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Weber-Studien, vol. 1.

Carl Maria von Weber's ambiguous historiographical status has long been evident in the apparent imbalance between his high reputation and the meager scholarly attention afforded him. While textbooks consistently single out Weber as the cardinal figure in the development of German opera in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and acknowledge the breadth of his accomplishments as a conductor, composer, pianist, and critic, little has been done since Georg Kaiser's critical edition of Weber's collected writings in 1908 to put the study of his activities on a solid scholarly basis. An aborted complete edition was launched in the 1920s, destined to reach only a few volumes devoted to the early operas before the Depression and the turbulent politics of the 1930s and 1940s put an end to such an ambitious undertaking. No complete edition of Weber's extensive correspondence has ever been made, and the fastidious diary that he kept from 1810 until his death in 1826 is generally known only through the secondhand citations in the thematic catalogue of Friedrich Wilhelm Jahns and the standard biographies of Max Maria von Weber and John Warrack. The present volume is thus a very welcome addition to the literature on Weber inasmuch as it inaugurates a series of scholarly studies arising from the recently begun Carl-Maria-von-Weber-Gesamtausgabe, a projected complete edition of the musical works, letters, writings, and diaries under the leadership of Gerhard Allroggen. Volume I of Weber-Studien, a collection of essays from senior and younger Weber scholars, brings a refreshing focus on sources to a field that has all too often been content to rely on the bibliographic and biographic work of the nineteenth century; moreover, the variety of topics covered by the contributors illuminate a number of areas of Weber's multifaceted career.

Several of the contributions focus on biographical issues. Eveline Bartlitz discusses the editorial practices of the projected complete edition of Weber's letters and presents as sample cases critical editions of fourteen autograph letters acquired since 1991 by the State Library in Berlin. These letters, drawn from the years 1814 to 1826, shed no starling new light on Weber (several of them have already appeared in earlier editions) but instead reflect the variety of personal and professional concerns encountered in Weber's extensive correspondence. Essays by Christine Heyter-Rauland and Gertrud Schenck deal, respectively, with the contents and fragile physical condition of forty unpublished Weber family documents rescued from the bombing of Dresden in 1945 - out without extensive damage, however. The most interesting of these are two documents pertaining to the composer's shadowy periods of employment in Breslau and Ludwigsburg. Robert Munster fleshes out the composer's stay in Munich from 6 June to 5 September 1815, his last visit to the Bavarian capital. Weber's attempts to win royal support for a public conceit in the court theater and his previously undocumented ties to Eugene de Beauharnais, the former Viceroy of Italy point up the importance of noble patronage for the young composer-pianist. Munster also presents a detailed discussion of the theatrical life that Weber encountered in Munich, supplementing Weber's own recorded comments about performers and repertory with contemporary reports from the press.

Three essays in the collection focus on Weber's Masses, a largely neglected part of his output. Joachim Veit evaluates a newly discovered manuscript of Weber's so-called "Jugendmesse" from the Schwarzenberg family archives in Cesky Krumlov. In his published dissertation Veit had earlier disputed the authenticity of this allegedly early work, known at that time only through a relatively late copy in Salzburg; now he is able to report that the Cesky Krumlov copy has an autograph dedication to Prince Ernst von Schwarzenberg dated 1802. Inconsistencies in the text-music relationships and extraneous word repetitions suggest that much of the music originated independently of the liturgical Mass text, in some cases perhaps as instrumental music. The Mass thus presents a paradox: although the source reveals the work to be authentic,,, the Mass is nevertheless a "Machwerk," compiled from pre-existing music, perhaps not all of which was by Weber. Allroggen provides an overview of the history, reception, and transmission of Weber's two Dresden Masses from which three points of particular interest emerge: (1) Weber's Mass in E Major was not literally "commissioned" by the Saxon King but instead undertaken by the composer in 1818 as part of a tacit understanding that a Royal Saxon Kapell-meister was obliged to demonstrate his worth to the court in this manner; (2) the fact that the Masses became the property of the court chapel limited their dissemination to manuscript copies prepared with the court's approval; and (3) whereas the first Mass was well received by the court, the second Mass, of which Weber seems to have been particularly fond, was not; Weber's disappointment with its cold reception henceforth disinclined him to pursue this kind of voluntary offering to the King. Matthias Viertel's general assessment of Weber's sacred music offers the thesis that it turns away from traditional liturgical norms for style and genre in order to express a newer, more personalized theology through nonliturgical genres and styles not traditionally associated with sacred music; a cantata attributed to "Carl Maria von Weber a Dresden",in three nineteenth-century manuscript copies (but not included in Jahns's thematic catalogue) exemplifies the newer trends in Weber's music,

