Friday, January 29, 2010
Carl Maria Von Weber : Der Freischutz
German opera made its first mature gesture in Mozart, especially with Die Zauberflote. A little isolated progress was with Beethoven's Fidelio. Then it came to its first full flowering in Weber. The pinnacle was, of course, Richard Wagner. Wagner lifted the opera on to another plane. These statements will serve to put the operas of Weber into quick perspective.
Weber was born in 1786 and died of consumption at the early age of thirty nine in 1826. Thus, his own lifetime lay within the lifetime of Beethoven. He was musically as unlike Beethoven as a contemporary genius could be. Yet, he remains the germinating link between Beethoven and Wagner. In Weber, German romanticism came to a head; his operas are full of the legendary atmosphere, the ghosts and spectres and goblins and the natural mythology of German folk art. When you add a rich and colourful imagination, you have the ingredients of a Weber opera in a nutshell. You can sense it at once in the preludial bars of almost any Weber overture. He throws you at once into the lands of romance and fancy and emotional ardour. Usually, it is Nature which is more often the active protagonist and the constant backcloth.
Weber wrote extensively for the stage. It was in the theatre that his original genius flowered and grew to fulfillment. The overtures have maintained enduring popularity in the romantic orchestral repertoire. Weber is a complete master in the overtures. He spun poetic and intensely imaginative summaries of their drama. He followed the fashion of the day by writing his overtures after the rest of the opera had been completed so as to give himself more elbow room.
Der Freischutz is Weber's best and most convincing opera. The overture sets not only the natural scene but the whole atmosphere of romantic mystery, magic and superstition. At once, we are at the heart of the matter in the lyric melody for four horns at the opening and the strange dark modulations. The famous clarinet passage depicts Max as he looks into the depths of the Wolf's Glen. The principal allegro is based on Max's aria and Agathe's prayer. Weber's invention is at its imaginative best throughout. At the end, all will be well as the brilliant coda leaves us in no doubt.
Der Freischutz retains the spoken dialogue derived from the German Singspiel. In Euryanthe, Weber essays grand opera at its most complete. He foreshadows the Wagnerian music drama, leitmotifs and all. The libretto was written by Hermina Von Chezy who also wrote 'Rosamunde.' In Euryanthe, a brilliant opening leads to a magnificent exposition and development of the leading themes to end in great splendour and triumphant pomp.
Abu Hassan is a one-act Singspiel to a libretto adapted from an Arabian fairy tale. It is light heartedly humorous in a way which the German romantics seldom achieved. It has a touch of foreign colour.
Weber was indeed the epitome of that German romanticism which swept through the minds of young Europe at the dawn of the nineteenth century.