Weber: Piano Works, Vol.2 (Alexander Paley/ Victor and Marina Ledin) (Naxos: 8.550989)
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Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Piano Music Vol. 2
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.
As a pianist, Weber was admired for his unique manner of playing. He concertized widely, was much in demand as a soloist, and usually elicited enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike. A report on a concert given by Weber in Giessen in 1810 was typical: \... after playing in a few private circles, his reputation as an eminent pianist spread like wildfire through the little town; never, perhaps, in his greatest time did he meet with more universal admiration than that which all at once now burst upon him. So great was the curiosity excited, so overpowering the crowd, which flocked around him, so startling the marks of homage and reverence lavished upon him, that he began to grow weary of w hat he called his 'undeserved honours'. The very porters who carried his piano-forte to the concert-room and back, refused all remuneration after the performance. They were already repaid by the delight of hearing him, they said."
Weber's Sonata No.2 in A Flat Major, Opus 39, is in many respects the composer's masterpiece among the works he wrote for the piano. It is more in the nature of a tone-poem than a formal sonata and is the most romantic of the four. Weber began the work in Prague in 1814 and completed it at Berlin in 1816, dedicating the work to Francois Lauska. Julius Benedict calls the work "the grandest and most complete composition of the master... containing so many fascinating melodies, such a continuous flow of noble ideas alternating with bursts of passion, and, one might say, musical eloquence of the highest order". In the Andante of the second sonata Weber begins with the mood of deep, indefinite feeling that is proper to the symphonic slow movement, but soon forgets all this and begins painting pictures, so that at times the movement is really a processional march. The third movement is called Menuetto capriccioso, and is a great deal less minuet than capriccioso. In this movement, Weber indulges in musical humour and showmanship. The finale is a beautiful piece of musical tapestry.
The Six Variations on Naga's aria 'Woher mag dies wohl kommen?' from Vogler's opera Samori, Opus 6, were composed in 1804 and originally published with an ad libitum accompaniment for violin and cello. The variations were written by the seventeen year old Weber at the time he was preparing a piano-vocal score of the opera by his teacher for publication. The variations show little ingenuity, only doubling occasionally the melody, or filling in the harmony. Variation No.5, a funeral march, shows an interesting variety of harmonic turns. The Seven Variations on a Gypsy Song, Opus 55 were composed in 1817. This set of variations was the composer's last, and by no means best set. Invention seems to have deserted Weber for the most part in these variations, which were probably composed to oblige one of his numerous musical amateur friends.
The virtuosic Grande polonaise, Opus 21, was composed by Weber in 1808 and dedicated to the singer and actress Margarethe Lang, daughter of the Munich violinist Theobald Lang. At the time Weber met her, she was about twenty, and according to Weber's son, the possessor of "a plump, seductive little figure" and "a fund of sprightly, charming humour". Weber found himself constantly in her company. He neglected his friends and official duties, and was prompted to write a musical portrait of his infatuation, the Grande polonaise. A Largo introduction foreshadows the alla polacca theme, which, with its cheerful rhythms, is very characteristic of Weber. In the work Weber experiments with an elaborate cycle of modulations and successfully brings off its unusual and loose formal musical structure. The work is pianistically brilliant, if a bit long for its content.
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 Bel