The Kennedy Center

Overture from Der Freischütz
            Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen from Der Freischütz

About the Work

Karl Maria von Weber Composer: Carl Maria von Weber
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Weber offered the following précis of the plot of Der Freischütz ("The Free Shooter" or "The Marksman"), taken from a collection of tales based on German legend and fantasy titled Gespensterbuch ("Ghost Book") published in 1810: "An old hunter in the service of a Prince wants to give his loyal assistant, Max, the hand of his daughter, Agathe, and also appoint him his successor. The Prince agrees to this, but there exists an old law that requires the young man to undergo a severe shooting test. Another malicious and dissolute hunter's assistant, Kaspar, also has his eye on the girl but has sold himself to the Devil [personified in the opera by Samiel, The Black Huntsman]. Max, who is otherwise an excellent shot, misses everything during the time immediately preceding the shooting test and, in his despair, is enticed by Kaspar into making so-called ‘free bullets,' of which six invariably find their way home, but in return for which the seventh belongs to the Devil. This is meant to hit the poor girl and thereby plunge Max into despair and suicide, etc. However, heaven decrees otherwise; at the shooting test Agathe falls but so does Kaspar--the latter as the victim, the former only from fright. The whole action is concluded on a joyous note."

The Overture, which summarizes the story's dramatic progression, opens with a premonitory unison gesture before the horns, used throughout the opera to symbolize its sylvan setting, play a lovely, hymnal melody. The introduction ends with the spooky strains ("the quintessence of Romanticism in music," according to Donald Grout in his classic Short History of Opera) that accompany the scene in the haunted Wolf's Glen during which the magic bullets are cast. Max's despair is painted by the stormy main theme, with the contrasting second theme (given by solo clarinet after a blast on the horns) representing Agathe's loving innocence and the impetuous closing theme, the lovers' eventual victory. An agitated thematic working-out fills the central portion of the Overture before the melodies are returned in the recapitulation. A triumphant coda, grown from the melody of the lovers' victory, closes this stirring work.

Max's dramatic Act I aria Durch die Wälder, durch die Auen juxtaposes his thoughts about the seeming loss of both Agathe and his usually trustworthy marksmanship with Samiel's sinister appearances in the shadows.