The Kennedy Center

Carl Maria von Weber


Composer Karl Maria von Weber was born in the town of Eutin, near Lübeck, in northern Germany on November 11, 1786. The first child of the second marriage of fifty year old Franz Anton to sixteen year old Genoveva, young Karl Maria was surrounded by music and musicians from birth, as his family moved back and forth across Europe with their small theater company. Father Franz Anton was an accomplished violinist and empressario, and the company of players was comprised mainly of Franz Anton's wife and older children.

Impressed by the fame and fortune achieved by Mozart as a child prodigy father Franz set about developing in Karl Maria the same talents and gifts. The boy was started on piano and singing when he was barely able to walk. His talents were slow to emerge, however, and his older brother Fritz expressed doubts that Karl would ever become much of a musician. At age nine young Karl Maria was placed under the tutelage of better teachers, and at age eleven became the pupil of Michael Haydn, Franz Josef's younger brother. Under Haydn the young boy began composing small comic operas and other instrumental works which were performed in major cities. He completed his musical studies with the Abbe Vogler in Vienna, and at age eighteen Vogler helped get him appointed to a post as conductor in Breslau.

In Breslau, as in many later positions, Weber was overzealous in his demands and discipline, and alienated the members of the company. After two years his musicians succeeded in causing his dismissal from the post. There followed a series of short lived positions as conductor and composer for several noblemen, and in one unfortunate incident he was jailed on suspicion of theft of money from his patron, money which his by then pennyless father may have taken. During this period von Weber began to drink heavily.

After this disastrous period von Weber returned to Darmstadt, where he renewed his friendship with Abbe Vogler, quit drinking, and entered a period of prolific composing, producing piano and violin concertos and the opera Abu Hassan. There followed many successful engagements in Dresden, Leiopzig, and Prague and Berlin.

Weber had long been interested in writing and musical criticism, and during this period wrote many pieces on music and musicians. He did not especially admire the work of Beethoven. Nonetheless, Beethoven received him with great warmth and cordiality when Weber was in Vienna.

In 1816 Weber was appointed Director of the German Opera Dresden, which a year later was confirmed his for life. Soon after he married Caroline Brandt.

Because of his new position Weber becaame enthusiastically interested in German opera, and in the German folklore from which many of the plots were derived. His first grand opera Der Freischütz (the Marksman) was composed there, and was premiered on June 18th, Berlin to wild acclaim. If was performed fifty time in the next eighteen months, making large profits for the opera hous. Freischütz made Weber famous all over Europe, and remains to this day his most appreciated work.

Weber composed two more grand operas, Euryanthe, of which now only the overture is performed, and Oberon, which he was commissioned to compose by Covent Garden Opera in London. The effort to compose Oberon, and prepare it for performance in London took fatal toll on his health. Suffering from diseased lungs, and weakened heart von Weber succumbed to the strain he placed on his health, and two months after the hugely successful premier of Oberon in Covent Garden, he died in his sleep on June 6th, 1826.

Weber was a small, energetic man, who could never sit completely still. He was genial, and witty and had many close friends. Richard Wagner credited Weber with being the father of the Romantic Opera, and though he composed few operas, they had great audience appeal, and received many performances in their time. Many of his chamber works, concertos and "concert pieces" still survive, the most famous being perhaps his Invitation To The Dance.

Karl Maria von Weber


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