher order. Under his direction the Opera had de- teriorated to such a degree that Liebich deter- mined to disband the company and entirely reorganise it. For this task he selected Weber. Presenting himself afresh to the public of Prague at a brilliantly-attended concert on March 6, he started for Vienna on the 27th, furnished with full powers to engage good musicians and German singers. 1 In Vienna he met Meyerbeer, heard Hummel and Mo- scheles, whose playing he thought 'fine, but too smooth,' and gave a concert of his own on April 25, but was principally occupied with the main object of his journey. The whole company, with the exception of three members, was new, and included Caroline Brandt, Weber's future wife. He entirely reorganised the whole sys- tem, and developed a marvellous capacity for that kind of work. It now became evident that it was not in vain that he had passed his child- hood behind the scenes, and been an Opera- Capellmeister at 18. His wide experience and

1 The Italian Opera of Prague ceased to exist in 1806.

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energy helped him to conquer the singers and musicians, who were at first amazed by his strictness and the inflexibility of his rules. Among them were a number of Bohemians, and in order to be able to grumble at him with im- punity, they talked to each other at rehearsal in Bohemian. This Weber soon perceived, and set to work to learn the language, which in a few months he had mastered sufficiently for his purpose. Not only did he manage, arrange, and direct the music even to the smallest details, but he also superintended the administration, the scene-painting, and the stage-management, and proved to demonstration that all these were really within his province. So completely were all theatrical details at his fingers'-ends, that on the prompter's sudden illness, Weber supplied his place. By this means he en- sured an accuracy and a unity in all the dramatic representations, such as had never been seen before, and which the public did not fail to recognise. He was perhaps quite as great a conductor as a composer, and was the first of the great German musicians whose talent was conspicuous in this direction. In this matter also he was a virtuoso. The first opera he put on the stage at Prague was Spontini's ' Cortez ' (Sept. 10, 1813), then produced for the first time there. Between that date and Dec. 19 followed seven, and between that and March 27, ten, newly- studied operas and singspiele. Of each he made a scenario, including the smallest details.

His aim was to reinstate the Prague opera in the position it occupied between 1780 and 1 790, when it could almost have competed with Vienna, and was at any rate among the best in Germany. He was quite the man to do it, if only the times had been the same ; but un- fortunately this was not the case. During the war, society ceased to cultivate music, and lost its powers of discrimination, and the only way of keeping up its traditional reputation for taste was to maintain a dignified reserve on all artistic productions. Weber, accustomed to more sympathy, soon discovered this, and it put him out of tune. Besides, he had not managed to form comfortable relations for himself. Gänsbacher had left, and Weber, to whom a friend was an absolute necessity, felt deserted. With the Prague musicians Kotzeluch, Dionys Weber, Tomaschek, 2 and others, he did not hit it off. For a time he struggled in vain against an attachment for a ballet-girl, who was quite unworthy of his affection. The real cause of his discomfort, however, was that he could not at once fall into the regular ways of pro- fessional life. He was like a bird, which had once flown freely in the open air, but was now caged. Passages in his letters make this clear. 'My incessant occupation, and my life of utter solitude, have made me morose, gloomy, and mis- anthropical. If Heaven does not soon thrust me

2 Weber's diary contains a remark on him which is worth reading. 'March 27. To Tomaschek's. He played me 12 Eclogues, 1 Sonata. 2 Airs, 1 Concerto, and 1 Symphony, till I was quite exhausted. Are all composers possessed of the devil when they get to their own works ? and is it the same with me? God forbid.'