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The Life of Carl Maria Von Weber

Weber and Meyerbeer may be brought near each other in this book if only because they were fellow-students under that Abbé Vogler who forms the subject of Browning’s fine poem. Meyerbeer became an inmate of the Abbé’s house at Darmstadt, and it was then that Weber met his brother-composer, under whose stimulus he wrote several of his early works. Vogler was immensely proud of having had such distinguished pupils. He used to exclaim: "Oh, how sorry I should have been if I had died before I formed these two!" It is a minor point worth noting that Weber was warmly received by Meyerbeer’s parents at their charming mansion in Berlin.

Granting the musical faculty, Carl Maria Von Weber, who was born in 1785, had every chance of becoming a writer for the stage. His father was a traveling actor, once a man of wealth and good social position, and young Weber’s interests were behind the scenes during all his earlier years. Like Beethoven’s father, Weber senior was dazzled by the success of the prodigy Mozart, and the glamour was all the greater since his niece Constance had married Mozart. But poor little Weber was a feeble child from the first. He inherited consumption from his mother, and hip-joint disease lamed him all his life. He could not walk till he was four. His first regular musical appointment was as conductor of the Opera at Breslau. Then he accepted a semi-official musical position with the royal family of Wurtemberg. The king was half-crazy and so fat that a space had to be cut in the dining-table to allow him to get near enough to feed. One day Weber had a stormy interview with him, and in pique ushered the Court laundress into the royal presence. For this trick Weber was sent to prison.

Subsequently he became connected with a theatre at Prague where he was scene-painter, stage-manager, prompter, copyist, superintendent of costumes, and musical director. In 1816 he settled down as director of the German Opera at Dresden, and it was there that he wrote "Der Freischütz," the work that brought him fame. "Preciosa" was given shortly after with great éclat, though not received with the same enthusiasm. "Euryanthe" followed in 1823- his "Ennuyante," he jestingly called it. "Oberon," his last opera, is a sort of German "Midsummer Night’s Dream." It is peculiarly interesting to us, since it was commissioned by Charles Kemble, and produced first at Covert Garden in 1826. Kemble offered £1000 for it, and gave Weber three months to complete the score. "Three months!" exclaimed the composer, who wrote slowly; "that will only afford me time to read the piece and design the plan." He took in reality eighteen months.

He came to London to conduct the opera himself. It proved a great triumph. Weber wrote to his wife that the Overture was encored, and every air interrupted twice or thrice with bursts of applause. Alas! It was his swan-song. He was already in the final stages of consumption, with a cough which pained everybody to hear. He was to start for home in two days, but died in his sleep. This was in June 1826. They buried him in London; but two years later, mainly on the initiative of Wagner, his remains were removed to Dresden. This fact is worth remarking; for Weber, practically the founder of the modern school of operatic composers, was the true forerunner of Wagner, though he is not always so recognised. "Meyerbeer’s ‘Robert le Diable,’" says Sir Julius Benedict, "would not have been written but for ‘Der Freischütz,’ and Richard Wagner’s ‘Tannhäuser’ and ‘Lohengrin’ can be traced to ‘Euryanthe.’"

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