Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/418

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402

WEBER.

sopranos and altos were supplied by schoolboys, as was once the custom at all German theatres. With such materials it needed all Weber's gifts of organisation and direction to produce results which might bear comparison with the far better appointed Italian theatre, and keep alive, or rather kindle, an interest in German opera among cultivated people.

The way in which he set about his task made it clear that musical life in Dresden now pos- sessed a man of power, who would keep steadfastly in view the success of his under- taking, without concerning himself as to whether he were breaking with old traditions, abolishing old and convenient usages, or even giving personal offence. He knew that in order to prosper, German opera must command the sympathy of the German people. The Court, he was also aware, took but a languid interest in it, while the aristocracy considered foreign music more distingut, and had as a body no community of feeling with the people. For this reason his first step, a very startling one to Dresden society, was to publish in the 'Abendzei- tung,' a literary paper with a large circula- tion, an article addressed to the ' Amateurs of Dresden,' laying down the conditions necessary to his undertaking. Modestly bespeaking the indulgence of the public for the first attempts of a new institution, and frankly owning that real excellence would only be attained after many failures, the whole article shows how clearly he perceived the goal at which he was aiming, and how energetically he directed his course towards it from the very first. 'The Italians and the French,' he says, 'have fashioned for themselves a distinct form of opera, with a framework which allows them to move with ease and freedom. Not so the Germans. Eager in the pursuit of knowledge, and constantly yearn- ing after progress, they endeavour to appropriate anything which they see to be good in others. But they take it all so much more seriously. With the rest of the world the gratification of the senses is the main object; the German wants a work of art complete in itself, with each part rounded off and compacted into a perfect whole. For him, therefore, a fine ensemble is the prime necessity.' It had been so much the habit hitherto in Dresden for society to look to the Court, and mould its tastes in accordance with those set in fashion from above, that it was almost an impossibility for a Court official to talk about his work as if he were in any sense personally responsible for it, or wished to be considered the head of his own institu- tion. People were aware that Weber had been leading a free and restless life as an independent artist ; and that his songs of war and liberty had endeared him to the heart of young Germany. Hence he was set down as a revolutionary spirit aiming at dangerous political innovations; though as a fact he was no politician, and never went beyond the general interest natural to a cul- tivated man in forms of government, social con- ditions, and the universal rights of man. Another

WEBER.

of his actions which excited remark was the giving a very gay dinner and ball to his staff, himself the life and soul of the party. 'How could he expect to keep up the respect of his subordinates, if he began by treating them in this way ? ' His singers and actors were indeed very much surprised by his strictness and punc- tuality in all business matters. At first this aroused much dissatisfaction, but when it was found that he could make an opera go in all its parts, that at rehearsal his ears and eyes were everywhere at once, that he was as familiar with the details of acting, dressing, and scenery as he was with the music, and master of all the ins and outs of the opera as a whole, then a higher ideal gradually dawned upon the company, and an immense respect for their new director. The first opera he produced was Méhul's 'Joseph* (Jan. 13, 1817). As had been his successful habit in Prague, he published two days be- forehand in the ' Abendzeitung, ' an article giving some information about the new opera. The performance was excellent ; indeed, all that could be desired, as far as the ensemble went, though the solo-singers were but indifferent. The engagement of competent leading artists was his next care. Here he acted upon the principle that German opera was not to be confined to native works only, but should also produce Italian and French operas. To this end a numerous, well- trained, and thoroughly cultivated body of artists was requisite, and he felt it necessary to engage at least three leading sopranos, one first-rate tenor, and one first-rate bass. His Intendant sent him in March, 1817, on a mission to Prague, with the view of engaging Frln. Grünbaum, then singing at the theatre there. On the 28th he conducted his 'Silvana,' and was enthu- siastically received, the people of Prague taking every means of showing how much they felt his loss. Immediately after his return he went to Leipzig, and played his Concerto in E b at a Gewandhaus concert, his scena from 'Atalia' and his 'Kampf und Sieg' being also in the programme. Grünbaum sang in Dresden, but was not engaged ; various other stars were unsuccessful, and the year 1817 came to a close without any real ac- quisition having been made. However, Weber had secured a regular chorus and chorus- master, the post being filled first by Metzner, and then towards the close of 1819 by Johannes Micksch. The latter had studied in Italy, and was considered a first-rate teacher of singing ; his principal object, however, was not so much expression as the production of a full and even tone, which occasioned some differences of opinion between him and Weber. On the whole, however, he proved an excellent teacher, and was duly appreciated. A third reform under- taken by Weber in the early part of 1818 was the re-arrangement of the orchestra. The band had been hitherto placed in the same manner as at the Italian opera, but this disposi- tion he wished to alter for one more suited to the component parts of a modern orchestra,