Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/436

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420

��WEBER.

��ending diminuendo (a very striking point) and the duet and chorus with the clashing swords ' Trotze nicht, Vermessener.' Weber's large dramatic pieces are freer as regards form than Mozart's, because he follows the poet more closely, almost indeed word by word. Nor can it be said that there are no little roughnesses, or bits of dull or unformed work, but any such are com- pletely submerged in the overwhelming flood of beauties.

One reason why Euryanthe has never been as popular as Weber's other operas, or those of Mozart, is because of its high strain of pathos, unrelieved from the first note to the last. This was noticed by Rochlitz, who found the first per formance in Leipzig very fatiguing, and after it remained ' for most of the night in a fever, though indeed not an unpleasant one.' Another reason is the extreme difficulty of the work. It requires four singers, two men and two women, of the first rank, both in capabilities and endurance ; as well as a first-rate orchestra prepared to give the closest and most intelligent rendering. Thus good performances of Euryanthe are rare, which is to be regretted from all points of view, for it is the culminating point of romantic opera. Neither Spohr, Marschner, nor any later com- poser has produced a work fulfilling all the re- quirements of romantic opera in so masterly a manner. It is one of the most prominent land- marks of sub-classic art, if not the most pro- minent.

10. Although Weber wrote his last opera at the request of Kemble, he chose the subject him- self, and was aware how completely it suited his own individuality. Since the publication of Wieland's poem in 1780, two German operas had been composed on Oberon. The first, Wranitzky's (1790), was one of those childish fairy-pieces, whose lively music, harle- quin-tricks, scene-painting, and machinery, were long the delight of the simple-minded people of Vienna. The other, composed for Copenhagen (1790, with the second title of 'Holger Danske ') by Kunzen, Gluck's talented successor, and J. F. Reich ardt's friend, was a far more serious work, and can be spoken of in connection with Weber's, though the latter put it so completely into the background as virtually to obliterate it.

Weber's librettist, Planchd, likewise worked on Wieland's Oberon, or rather on Sotheby's translation. Though satisfied with the poem in detail, Weber could not reconcile himself to English opera as such. ' The cut of an English opera is certainly very different from a German one ; the English is more a drama with songs,' he writes (in English) to Planche' on Jan. 6, 1825; and again on Feb. 19, 'I must repeat that the cut of the whole is very foreign to all my ideas and maxims. The intermixing of so many principal actors who do not sing, the omission of the music in the most im- portant moments all deprive our Oberon of the title of an opera, and will make him unfit for all other theatres in Europe.' These words contain a very just criticism on the libretto.

��WEBER.

The continual change of scene, which keeps the spectator in a state of restlessness, is cer- tainly a mistake. Weber intended to remodel the opera for Germany, when he would have put it into a form more in accordance with his own ideas, giving the music a larger share in the course of the plot, but simplifying the plot so that it should run more smoothly and consecu- tively. Whether he would also have endea- voured to strengthen the dramatic interest is doubtful. As it stands it is an epic poem drama- tised, rather than a drama. But no subject dealing with fairyland can admit of dramatic treatment beyond a limited extent, for the characters, instead of moving independently, and of their own free will, act under the guidance of supernatural powers, who visibly interfere with their destiny on all occasions. Weber required not so much characters full of dramatic action, as suggestive situations and picturesque scenes, and these Planche's libretto supplied to the full. That he had the German form in his mind all the time he was setting the English, is evident from the fact that he had each number, as fast as he composed it, translated by Theodor Hell, of Dresden, instructing him to make the words correspond as closely as possible to the melody. Hell's workmanship was not of the best, and Weber was too much occupied to correct all his blunders. One glaring instance occurs in Reiza's grand scena ('Ocean, thou mighty monster ') ; a beam from the setting sun parts the storm-clouds, and she exclaims, 'And now the sun bursts forth,' which Hell translates, 'Und nun die Sonn' geht auf (rises). Thus the astonished spectator, having been told that it is morning, shortly beholds the sun set in the same quarter from which it has just risen. Nevertheless the passage is always so sung in Germany, and the absurdity, if noticed at all, is laid at the door of the English librettist. Weber got his translator to make a reduction iu the number of the personages introduced. In .the quartet, 'Over the dark blue waters,' Planche" gave the bass to a sea-captain, and in the duet, ' On the banks of sweet Garonne,' associated a Greek fellow-slave with Fatima, in both cases because the original Sherasmin was a poor singer. These makeshifts find no place in the German ver- sion, or in the English revival at Her Majesty's in 1860. Then again, the song ' Y"es, even love to fame must yield,' composed in London forBraham in place of 'From boyhood trained in battle-field,' is omitted in the German, while another addition, the prayer in the and Act, 'Ruler of this awful hour,' is retained. The first was a concession on the part of the composer, who did not care for this 'battle-picture'; but he saw that the prayer was not only a passage of great beauty, but materially strengthened the part of Huon. 1

Hell's translation was published almost simultaneously with the original libretto, the preface to which Is dated ' Brompton Crescent, April 10, 1826.' The German title runs Oberon, King of the Elves, a romantic fairy-opera In 3 acts. Translated for the German stage by Theodor Hell from the English original by J. B. Plauch<5. set to music by Capellmelster Freyherr Karl Maria von Weber' (Arnold, Dresden and Leipzig, 1826). With a long preface by th translator.

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