WEBER: Piano Sonata No. 1 / Invitation to the Dance / Variations, Opp. 2 and 40 (Alexander Paley/ Victor and Marina Ledin) (Naxos: 8.550988)
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Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Piano Music Vol.1
It was natural that there should be an element of the operatic in the music of Weber. The composer of the first great Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz, spent much of his childhood with the peripatetic theatre-company directed by his father, Franz Anton Weber, uncle of Mozart's wife Constanze and, like his brother, at one time a member of the famous Mannheim orchestra. At the time of Weber's birth his father was still in the service of the Bishop of Lübeck and during the course of an extended visit to Vienna had taken a second wife, an actress and singer, who became an important member of the family theatre-company established in 1788.
Weber's musical gifts were fostered by his father, who saw in his youngest son the possibility of a second Mozart. Travel brought the chance of varied if inconsistent study, in Salzburg with Michael Haydn and elsewhere with musicians of lesser ability. His second opera was performed in Freiberg in 1800, followed by a third, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn, in Augsburg in 1803. Lessons with the Abbe Vogler led to a position as Kapellmeister in Breslau in 1804, brought to a premature end through the hostility of musicians long established in the city and through the accidental drinking of engraving acid, left by his father in a wine-bottle.
A brief and idyllic period in the service of Duke Eugen of Württemberg-Öls at Carlsruhe was followed by three years as secretary to Duke Ludwig of Württemberg, a younger brother of the reigning Duke. The financial dealings of his father, who had joined him there, led to imprisonment and expulsion, and a return to a career as an active musician, at first principally as a pianist, appearing in the principal cities of Germany. A short stay in Berlin proved fruitful, before his appointment to the opera in Prague in 1813. In 1817 he was invited to Dresden, where it was hoped he would establish German opera, although the first performance of Der Freischütz was given in Berlin in 1821.
While the rival Italian opera in Dresden continued to cause Weber trouble, he was invited to write an opera for Vienna. Euryanthe, described as a grand heroic-Romantic opera, with a libretto by the blue-stocking authoress of Rosamunde, for which Schubert provided incidental music, had a mixed reception.
In spite of deteriorating health, the result of tuberculosis, Weber accepted a commission from Covent Garden for an English opera, Oberon, which was first performed there in April 1826 under the direction of the composer. A pioneer in the use of the conductor's baton, his first appearance with this potential weapon caused initial alarm among English musicians at his possibly aggressive intentions. The English weather could only further damage his health and he died during the night of 4th June on the eve of his intended departure for Germany.
Weber's achievement was both considerable and influential. In German opera he had opened a new and rich vein that subsequent composers were to explore: as an orchestrator he demonstrated new possibilities, particularly in the handling of wind instruments: as a conductor and director of performances he instituted a number of reforms, as he had first attempted as an adolescent Kapellmeister in Breslau. In style his music follows classical principles of clarity, with a particular lyrical facility shown both in his operas and his instrumental and vocal compositions.
Weber wrote well for the piano (he was an excellent concert pianist), though it cannot be said that his piano music is filled with the nobility and originality which mark his best opera pages. The Sonata No.1 in C Major, Opus 24, was composed in 1812 and dedicated to the Grand Duchess Maria Paulowna of Weimar. Sir Julius Benedict found this sonata \teeming with surprising and nearly always happy innovations". The opening Allegro is stately and grand. It is a movement designed to showoff the technical skill of the performer. The Adagio which follows is in turns plaintive and heroic. It reminds one of a highly embellished operatic aria. Although called "Minuetto", the third movement is essentially a scherzo, alternately playful and majestic. The finale is a brilliant show-piece and is often performed separately from the other movements as an encore piece entitled "Perpetuum mobile". Weber himself called it "L'infatigable", and it is, in fact, a tireless perpetual motion. It became so popular, that many pianists arranged it for their concert use. Brahms arranged it as a study for the left hand, Tchaikovsky arranged it for the left hand and composed a new right hand part, and Henselt revised it, incorporating additional difficulties. According to Benedict, Weber had the advantage of very large hands, "and being able to play tenths with the same facility as octaves, Weber produced the most startling effects of sonority, and possessed also the power to elicit an almost vocal quality of tone where delicacy or deep expression were required."
The Six Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 2, were composed in 1800 and dedicated to Weber's teacher, Johann Nepomuk Kalcher. Weber was thirteen when he composed it and according to Benedict, the piece reflects a music student's clever efforts. Beyond that Benedict finds this set of variations an "immature trifle". The Nine Variations on a Russian Theme ("Schöne! Minka"), Opus 40, were written fitteen years later in 1815 and dedicated like the First Sonata to the Grand Duchess Maria Paulowna of Weimar. The theme of the work, a well-known Ukrainian melody, was quite well known in Germany du ring the war against France. Julius Benedict finds Weber's treatment of the theme "ingenious, though the predominant minor key in seven of the variations gives the whole a rather monotonous melancholy tinge". Benedict finds the seventh variation with the melody in the bass as the most striking and effective of the variations.
Weber's universally most popular piano piece is without a doubt the Invitation to the Dance, Opus 65. Johann Nepomuk Hummel is credited with the invention of the chain waltz, a series of 16 measure waltzes strung together in a large, loose form. Weber's Invitation to the Dance, composed in 1819, builds upon Hummel's idea and adds something more. It is the first concert waltz ever written, the first composition in waltz rhythm composed to be heard and not to be danced to, and hence its form is more subtle and more closely integrated than that of Hummel.
Weber provided an outline of the work: First appearance of the dancers - the lady's evasive reply - his pressing invitation - her consent - he begins conversation - her reply - speaks with greater warmth - the sympathetic agreement - addresses her with regard to the dance - her answer - they take their places - waiting for the commencement of the dance. The conclusion of the dance, his thanks, her reply, and their retirement. The Invitation to the Dance was composed a few months after Weber's happy marriage with the opera singer, Caroline Brandt, and is dedicated to "My Caroline".
1994 Victor and Marina A. Ledin
Born in Kishinev, in Moldavia, in 1956, Alexander Paley had his first musical training in his native town, where he attended the School of Music, giving his first concert when he was thirteen and three years later winning the Moldavian National Music Competition. He later studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where, his teachers included Bella Davidovich and Vera Gornstayeva, completing his course there in 1981. His subsequen