The Hector Berlioz Website

Berlioz: Predecessors and Contemporaries

Berlioz and Weber

Carl Maria von Weber Discovery

The champion of Weber

Influences

Available scores of Weber

Notes on the available scores

 

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Discovery

    Berlioz’s first acquaintance with the music of Weber dates from December 1824 when he heard Der Freischütz at the Odéon theatre. Der Freischütz had become an instant success in Germany after its first performance in 1821. What Berlioz heard in Paris, however, was not the opera as written by Weber, but a travesty entitled Robin des bois. It was put together by the composer and critic Castil-Blaze, who specialised in ‘arranging’ operatic works of other composers, to ensure their success as well as his own profit (he subjected Mozart to the same treatment). The work nevertheless impressed Berlioz deeply and he attended many subsequent performances in 1825. They revealed to him a world he had hitherto not suspected – his only experience of great music so far had been the operas of Gluck and Spontini at the Paris Opéra (Memoirs chapter 16):

This new style, against which my intolerant and exclusive cult of the great classical composers [i.e. Gluck and Spontini] had initially prejudiced me, was a source of wonder and extreme delight, despite the incomplete and crude execution which obscured its true features. Although the score had been subjected to drastic surgery, it nevertheless had a wild and captivating fragrance which intoxicated me. I have to admit I was rather weary of the solemnities of the tragic muse. The swift and sometimes delightfully unpredictable motions of the wood nymph, her dreamy poses, her naïve and maidenly passion, her chaste smile and melancholy, all overwhelmed me with a flood of feelings that I had not previously experienced.

    True to form, Berlioz probably lost no time in searching out the score, as well as any others of Weber he could lay his hands on, and studied them closely. A letter of 1st November 1828 to his sister Nanci (Correspondance générale no. 100, hereafter CG for short) shows him and a young German friend, Louis Schloesser, who had known Weber, playing and singing from memory pieces from Der Freischütz, Oberon and Euryanthe to his teacher Lesueur. In the same letter he also sends his sister a waltz by Weber which he describes in detail. It is evident that as with Beethoven, Berlioz was attentive to Weber’s instrumental music as well as his operas: letters of 1830 mention that Camille Moke would often play to him piano music by Weber and Beethoven.

    Before this time Berlioz had had a fleeting chance to meet Weber himself, who in February 1826 came to Paris on his way to London, where he was to direct the performance of his latest opera Oberon. But to Berlioz’s lasting regret, the two men just missed each other, and the chance was not repeated: Weber, who had long suffered from poor health, died in London on 5 June of the same year (Memoirs, chapter 16). But Weber’s music had already had a strong impact on the young Berlioz, as shown by his overture Les Francs-Juges, composed in the autumn of 1826. From 1828 onwards, when he also discovered Beethoven, the two composers were frequently linked together in his mind. For example, in an article entitled ‘Aperçu sur la musique classique et la musique romantique’ published in Le Correspondant of 22 October 1830 (Critique Musicale I, 63-68) he credits Weber and Beethoven with having introduced to France what he calls the genre instrumental expressif, which was previously unknown:

The instrumental music of older composers had seemingly no other aim than to please the ear or stimulate the mind […] but in the compositions of Beethoven and Weber one may recognise a poetic thought that is present everywhere. It is music that depends entirely on itself, without the help of words to determine its expression; its language becomes thus extremely vague but acquires thereby even greater power for those who are gifted with imagination. […] Hence the extraordinary effects, the strange feelings, the inexpressible emotions produced by the symphonies, quartets, overtures and sonatas of Weber and Beethoven.

The champion of Weber

    Berlioz was thus from the late 1820s the most ardent champion of Weber in France. When in 1841 the Opéra decided to stage a French version of Der Freischütz, Berlioz undertook to write recitatives for it (the conventions of the Opéra prohibited the use of spoken dialogue), and orchestrated Weber’s piano piece, The Invitation to the Dance to supply the obligatory ballet music (Memoirs, chapter 52; Weber’s original and Berlioz’s orchestration are discussed elsewhere on this site, and scores of both are provided below). An article he wrote about the work in the Journal des Débats of 13 June 1841 was reproduced by him in À travers chants in 1862, together with a later article on the staging of Oberon at the Théatre Lyrique in 1857, the great success of which delighted Berlioz (Journal des débats, 6 March 1857). It was a cruel twist of fortune that Berlioz should have been accused, late in 1853, of having been responsible for the mutilation of Weber’s masterpiece at the Opéra. Berlioz had no difficulty in refuting this absurd accusation, but it hurt him deeply.

