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Today in Music History, November 18

Painting by Thomas Lawrence

Carl Maria von Weber was born today in 1786. He was born in a musical and theatrical family. His father and mother were musicians. His aunts and uncles were also musicians. When his father realized that he had some musical talent, he enrolled Carl in Michael Haydn (Joseph Haydn’s brother) school.

He is well remembered as the founder of German romantic opera. He was one of the first to use leitmotif (short musical ideas). His first opera was written when he was fourteen years old and four years later, he was a conductor at Breslau.  

Scholars considered the period of 1807-10 as one of his prosperous year were he authored Romantic opera Silvana (1810), songs, and piano pieces. Weber and his father fled to Mannheim, where he was, in his own words, “born for the second time.” He made friends with an influential circle of artists, from whom he stood out as a talented pianist and guitarist; he was also remarkable for his theories on the Romantic movement. Moving on to Darmstadt, he met German opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. From this period came principally the Grand Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Opus 11, for piano, and the delightful one-act opera Abu Hassan (1811).

From 1809 to 1818 Weber also wrote a considerable number of reviews, poems, and uncompromising, stringent music criticisms. All his work, music, and critical writings furthered the ideals of Romanticism as an art in which feeling took precedence over form and heart overhead.

His first great success came with his opera The Freeshooter or also known as The Magic Marksman.  His other two operas did not achieve much success: Euryanthe (1823), and Oberon (1826).

His motive was to earn enough money to support his family after his death, which he knew to be not far off. In form, Oberon was little to his taste, having too many spoken scenes and elaborate stage devices for a composer who had always worked for the unification of the theatrical arts in opera. But into it he poured some of his most exquisite music, and he traveled to London for the premiere in 1826.

Barely able to walk, he was sustained by the kindness of his host, Sir George Smart, and by the longing to get home again to his family. Oberon was a success and Weber was feted, but his health was declining fast. Shortly before he was due to start the journey back to Germany, he was found dead in his room.

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