Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/417

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' With you I hear nations speaking, with Beetho- ven only big boys playing with rattles.' This criticism, though too severe on Beethoven, has in it elements of justice, for in this pièce d'occasion Weber has in truth outdone his great contem- porary.

With the completion of his cantata Weber de- cided to give up his post at Prague. The main object of his labours, the reorganisation of the opera on a solid basis, was accomplished. To produce first-rate results, and make it one of the chief institutions for promoting German dramatic art, was out of the question under the circum- stances in which he was placed, and with the means at his disposal. But he thought that it could be maintained at its then state of efficiency without his aid ; and as Prague had nothing to offer for himself and the furtherance of his own artistic life he resigned his post on Sept. 30, 1816. Projects of a grand tour or a summons to some other great art-institution again floated through his mind. He had been again in Berlin during the summer, and had produced his cantata on the anniversary of Waterloo with such success that it was re- peated on the 23rd June. Count Briihl, IfBand's successor as Intendant of the court -theatres, was devoted to both Weber and his music, and tried, though vainly, to procure him the appointment of Capellmeister vice Himmel. The post was occu- pied provisionally by Bernhard Romberg, and not even a title from the Prussian court could be had for Weber. On his return journey to Prague he made the acquaintance at Carlsbad of Count Vitzthum, Marshal to the Saxon Court, and he opened to him a prospect of an invitation to Dresden. After a formal farewell to Prague he accompanied his fiancee to Berlin on a star- engagement, and remained there for the rest of the year busily engaged in composition. The PF. sonatas in Ab and D minor, the grand duo for PF. and clarinet, and several charming songs with PF. accompaniment, belong to this time. On Dec. 21, just before starting on a tournee to Hamburg and Copenhagen, he received the news that the King of Saxony had appointed him Ca- pellmeister of the German opera at Dresden.

Weber's work at Dresden, which was to last for nine years and terminate only with his pre- mature death, is of the highest importance. Not only did he there bestow on his countrymen those works which, with Mozart's, form the main basis of German national opera, but he founded an institution for the performance of German opera at one of the most musically dis- tinguished courts of Germany, which did not possess one before. In all the other courts where music was cultivated German opera had for long stood on an equal footing with Italian. Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Mannheim, and other places, had had a national opera by the end of the 18th century, and in most cases the rise of the German opera had put an end to the separate existence of its rival. In Dresden alone matters were different. From the begin- ning of the 1 8th century, when Italian opera had reached a perfection scarcely to be surpassed VOL. IV. PT. 4.



even in Italy, it had there reigned supreme, and by 1765 had even ceased to belong ex- clusively to the court. Towards the end of the century, German Singspiele were occasionally performed in Dresden, but only by second- rate actors, at a small theatre in the so-called Linkesche Bad, the Court Capellmeister being expressly prohibited from taking part in the per- formance. After King Friedrich August's re- turn from the war in 1815 his Intendant Count Heinrich Vitzthum induced him to found a Ger- man opera, though only as an addition to the Italian, and it was this institution which Weber was called on to organise. Such a work naturally could not be carried out without violent oppo- sition from the Italians, who had hitherto had it all their own way in Dresden, with the court and nobility almost exclusively on their side. The post of Capellmeister had been filled since 1811 by a born Italian named Francesco Morlacchi, a talented, but imperfectly trained musician, and a clever man with a taste for intrigue. Weber had hardly entered on his new office before he discovered that powerful foes were actively though secretly engaged against him. In accepting the post he had made it a sine qua non that he and his institution should be ranked on terms of perfect equality with Morlacchi and his, and had expressly stipu- lated for the title of Capellmeister, which was held by the other. These conditions were agreed to, and yet when the appointment was gazetted he found himself styled ' Musikdirector,' a title which, according to general usage, made him subordinate to Morlacchi. Weber at once stated with decision that he must decline the post. He however allowed himself to be persuaded, for the sake of the object, to fill the office provisionally, until either a substitute had been engaged in his place, or he himself had been formally pronounced Capellmeister. By Feb. 10, 1817, he had the satisfaction of learning that the king had given way. His salary (1500 thalers, = about £ 220) had been from the first on an equality with Mor- lacchi's, and on Sept. 13 the appointment was confirmed for life. In Dresden he had a first- rate orchestra and a tolerable body of singers at his disposal, and found ample opportunity for turning his knowledge and experience to account.

German opera having generally had spoken dialogue, often forming a large proportion of the work, a custom had arisen of filling the parts with actors who could sing. The style was not a very perfect one, the profession of an actor being so wearing for the voice, and hence small parts alone were fit for these singing actors. Of such materials Weber's company at first exclusively consisted. He was indeed allowed, with special permission, to make use of the members of the Italian opera, but this availed him little, because the Italians could rarely speak German, and were unfamiliar with German music. As for the chorus it was at first non-existent. A few supers with voices, and two or three subordinate solo-singers, constituted the basses and tenors, while the