Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/423

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WEBER.

the world what he was capable of. When there- fore an invitation to write a new opera arrived (Nov. u, 1821) from Barbaja, of the Kärnth- nerthor theatre in Vienna, he seized the oppor- tunity with avidity. The libretto was to be written by Frau Helmina von Chezy, who had been in Dresden since 1817, well-received in literary circles, and not without poetical talent. She offered him several subjects, and he selected ' Euryanthe.' After several at- tempts, in which Weber gave her active as- sistance, she succeeded in putting her materials into something like the shape he desired. His idea of an opera was that the music should not be so entirely dominant as in Italian opera, but that the work should be a drama, in which the words should have a real interest of their own, and in which action, scenery, and decorations should all contribute to the vividness and force of the general impression. In short, that the impression made by an opera should be based on a carefully balanced combination of poetry, music, and the descriptive arts. These principles he had endeavoured to carry out in Der Freischutz ; in Euryanthe he hoped to realise them fully. The words of the ist Act were ready by Dec. 15, 1821, and Weber set to work with all his might.

Thinking it well to study the circumstances under which his new work was to appear, he started, Feb. 10, 1822, for Vienna, stopping on the way to conduct Der Freischütz (Feb. 14) at Prague, with unmeasured success. He attended a performance of the same opera in Vienna on the 1 8th, but found it far from edifying. How he conducted it himself on March 9, and what a reception it had, has been already mentioned. This one work gave him a popularity in Vienna that became almost burdensome. He was urged to settle there altogether, and undertake the direction of the German opera. There also he received an invitation to write a grand opera for Paris. In the midst of all this excitement he fell ill with a violent sore throat. That his disease was making progress was evident. Still he appeared in public on two occasions besides the Freischutz performance, once at a concert given by Bohm the violinist, on March 10, when he conducted his Jubelouverture, and the men's choruses from the ' Leyer und Schwert,' with enormous success and once at a concert of his own (March 19), when he played his Concertstück, which, oddly enough, was not equally appreciated. By March 26 he was again at home.

All the summer he remained at Hosterwitz, and there was composed by far the greatest part of Euryanthe, for he had the same house the following summer. His most important piece of official work at this time was the production of Fidelio. That opera, though composed in 1805, and reduced to its final shape in 1814, had never been given in Dresden, for the simple reason that till Weber came there was no German opera. Though it was impossible for him to ignore that the music is not through-

WEBER.

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out essentially dramatic, he felt it to be a sublime creation, for which his admiration was intense, and he strained every nerve to secure a performance worthy of the work. An animated correspondence ensued between him and Beethoven. Weber's first letter was dated Jan. 28, 1823; Beethoven replied Feb. 1 6, and Weber rejoined on the i8th. After that there were letters from Beethoven of April 9, June 5 and 9, and Aug. n, the last enclosing a sonata and variations of his own composition. Weber was a great ad- mirer and a remarkable exponent of Beethoven's PF. music, especially of his sonatas, a fact which Beethoven seems to have known. The corre- spondence has been lost, except a fragment of a rough copy of Weber's, 1 conclusively proving his high opinion of Fidelio. The score sent by Beethoven, April 10, is still at the Dresden court-theatre. The first performance took place April 29, with Wilhelmine Schroder as Leonore. In Sept. 1823 Weber started for Vienna to conduct the first performance of Euryanthe. Benedict accompanied him. Barbaja had assem- bled a company of first-rate Italian singers, and was giving admirable performances of Italian operas, especially Rossini's. Rossini had been in Vienna, and had rehearsed his operas him- self. The public was almost intoxicated with the music, and it was performed so admirably that even Weber, who had previously been almost unjustly severe on Rossini's operas, was obliged, to his vexation, to confess that he liked what he heard there. It was un- fortunate that the singers cast for Euryanthe, though as a whole efficient, were stars of the second order. Still, Der Freischütz had pre- possessed the public, and the first performance of the new work was enthusiastically applauded. But the enthusiasm did not last. The plot was not sufficiently intelligible, people found the music long and noisy, and after the second and third representations, which Weber conducted with great success, the audiences gradually became cold and thin. After his departure Conradin Kreutzer compressed the libretto to such an extent as to make the opera a mere unintelligible conglomeration of isolated scenes, and after dragging through twenty per- formances, it vanished from the boards. After the enormous success of the Freischütz, Eury- anthe was virtually a fiasco. Neither had Weber much consolation from his fellow artists. In many instances envy prevented their seeing the grand and beautiful ideas poured forth by Weber in such rich abundance ; and there were artists above the influence of any such motive, who yet did not appreciate the work. Foremost among these was Schubert; even if his own attempts at opera had not shown the same thing before, his seeing no merit in Euryanthe would prove to demonstration that a man may be a great composer of songs, and yet know nothing

1 Given by Max von Weber in the 'Biographie' II. 466. The dates given are not entirely in accordance with those in the biography. but I have followed Jähns's careful epitome of Weber's diary, now in the Royal Library of Berlin.