WEBER AND THE ROMANTIC SCHOOL
Although, for the sake of convenience, it is customary to speak of Weber as the founder of the romantic school in music, it must not be imagined that the new school sprang into being at the production of 'Der Freischütz.' For many years the subtle influence of the romantic school in literature—the circle which gathered round Tieck, Fichte, and the Schlegels—had been felt in music. We have seen how the voluptuous delights of Armida's garden affected even the stately muse of Gluck; and in the generation which succeeded him, though opera still followed classic lines of form, in subject and treatment it was tinged with the prismatic colours of romance. Méhul's curious experiments in orchestration, and the solemn splendour of Mozart's Egyptian mysteries, alike show the influence of the romantic spirit as surely as the weirdest piece of diablerie ever devised by Weber or his followers. Yet though intimations of the approaching change had for long been perceptible to the discerning eye, it was not until the days of Weber that the classical forms and methods which had ruled the world of opera since the days of Gluck gave way before the newer and more vivid passion of romance. Even then it must not be forgotten that the romantic school differed from the classic more in view of life and treatment of subject than in actual subject itself. The word romance conjures up weird visions of the supernatural or glowing pictures of chivalry; but although it is true that Weber and his followers loved best to treat of such themes as these, they had by no means been excluded from the repertory of their classical predecessors. The supernatural terrors of 'Der Freischütz' must not make us forget the terrific finale to 'Don Giovanni,' nor can the most glowing picture from 'Euryanthe' erase memories of Rinaldo and the Crusaders in 'Armide.' The romantic movement, however, as interpreted by Weber, aimed definitely at certain things, which had not previously come within the scope of music, though for many years they had been the common property of art and literature. The romantic movement was primarily a revolt against the tyranny of man and his emotions. It claimed a wider stage and an ampler air. Nature was not henceforth to be merely the background against which man played his part. The beauty of landscape, the glory of the setting sun, the splendour of the sea, the mystery of the forest—all these the romantic movement taught men to regard not merely as the accessories of a scene in which man was the predominant figure, but as subjects in themselves worthy of artistic treatment. The genius of Weber (1786-
Weber's early years were a continual struggle against defeat and disappointment. His musical education was somewhat superficial, and his first works, 'Sylvana' and 'Peter Schmoll,' gave little promise of his later glory. 'Abu Hassan,' a one-
In 'Der Freischütz' Weber was at last in his true element. The plot of the opera is founded upon an old forest legend of a demon who persuades huntsmen to sell their souls in exchange for magic bullets which never miss their mark. Caspar, who is a ranger in the service of Prince Ottokar of Bohemia, had sold himself to the demon Samiel. The day is approaching when his soul will become forfeit to the powers of evil, unless he can bring a fresh victim in his place. He looks around him for a possible substitute, and his choice falls upon Max, another ranger, who had been unlucky in the preliminary contest for the post of chief huntsman, and is only too ready to listen to Caspar's promise of unerring bullets. Max loves Agathe, the daughter of Kuno, the retiring huntsman, and unless he can secure the vacant post, he has little hope of being able to marry her. He agrees eagerly to Caspar's proposal, and promises to meet him at midnight in the haunted Wolf's Glen, there to go through the ceremony of casting the magic bullets. Meanwhile Agathe is oppressed by forebodings of coming evil. The fall of an old picture seems to her a presage of woe, and her lively cousin Aennchen can do little to console her. The appearance of Max on his way to the Wolf's Glen, cheers her but little. He too has been troubled by strange visions, and as the moment of the rendezvous approaches his courage begins to fail. Nevertheless he betakes himself to the Glen, and there, amidst scenes of the wildest supernatural horror, the bullets are cast in the presence of the terrible Samiel himself. Six of them are for Max, to be used by him in the approaching contest, while the seventh will be at the disposal of the demon. In the third act Agathe is discovered preparing for her wedding. She has dreamed that, in the shape of a dove, she was shot by Max, and she cannot shake off a sense of approaching trouble. Her melancholy is not dissipated by the discovery that, instead of a bridal crown, a funeral wreath has been prepared for her; however, to console herself, she determines to wear a wreath of sacred roses, which had been given her by the hermit of the forest. The last scene shows the shooting contest on which the future of Max and Agathe depends. Max makes six shots in succession, all of which hit the mark. At last, at the Prince's command, he fires at a dove which is flying past. Agathe falls with a shriek, but is protected by her wreath, while Samiel directs the bullet to Caspar's heart. At the sight of his associate's fate Max is stricken with remorse, and tells the story of his unholy compact. The Prince is about to banish him from his service, when the hermit appears and intercedes for the unfortunate youth. The Prince is mollified, and it is decided that Max shall have a year's probation, after which he shall be permitted to take the post of chief huntsman and marry Agathe.