    Berlioz often included music by Weber in his programmes, as for example at his concerts in London in 1852 and in Baden-Baden (in 1856, 1858 and 1860). He also frequently had occasion to mention Weber in his reviews of concerts. He did not, however, attempt a biography of Weber, unlike what he did for his three other heroes Beethoven (in 1829), Gluck (in 1834), and Spontini (in 1851, reproduced in the Soirées de l’orchestre in 1852 and 1854). In his Treatise on Instrumentation and Orchestration, first published in 1844, Weber is constantly mentioned as one of the modern masters of the orchestra whom Berlioz acknowledges as a model, even though the number of direct citations from the music of Weber is limited (the examples quoted are mostly from the overtures to Der Freischütz and to Oberon).

Influences

    Of all his predecessors, Weber was perhaps the one closest in spirit and style to Berlioz himself, and he anticipated him in more ways than Berlioz may have realised. A man of versatile gifts, Weber innovated as a conductor and producer in the opera house, and also promoted his musical ideas through the medium of writing: Berlioz’s lack of knowledge of German may have prevented him from appreciating fully Weber’s contribution. But for his early death (at the age of 40), Weber might have become a German Berlioz before Berlioz himself, and one can only speculate on the possible consequences of the meeting between the two men that failed to happen in February 1826. A virtuoso of the orchestra more than any previous composer, Beethoven not excepted, Weber helped to show the way to Berlioz in his orchestral writing, as Berlioz acknowledged in his Memoirs (chapter 13) and elsewhere: ‘Weber’s is a different orchestra, almost as far from Beethoven’s as from that of Rossini’ (Journal des Débats, 23 June 1835; Critique musicale II p.194). A comparison of the score of the Messe solennelle of 1824-5, generally not as yet very distinctive in its orchestral writing, with that of the Francs-Juges overture of autumn 1826, shows the distance traveled. Temperamentally there was also affinity: Weber’s music has a comparable nervous energy, quickness of response, feeling for colour, and search for variety and contrast. Comparisons between Weber and Berlioz could be multiplied. For example the scene by the Elbe in Part II of the Damnation of Faust echoes the fairy world of Oberon, in the same key (D major) as the overture to the opera; the overture based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the Queen Mab scherzo in Romeo and Juliet are similarly indebted to Oberon. The Sanctus of the Requiem carries striking echoes of Huon’s prayer in Act II of Oberon (Vater! Hör’ mich flehn zu dir! — we are grateful to John Ahouse for pointing out this example). Dido’s solemn farewell to Carthage in Act V of Les Troyens (‘Adieu, fière cité’) brings to mind Euryanthe’s valedictory Cavatina in Act III of the opera which bears her name (‘Hier dicht am Quell’); both arias are in the same key of A flat major and share the same restrained nobility of utterance. The brilliant string writing of the Corsaire overture recalls the overtures to Der Freischütz and Oberon. The overtures to Benvenuto Cellini and Beatrice and Benedict are constructed out of themes in the two operas, much like the overtures to Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon. Berlioz, always intent on seeking new paths and avoiding repetition, will also have appreciated Weber’s ability to produce in Der Freischütz and Oberon two contrasted masterpieces (he strikingly leaves out of account Euryanthe which he did not regard as comparable to the two other operas, as shown by his review of a performance of the work [Journal des Débats, 8 September 1857]):

[Weber was] as great in Freischütz as in Oberon. But the poetry of the former is full of movement, passion, and contrasts. The supernatural leads to strange and violent effects. The melodic style, harmony, and rhythm have in combination a thunderous and incandescent power; everything conspires to arrest attention. The characters are also taken from everyday experience and have widespread appeal. The depiction of their feelings and daily lives calls for a less elevated style, which is enhanced by exquisite workmanship. This gives the work irresistible charm, even for those minds who disdain musical amusements, and to the general public it comes across in this form as the pinnacle of art and a miracle of inventiveness.

