Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/427

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WEBER.

German Singspiel, with spoken dialogue. All this part however has been lost, the words of the songs ulone being preserved in the score. The verses are rarely Tiirke's own, but were taken from the novel, which was interlarded, in the then fashion, with songs. Such verses as he did write are more than commonplace, especially when intended to be comic ; refined comedy being a rarity in German drama long after Peter SchmoU's day. The music evinces great talent, perhaps artificially matured, but naturally so great and so healthy that not even the hot-house treatment to which it had been sub- jected could injure it permanently. Weber was impelled to produce operas before he had fully developed the feeling for logical harmonic progres- sions, nay, before he had mastered musical ortho- graphy itself, to say nothing of the skill necessary to construct musico-dramatic forms on a large scale. Peter Schmoll affords a good oppor- tunity for comparing the unequal, unpropitious development of Weber's powers with those of Mozart, whose youthful operas are now engraved and accessible. In Mozart the mastery of external means advanced step by step with the develop- ment of mental power. From the first he always had the two. Weber, at the time he composed Peter Schmoll, had much that was original to say, but was without the technical training necessary to enable him to say it. To one capable of piercing through the defective form to the thought beneath, the unmistakable features of his individuality will often be discernible. Real dramatic characterisation is not to be ex- pected from a boy of fourteen ; so far his music is rather stagey than dramatic, but still he had, even then, unquestionably a brilliant talent for the stage. This is mainly apparent in the treatment of general situations, such as the second scene of the first act, where Schmoll, Minette, and Hans Bast play at blindman's-buff in the dark. The melodies are throughout catching, often graceful and charming, always related to the German Lied, and never reflecting the Italian style. He puts almost all he has to say into the voice-parts; the accompaniments being unimportant, at least as regards polyphony. There is much originality in the harmony, and the colouring is individual and full of meaning. Now it is precisely with harmony and colouring that Weber produces his most magical effects in his later operas. In his autobiography he relates how an article he read in a musical periodical about this time suggested to him the idea of writing in a novel manner, by making use of old and obsolete instruments. The instrumentation in Peter Schmoll is indeed quite peculiar, No. 14, a terzet (Empfanget hier des Vaters Segen), being accompanied by two flauti dolci, two basset-horns, two bassoons, and string-quartet. His motive was not a mere childish love of doing something different from other people, but he had an idea that these strange varieties of tone helped to characterise the situation. In the passage named the pecu- liar combination of wind-instruments does pro- duce a peculiarly solemn effect. Again, in certain

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��comic, and also in some mysterious passages, he uses two piccolos with excellent effect, giving almost a forecast of the spirit of Der Freischiitz. Minette sings in the first act a mournful song of a love-lorn maiden, and as the voice ceases the last bar is re-echoed softly by a single flute, solo, a perfect stroke of genius to express desolation, loneliness, and silent sorrow, and recalling the celebrated passage in the 3rd act of ' Euryanthe,' where the desolation of the hapless Euryanthe is also depicted by a single flute. Weber adapted the music of this romance to the song ' Wird Philomele trauern' (No. 5), in Abu Hassan, and used some other parts of the opera in his later works, for instance the last song in the third finale of Oberon. The overture to Peter Schmoll was printed, after Weber's thorough revision of it, in 1807, and also a re- vised form of the duet ' Dich an dies Heiz zu drucken,' in i8og. 1

3. The subject of ' Riibezahl,' a 2-act opera begun by Weber in Breslau,but never finished, was taken from a legend of the Riesengebirge, dramatised by J. G. Rhode. The versification is polished and harmonious, but the action drags sadly. Rubezahl, the spirit of the mountain, having fallen in love with a mortal Princess, lures her into his castle, and keeps her prisoner there, but woos her in vain. Having managed to secure his magic sceptre, she gets rid of him by bidding him count the turnips in the garden, which at her request he turns into human beings for her companions. As soon as he is gone she summons a griffin, who carries her down again to her own home, and thus outwits Riibezahl. For variety's sake the poet has introduced the father, lover, and an old servant of the Princess, who penetrate in disguise to the castle, and are hired by Riibezahl as servants ; but they do not influence the plot, and have to be got rid of at the close.

These weaknesses, however, are redeemed by some supernatural situations, excellent for musi- cal treatment. Of this libretto Weber says that he had composed ' the greater part,' though the overture and three vocal numbers alone have been preserved. Even of these the second vocal number is unfinished, while the overture exists complete only in a revised form of later date. Those familiar with Der Freischiitz and Oberon know Weber's genius for dealing with the spirit-world; but the Riibezahl fragments show extraordinarily few traces of the new lan- guage he invented for the purpose. The music, indeed always excepting the revised form of the overture^ is less Weberish than a great deal in Peter Schmoll, nor is there any marked advance in the technique of composition. In a quintet for four soprani and bass, 2 the princess bewails her loneliness, and sighs for her girl- companions, when Riibezahl bids her plant three turnips, and call them Clarchen, Kunigunde, and Elsbeth; he then touches them with his wand, and her three friends rise out of the ground and rush to her amid a lively scene of

i PF. score by Jfthns (Berlin. Schleslnger).

a With PF. accompaniment by Jiihns (Schleslnger).

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