'Der Freischütz' is, upon the whole, the most thoroughly characteristic of Weber's works. The famous passage for the horns, with which the overture opens, strikes the note of mystery and romance which echoes through the work. The overture itself is a notable example of that new beauty which Weber infused into the time-
Operatic composers are too often dogged by a fate which seems to compel them to wed their noblest inspirations to libretti of incorrigible dulness, and Weber was even more unfortunate in this respect than his brethren of the craft. After 'Der Freischütz,' the libretti which he took in hand were of the most unworthy description, and even his genius has not been able to give them immortality. 'Euryanthe' was the work of Helmine von Chezy, the authoress of 'Rosamunde,' for which Schubert wrote his entrancing incidental music. Weber was probably attracted by the romantic elements of the story, the chivalry of mediæval France, the marches and processions, the pomp and glitter of the court, and overlooked the weak points of the plot. To tell the truth, much of the libretto of 'Euryanthe' borders upon the incomprehensible. The main outline of the story is as follows. At a festival given by the King of France, Count Adolar praises the beauty and virtue of his betrothed Euryanthe, and Lysiart, who also loves her, offers to wager all he possesses that he will contrive to gain her love. Adolar accepts the challenge, and Lysiart departs for Nevers, where Euryanthe is living. The second act discovers Euryanthe and Eglantine, an outcast damsel whom she has befriended. Eglantine secretly loves Adolar, but extracts a promise from Lysiart, who has arrived at Nevers, that he will marry her. In return for this she gives him a ring belonging to Euryanthe, which she has stolen, and tells him a secret relating to a mysterious Emma, a sister of Adolar, which Euryanthe has incautiously revealed to her. Armed with these Lysiart returns to the court, and quickly persuades Adolar and the King that he has won Euryanthe's affection. No one listens to her denials; she is condemned to death, and Adolar's lands and titles are given to Lysiart. Euryanthe is led into the desert to be killed by Adolar. On the way he is attacked by a serpent, which he kills, though not before Euryanthe has proved her devotion by offering to die in her lover's place. Adolar then leaves Euryanthe to perish, declaring that he has not the heart to kill her. She is found in a dying condition by the King, whom she speedily convinces of her innocence. Meanwhile Adolar has returned to Nevers, to encounter the bridal procession of Eglantine and Lysiart. Eglantine confesses that she helped to ruin Euryanthe in the hope of winning Adolar, and is promptly stabbed by Lysiart. Everything being satisfactorily cleared up, Euryanthe conveniently awakes from a trance into which she had fallen, and the lovers are finally united. Puerile as the libretto is, it inspired Weber with some of the finest music he ever wrote. The spectacular portions of the opera are animated by the true spirit of chivalry, while all that is connected with the incomprehensible Emma and her secret is unspeakably eerie. The characters of the drama are such veritable puppets, that no expenditure of talent could make them interesting; but the resemblance between the general scheme of the plot of 'Euryanthe' and that of 'Lohengrin' should not be passed over, nor the remarkable way in which Weber had anticipated some of Wagner's most brilliant triumphs, notably in the characters of Eglantine and Lysiart, who often seem curiously to foreshadow Ortrud and Telramund, and in the finale to the second act, in which the single voice of Euryanthe, like that of Elisabeth in 'Tannhäuser,' is contrasted with the male chorus.