In Oberon, by contrast, though human passions play a great role, the supernatural element again predominates, though it has as its hallmark charm, repose, and freshness. Instead of monsters and dreadful apparitions there are choruses of airy spirits, sylphs, fairies, and water sprites. The language spoken by these gently smiling creatures is entirely their own. It derives its main charm from harmony, its melodic language is capriciously vague, its rhythms are unpredictable and veiled, and thus often difficult to grasp. It is a language that is all the more difficult for the general public to follow as its subtleties cannot be experienced, even by musicians, without extremely close attention combined with a lively imagination (Memoirs, chapter 16).

    It may also be suggested that another contribution of Weber was to mediate Beethovenian influences to Berlioz before Berlioz had been able to discover Beethoven for himself. One of the first of Beethoven’s contemporaries to appreciate his genius and learn from it, Weber admired Fidelio which he championed and produced in Prague in 1814, and again in Dresden in 1823. Weber inhabits a different world from Beethoven – the demonic and supernatural, which Beethoven had generally kept at arm’s length, play a central role in Der Freischütz. But Der Freischütz bears numerous traces of Fidelio and other works of Beethoven (the same is true of Euryanthe). In the overture to the opera, the stormy C minor music recalls for example the first and third movements of the Fifth Symphony or the Coriolanus overture, while the jubilant C major conclusion echoes, among others, the finale of the same Fifth Symphony, the Leonora overtures, and the finale of Fidelio. The sombre diminished sevenths in the slow introduction and again in the allegro find parallels in the prelude to Act II of Fidelio (cf. the timpani part in both).

    For all his debt to Weber and others, Berlioz remained as always himself, and selected from his predecessors what was closest to his own temperament. One may compare the different impact of Weber on Berlioz and on Wagner. To give but one example, the rich horn-based sound of Wagner’s orchestra could be related to the quartet of horns in the opening of the Freischütz overture: but that was a sonority that the leaner sound world of Berlioz did not choose to emulate.

    Weber also saw himself as champion of a national style of music: he was seeking to create a German operatic tradition, in opposition to the Italian influences which were sweeping the musical Europe of his day. Berlioz in his turn was to react against Italian influences (though he was also capable of learning from them, as shown by the Waverley overture of 1827 and parts of Benvenuto Cellini in 1838). But he never saw himself as a standard bearer for French music specifically, and belonged rather to the ‘international’ tradition of Gluck. Unlike Debussy later, Berlioz would never have dreamed of describing himself as a ‘musicien français’.

Available scores of Weber

An *asterisk indicates that the score is cited by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration

Jubel Overture (duration 8'17")
— Score in large format
(file created on 1.7.2004)

*Overture Der Freischütz (duration 8'42")
— Score in large format
(file created on 11.12.2002)

Der Freischütz, Act I Waltz (duration 1'42")
— Score in large format
(file created on 22.2.2003)

Der Freischütz, Entr’acte to Act III (duration 1'55")
— Score in large format
(file created on 22.2.2003)

Overture Euryanthe (duration 7'30")
— Score in large format
(file created on 1.6.2004)

*Overture Oberon (duration 8'40")
— Score in large format
(file created on 25.12.2002)

Oberon, Act II Ballet (duration 48")
— Score in large format
(file created on 1.2.2003)

Oberon, Act III March (duration 3'23")
— Score in large format
(file created on 1.2.2003)

Weber: Invitation to the Dance, orch. Berlioz (duration 9'21")
— Score in large format
(file created on 25.09.2001)

Weber: Invitation to the Dance, original piano version (duration 9'21")
— Score in large format
(file created on 10.10.2001)

Notes on the available scores

Jubel Overture

    Composed in 1818, this festive overture resembles in its main allegro Beethoven’s overture to Fidelio, a work which Weber greatly admired; both overtures are in the same key of E major. At the end of the piece Weber reuses his orchestration of the anthem God save the king from his cantata Kampf und Sieg (Battle and Victory), a work written in 1815 in response to the Battle of Waterloo. One of Weber’s less known works, the overture is nevertheless vintage Weber and deserves to be played more frequently. This is a view that Berlioz shared. In a review of a concert at the Conservatoire in Revue et gazette musicale (12 March 1837; Critique Musicale III.75f.) Berlioz comments after a performance of the overture to Euryanthe:

Why has the Jubel overture not been played as yet, though it is fully worthy of ranking with the three other overtures of Weber which are regularly performed at the Conservatoire? We heard it last year at the Concert Musard [probably 15 and 26 March, 1836], where it made a great impression. Must the Société des concerts lag behind?

