WEBER: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 / Turandot Overture / Silvana (Hans May/ John Georgiadis/ Queensland Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550928)
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Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826)
Symphony No.1 in C Major, J. 50
Symphony No.2 in C Major, J. 51
Turandot Overture, J. 75
Silvana, J. 87
Die Drei Pintos
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 completed his two symphonies in 1807, during the period he spent at Carlsruhe in the service of Duke Eugen, himself a talented enough oboist. The scoring of the symphonies is dictated by the complement of the ducal orchestra. The wind section of flute, with pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets with drums, but lacking clarinets, is used with particular skill, while the string scoring allows the double basses occasional freedom from bondage to the cellos. Symphony No.1 in C major was dedicated, on its publication in 1812, to Gottfried Weber, who befriended Weber after his dismissal from Württemberg in 1810. He described the first movement as more of an overture than a symphonic movement and expressed his own preference for the inner movements, finding that there was room for improvement in the working out of the finale. The symphony is very much in the style of the time, unaffected by the changes that Beethoven was effecting in the form, although there are clear signs of the operatic.
The first movement, marked Allegro con fuoco, starts with an immediate and brief summons to attention, before the unexpected and sinuous theme introduced by the lower strings and echoed by the first violins. The Singspiel-like second subject allows the skilled wind-players of the Duke's orchestra scope for interplay in a movement that fits well enough its composer's later view of its structure. The second movement Andante, in the key of C minor, is introduced by the solemn sounds of trumpets and horns and a theme entrusted first to cellos and double basses, before it is taken up by flute and bassoon. Once again the wind instruments are skilfully deployed in a movement that almost takes us to the Wolf's Glen. The Scherzo dispels this atmosphere and frames a Trio in which the wind instruments predominate. These first three movements were completed by Christmas Eve 1806, while the final Presto was finished at midnight on 2nd January 1807. There is here music of wit and charm, an opera buffa final ensemble.
Weber's Symphony No.2, also in the key of C major and with similar scoring, was started on 22nd January 1807 and finished a week later, on 28th January. The first movement Allegro allows the wind instruments to provide a gentle answer to the strong opening chords of the whole orchestra. The process is repeated, before the oboe, the Duke's instrument, introduces the principal theme, answered by the bassoon. The French horn, with spare accompaniment, offers the second subject. The central development is introduced by French horns and then trumpets repeating the rhythm of the opening figure, before the flute ushers in the main subject, now in E minor. The section comes to a dramatic conclusion, followed by a recapitulation that rises to a dynamic climax in conclusion. French horns introduce the F major Adagio, in which the main theme is at first given to a solo viola, followed by a solo oboe. Here again subtle use is made of the wind instruments, a reminder of the proficiency of the wind- players at Carlsruhe for whom Weber was writing. The third movement is described as a Minuet, although in a solemn C minor, with a C major Trio scored principally for solo oboe and strings.
The last movement, with the less usual direction Scherzo presto, is witty, varied in scoring and energetic. It ends with an unexpected addition from bassoons and lower strings, after the whole orchestra seems to have had the last word.
Weber's comic opera Die Drei Pintos was left incomplete, to be finished 67 years later by Gustav Mahler in a collaboration that brought its own difficulties. Based on a story, Der Brautkampf, by Carl Seidel, it deals with the complications of the proposed marriage of the heroine, Clarissa, whose father has decided she must marry a man neither of them have ever seen, Don Pinto, son of Don Nunno Mansos de Fonseca, descendant of a hero of the Spanish wars of conquest. An adventurer seeks to impersonate Don Pinto, but is induced to help Clarissa's beloved Don Gomes, who himself assumes the