Weber's last opera, 'Oberon,' is one of the few works written in recent times by a foreign composer of the first rank for the English stage. The libretto, which was the work of Planché, is founded upon an old French romance, 'Huon of Bordeaux,' and though by no means a model of lucidity, it contains many scenes both powerful and picturesque, which must have captivated the imagination of a musician so impressionable as Weber. The opera opens in fairyland, where a bevy of fairies is watching the slumbers of Oberon. The fairy king has quarrelled with Titania, and has vowed never to be reconciled to her until he shall find two lovers constant to each other through trial and temptation. Puck, who has been despatched to search for such a pair, enters with the news that Sir Huon of Bordeaux, who had accidentally slain the son of Charlemagne, has been commanded, in expiation of his crime, to journey to Bagdad, to claim the Caliph's daughter as his bride, and slay the man who sits at his right hand. Oberon forthwith throws Huon into a deep sleep, and in a vision shows him Rezia, the daughter of the Caliph, of whom the ardent knight instantly becomes enamoured. He then conveys him to the banks of the Tigris, and giving him a magic horn, starts him upon his dangerous enterprise. In the Caliph's palace Huon fights with Babekan, Rezia's suitor, rescues the maiden, and with the aid of the magic horn carries her off from the palace, while his esquire Sherasmin performs the same kind office for Fatima, Rezia's attendant. On their way home they encounter a terrific storm, raised by the power of Oberon to try their constancy. They are ship-
Although written for England, 'Oberon' has never achieved much popularity in this, or indeed in any country. The fairy music is exquisite throughout, but the human interest of the story is after all slight, and Weber, on whom the hand of death was heavy as he wrote the score, failed to infuse much individuality into his characters. 'Oberon' was his last work, and he died in London soon after it was produced. During the last few years of his life he had been engaged in a desultory way upon the composition of a comic opera, 'Die drei Pintos,' founded upon a Spanish subject. He left this in an unfinished state, but some time after his death it was found that the manuscript sketches and notes for the work were on a scale sufficiently elaborate to give a proper idea of what the composer's intentions with regard to the work really were. The work of arrangement was entrusted to Herr G. Mahler, and under his auspices 'Die drei Pintos' was actually produced, though with little success.
At the present time the only opera of Weber which can truthfully be said to belong to the current repertory is 'Der Freischütz,' and even this is rarely performed out of Germany. The small amount of favour which 'Euryanthe' and 'Oberon' enjoy is due, as has been already pointed out, chiefly to the weakness of their libretti, yet it seems strange that the man to whom the whole tendency of modern opera is due should hold so small a place in our affections. The changes which Weber and his followers effected, though less drastic, were in their results fully as important as those of Gluck. In the orchestra as well as on the stage he introduced a new spirit, a new point of view. What modern music owes to him may be summed up in a word. Without Weber, Wagner would have been impossible.
Louis Spohr (1784-
Heinrich Marschner (1796-
Weber and Marschner show the German romantic school at its best; for the lesser men, such as Hoffmann and Lindpaintner, did little but reproduce the salient features of their predecessors more or less faithfully. The romantic school is principally associated with the sombre dramas, in which the taste of that time delighted; but there was another side to the movement which must not be neglected. The Singspiel, established by Hiller and perfected by Mozart, had languished during the early years of the century, or rather had fallen into the hands of composers who were entirely unable to do justice to its possibilities. The romantic movement touched it into new life, and a school arose which contrived by dint of graceful melody and ingenious orchestral device to invest with real musical interest the simple stories in which the German middle-
Conradin Kreutzer (1782-
Inferior even to the slightest of the minor composers of the romantic school was Flotow, whose 'Martha' nevertheless has survived to our time, while hundreds of works far superior in every way have perished irretrievably. Flotow (1812-
To this period belong the operas written by three composers who in other branches of music have won immortality, although their dramatic works have failed to win lasting favour.