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Carl Maria von Weber Biography

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Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst, Freiherr von Weber (November 18, 1786 in Eutin, Holstein – June 5, 1826 in London, England) was a German composer.

Weber's work, especially his operas, greatly influenced the development of the Romantic opera in German music. He was also an innovative composer for the clarinet, for which he wrote many works. His body of Catholic religious music was highly popular in 19th century Germany. Weber also wrote music journalism and was interested in folksong, and learnt lithography to engrave his own works. His operas influenced the early work of Richard Wagner.

Weber was the eldest of the three children of Franz Anton von Weber (who seems to have had no real claim to a "von" denoting nobility), and his second wife, Genovefa Brenner, an actress. Franz Anton started his career as a military officer in the service of the Duchy of Holstein; later he held a number of musical directorships; and in 1787 he went on to Hamburg, where he founded a theatrical company. Weber's cousin Constanze was the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Weber's father gave him a comprehensive education, which was however interrupted by the family's constant moves.

In 1796, Weber continued his musical education in Hildburghausen, where he was instructed by the oboist Johann Peter Heuschkel.

On March 13, 1798, Weber's mother died of tuberculosis. That same year, Weber went to Salzburg, to study with Michael Haydn; and later to Munich, to study with the singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser, (known as Valesi), and with the organist J.N. Kalcher.

1798 also saw Weber's first published work, six fughettas for piano, published in Leipzig. Other compositions of that period, amongst them a mass, and his first opera, Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins (The Power of Love and Wine), are lost; but a set of Variations for the Pianoforte was later lithographed by Weber himself, under the guidance of Alois Senefelder, the inventor of the process.

Vogler, impressed by his pupil's obvious talent, recommended him to the post of Director at the Opera in Breslau (1806), and from 1807 to 1810, Weber held a post at the court of the Duke of Württemberg, in Stuttgart.

While his personal life during this time remained irregular (he left his post in Breslau in a fit of frustration, was on one occasion arrested for debt and fraud and expelled from Württemberg, and was involved in various scandals), he remained successful as a composer, and also wrote a quantity of religious music, mainly for the Catholic mass. This however earned him the hostility of reformers working for the re-establishment of traditional chant in liturgy.

In 1810, Weber visited several cities throughout Germany; from 1813 to 1816 he was director of the Opera in Prague; from 1816 to 1817 he worked in Berlin, and from 1817 onwards he was director of the prestigious Opera in Dresden, working hard to establish a German Opera, in reaction to the Italian Opera which had dominated the European music scene since the 18th century.

The successful premiere of the opera Der Freischütz (18 June 1821, Berlin) led to performances all over Europe; it remains the only one of his operas still in the regular repertory.

Weber's colourful harmonies and orchestration, the use of popular themes from central European folk music, and the gloomy (gothic) libretto, complete with an appearance of the Devil himself in a nocturnal forest, have all helped to ensure its popularity.

Weber was a great pianist and conductor. He had a greater knowledge of the orchestra than Schubert or Beethoven, even if, overall, he was a lesser composer than either. However, in the 19th century no one was far from the "Pollaca, Invitation, and Konzertstück, not to mention the 2nd Piano Sonata; a piece that requires a virtuoso.

His music was more performance-oriented than that of Beethoven and especially that of Schubert, albeit intellectually not on the same level as either.

Weber's piano music has all but disappeared from the stage but his orchestral music and his opera Der Freischutz, his most famous composition by far, are still performed.
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