Beyond the hunter chorus

The unknown Carl Maria von Weber

Illustration to Weber’s famous piano piece “Aufforderung zum Tanz”. Coloured wood engraving by Ferdinand von Rezniček, 1906
(Photo: AKG Images)

What would we know of Carl Maria von Weber if he had not composed Der Freischütz? Of course, this is a hypothetical question. But when the work and impact of such a versatile musician are so overshadowed by an operatic success that topped everything else, it’s also permissible to focus on other areas.

In addition to his Freischütz with its hunter’s chorus, bridal wreath song and Wolf’s Glen scene, Weber left behind compositions that set standards in almost all genres. To stay with the operas: the Singspiel Abu Hassan is a money-based tale of genuine and feigned feelings, Euryanthe was in several respects a blueprint for Wagner’s Lohengrin, and Oberon is still modern as a hybrid of musical drama and spectacular revue. Then there is the Weber of instrumental music: clarinetists and bassoonists are grateful to him for the solo concertos he composed for them. The cadenza of the horn concertino calls for multiphonics, a combination of notes that are created by playing and singing at the same time, so that the performer can achieve three-part chords. For pianists, he wrote the Invitation to the Dance, plus a jewel of a concert piece and sonatas, each of which is a cosmos in itself.

Weber was also a virtuoso with words. His writings fill over 500 pages: performance and work reviews, introductory texts, responses to critics, and something eminently useful: guides for travelling musicians in the form of city portraits, with references to concert halls, promoters, patrons and multipliers. In addition to all that, literary works from poetry to his unfortunately unfinished novel Tonkünstlers Leben. His letters, especially those to his wife Caroline, show him to be a gifted correspondent. The seating arrangement of orchestras that is common today can be traced back to his reforms; Weber was also the first orchestra conductor to consistently use a baton when conducting. He always stood up for progress and against stolidity, against partisan strife and for art. His credo impresses to this day:

“The road to the destination is wide and varied, there is room for all of us; it is steep, too, and it is good if we all extend a hand to each other; let joy, peace and the prosperity of the high arts be our success!”