Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/432

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416

��WEBER.

��entrap Agathe, 'the spotless lamb,' and her Max. At this point Agathe enters, bearing bread, milk, and fruit for the hermit. After warning her that danger is near, he gives her his blessing and two or three of the roses, which have the power of working miracles. A duet between the two concludes the scene. Weber did not compose either the duet or the hermit's monologue ; but, by his fiancee's advice, began the opera with the village fete. By this means he certainly secured a more effective introduction, though the appearance of the hermit in the last act now seems somewhat abrupt and out of place.

The religious sentiment of Weber's day was entirely of a romantic kind, made up partly of a sort of medieval fanatical Catholicism, partly of an almost pantheistical nature- worship. What a gift he had for giving expression to this senti- ment Weber perhaps scarcely knew before he wrote the Freischutz. It was an advantage to him to be a member, and a conscientious one, of the Roman Catholic Church, and to have also a naturally serious and devout disposition. Hence the character of Agathe has a virgin- sweetness, an unearthly purity, such as was never put on the stage before. As an inter- preter of nature Weber's position in the dramatic world is like that of Beethoven in the Symphony ; nay, the infinite variety of nature-pictures contained in Der Freischutz, Preciosa, Eury- anthe, and Oberon, each quite new of its kind, and each equally surpass even the mani- festations of genius of the Pastoral Symphony. Nobody has ever depicted with the same truth as he a sultry moonlight night, the stillness broken only by the nightingale's trill and the solemn murmur of the trees, as in Agathe's grand scena ; or a gruesome night-scene in the gloomy forest ravine, such as that in the finale of the 2nd Act. In the latter kind of scene Marschner may have surpassed him, but in the former he still remains unapproachable. With this descriptive faculty went hand in hand consummate skill in orchestration. There is something original and intoxicating in the sound he brings out of the orchestra, a complete simplicity, combined with perfect novelty. He was able, as it were, to transport himself into the soul of the instruments, and make them talk to us like human beings, each in its own language, each speaking when it alone has power to lay bare the very heart of the action. In this power of using the orchestra dramati- cally Weber surpasses any composer in the world ; Mozart himself knew nothing of such an individualising of the resources of the orchestra. Orchestral colouring handled in this masterly manner naturally served principally to characterise situations, but it was also used for the personages. Nothing distinguishes Weber as a born dramatist more than the way he ap- propriated to a character from its first entrance upon the stage a certain mode of musical expres- sion, which he maintained as a kind of keynote through all the varying emotions of the opera.

��WEBER.

A good example is the opening of the duet between Agathe and Aennchen. With the very first phrase each strikes a note which completely exemplifies then* different characters, and to which they remain true to the end. The very first musical phrase sung by each gives a tone, perfectly in keeping with their different charac- ters, and held firm to the end of the opera. With all this distinctness of characterisation, however, Weber's creations keep to general lines; he draws types rather than individuals. His figures have not the sharpness of outline that dis- tinguish Mozart's ; they resemble rather the characters in Schiller's dramas, while Mozart's may be compared to Shakespere's.

Weber had a wonderful talent for inventing popular melodies, as he has shown in many songs. ' In Der Freischutz,' says E. T. A. Hoffmann, ' the rays of his genius scattered through innumerable songs, seem to have con- centrated themselves in one focus.' Even Spohr, who as a rule found Weber's music by no means sympathetic, conceded this, though he was wrong in calling it 'the gift of writing down to the comprehension of the multitude.' The melodies in the Freischutz all catch the ear at once, but have a bewildering charm and depth as well ; while within the comprehen- sion of everybody, they fascinate the world down to the present day. These qualities are most prominent in the Lieder and Lied-like forms, in which latter the opera abounds, a point which in itself betrays the German popular element, the Lied being the original foundation of German opera. This Lied- form is introduced four times in the 1st Act, and twice in the last, besides appearing as an element of a larger whole in Agathe's aria (' Leise, leise, fromrne Weise') and the finale of the 3rd Act ('Die Zukunft soil mein Herz bewahren'). These are precisely the numbers which have attained the greatest popularity. We need only mention the Bridesmaids' and Huntsmen's choruses, the waltz in the 1st Act, and the Peasants' march. This latter is taken direct from the people's music, and is an air which Weber must have heard when conducting the opera in Prague. At least, between 1816 and 1824, the musical population of Bohemia were addicted to a march, the first part of which is identical with that in Freischiitz. 1

Perfect as are these smaller musical forms, it must in justice be conceded that Weber did not always succeed with his larger ones, which often have a sort of piecemeal effect. The construc- tion of a piece of music in grand, full, propor- tions, was to him a labour, and rarely a success- ful one. He does not so much develop from within as superimpose from without, and not unfrequently the musical flow stagnates. The finale of the 3rd Act may be cited as an instance of his way of falling short in this respect. For the most part, however, this is only true of

1 This discovery Is due to Ambros; see his 'Cultur-historlsche Bilder aus dem Musikleben der Gegeuwart," 47 (Leipzig. Malthei, 1860). and ' Bunte Blatter.' 22.

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