    In connection with the anthem God save the king it may be recalled that Berlioz did toy at one time with setting it to music himself. In a letter to his father shortly after his arrival in London, where he had been invited by the impresario Jullien to conduct at Drury Lane Theatre, he writes (7 November 1847; Correspondance générale no. 1134):

I am now going to write a piece on the theme of God Save the Queen for the day of the opening of the theatre. I had not thought of it but Jullien, who has eyes and ears for everything, would like me to repeat what happened with the Hungarians at Pesth by playing in the same way on the national feelings of the English. It is in fact the tradition for this famous anthem to figure on all great occasions of this kind.

    No more is heard of this project, which evidently lapsed. One possible reason why Berlioz never took the plan any further may be suggested – Weber had already used the theme successfully in his Jubel overture, and Berlioz did not want to repeat what Weber had already done.

    There are no metronome marks in the score. Tempi have been set as follows. Adagio, crotchet = 60; presto assai, minim = 108; andante, crotchet = 66.

Der Freischütz

    Overture 

    This superb concert piece was a firm favourite with audiences in Berlioz’s day, and indeed with Berlioz himself, who played it at a number of his own concerts. He also cited it in his Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the clarinet.

    There are no metronome marks in the score. The tempi have been set as follows: adagio, crotchet = 50, then crotchet = 56 from bar 25; molto vivace, minim = 104 (without any slowing down for the second subject).

    Act I, Waltz

    The tempo for this piece has been set at dotted minim = 50

    Entr’acte to Act III

    The tempo for this piece has been set at crotchet = 100. Note: because of a bug in the software the grace notes in the parts for flute and first violin (bars 85-88) have had to be omitted.

Euryanthe

    Overture

    Berlioz admired this overture together with those of Weber’s two other major operas, Der Freischütz and Oberon, and one may detect its influence in the opening of his Benvenuto Cellini overture. But the opera itself – a great yet still too little known masterpiece – did not seem to hold quite the same place in his affections as the other two (see the citation above where he contrasts the two works, but without mentioning Euryanthe) – whereas it was very influential with Wagner who responded to its special chromaticism, as did Richard Strauss later (compare his tone poem Don Juan).

    Weber provides metronome marks and tempo indications for the overture, though they are sometimes problematic. No slowing down from the very fast initial tempo (minim = 92) is indicated for the second subject (bars 60 and 225), though it seems unavoidable; here the second subject has been set to minim = 76, which further requires a slowing of the tempo to lead in to it, and a speeding up to return to the original tempo after. The section marked Tempo I assai moderato (bar 144) has the metronome mark minim = 88, barely slower than the original tempo. Here it has been set at minim = 76. Played at these speeds the overture is nevertheless significantly faster than in many modern performances.

Oberon

    Overture 

    This was another favourite with concert audiences in Berlioz’s time and with Berlioz himself, and again he performed it at a number of his concerts. It is cited in the Treatise on Orchestration, in the chapter on the cello.

    There are no metronome marks in the score. The tempi have been set as follows: adagio sostenuto, crotchet = 40, then crotchet = 48 from bar 10; allegro con fuoco, crotchet = 120 (without any slowing down for the second subject).

    Act II Ballet: the tempo has been set at crotchet = 80

    Act III March: the tempo has been set at crotchet = 104

Invitation to the Dance

    For notes on the Invitation to the Dance and Berlioz’s orchestration of it, see the relevant section of Berlioz Music Scores

The Hector Berlioz Website was created by Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin on 18 July 1997.
The Berlioz and Weber page was created on 11 December 2002.

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page. All rights of reproduction reserved.

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