Source studies provide the focus for three essays dealing with other categories of Weber's musical output. Wolfgang Goldhan gives a preliminary discussion of editorial problems encountered in nine chamber and orchestral works for solo wind instrument with accompaniment. In the only contribution in English, Kirsteen McCue writes about the genesis and publication history of Weber's settings of ten Scottish folk melodies for the Edinburgh publisher George Thomson, who had earlier commissioned similar arrangements from a number of other composers, including Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. Interesting in this essay is the discussion of Thomson's own practices. For instance, he usually sent his composers only two lines of poetry along with the melodies so as to give them a sense for the predominant affect but preclude at the same time theft of the finished songs by other publishers; in some instances, in fact, Thomson would not choose the definitive lyric until the musical arrangement had been completed. The German texts found in Probst's edition of these settings are thus not translations of the texts in the Scottish editions, but rather new poems inspired by the two-line cues that Thomson had originally sent to Weber. Oliver Huck presents a very intelligent study of the so-called "guitar songs,,, a group of songs whose number and significance has been variously represented in the older Weber literature. By rigorous consideration of primary sources (autographs, authentic editions, Weber's diaries, and correspondence) Huck delineates a corpus of eighteen songs that Weber conceived either initially or primarily with guitar accompaniments, including one unpublished song, "Jetzt sei nit so sprodig," that is not listed in Jahns's thematic catalogue. Contrary to received opinion, these "guitar songs" are not confined to Weber's earliest songs nor are they particularly folklike. Instead, Weber's use of the guitar reflects the opinion that the instrument, though inadequate for concert use, was an ideal backdrop for certain kinds of declamatory song.

The remaining essays move from philological issues to other aspects of Weber, The one analytical essay in the volume, by Mariko Teramoto on the tonal structure of Oberon, fails on methodological grounds to make a persuasive case for the tonal symbolism that the author suggests. Two studies on the reception history of Der Freischutz are much more illuminating and open up an area - the nineteenth century's image of Weber - that could profitably be explored more fully in the future. Axel Beer comments on selected correspondence between Louis Spohr and his publisher Carl Friedrich Peters, the subtext for which is the recent, spectacular success of Der Freischutz. Unimpressed with Weber's compositional accomplishments, Spohr was nevertheless quite envious of the popularity that his contemporary had enjoyed with Der Freischutz. In the correspondence with his publisher Spohr initially defended the relative lack of popularity of his Faust and Jessonda by appealing to an elitist aesthetic of opera and musical taste;in contrast Peters, the practical businessman, gently encouraged Spohr not to disdain popular approval and to include some concessions to popular taste in his next opera, Der Berggeist. Spohr's eventual decision to include some more crowd-pleasing items in Der Berggeist seems to reflect some softening of his distrust of the masses (though one must note with some irony that these concessions did nothing to prevent the utter failure of Der Berggeist at the box office). Frank Heidlberger's essay on French reception of Der Freischutz explores sources heretofore untouched in Weber research, the livrets de mise en scene (production books) used at the Theatre de I'Odeon for Castil-Blaze's adaptation of the opera as Robin des bois (1824 and 1835) and those used at the Opera for the 1841 production of Le Freischutz. In general, the production books for Robin des bois attest the conversion of the opera into a piece of popular theater, emphasizing comedy and special theatrical effects, whereas the production at the Opera, outwardly much more faithful to the letter of Weber's score and Kind's libretto, nevertheless also reinterpreted the work, in this case as grand opera, by expanding the number of dancers and choristers on stage, by replacing the original spoken dialogue with recitative that Hector Berlioz had composed, and through supplementary ballet music. The version at the Opera further downplayed the demonic elements of the extraordinary Wolfs Glen scene by allegorizing the supernatural appearances; in so doing, it distanced itself from popular theater but also ignored the close coordination of musical gesture and scenic event that Weber carefully calculated.

The volume concludes with two essays calling for critical reappraisals of the two authors of Der Freischutz. Joachim Reiber's reassessment of the poet Friedrich Kind argues that Kind might best be considered as representative not of the Romantic movement or even of a Pseudo-Romantik (as he had been characterized by Hermann Anders Kruger), but rather as an arche-typal figure of "Biedermeier" sensibilities. On this view, Biedermeier is less a decadent form of Romanticism than it is a revival of Enlightenment outlooks under the changed social and cultural circumstances of the early nineteenth century, and Kind's versatility, rationalism, pedanticism, and moralizing proclivities point back to the eighteenth century, as does also the strongly social nature of much of his activity. Martin Wehnert offers a similar, much needed - and much more provocative - reevaluation of Weber's status as a Romantic in the lengthy concluding essay,. Wehnert's goal is to challenge the long-standing dogma that Weber and his famous contemporary, the painter Caspar David Friedrich, are the two great representatives of a movement characterized in earlier literature on Weber as Dresden Romanticism." To be sure, Friedrich's art and artistic-philosophical outlook link him closely to the core Weltanschauungen of the early Romantic critics and writers like Ludwig Tieck, Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, the brothers Schlegel, and E. T. A. Hoffmann. His haunting paintings, filled with metaphysical and religious symbolism, and his recorded comments on his art show him to have approached painting as a means to transcendent experience. Weber's work and writings, on the other hand, give no evidence of this kind of metaphysical sensibility; the superficial fact that Weber uses "romantic" (in the broad sense of "anti-classical") topics in his operas does not make him a "Romantic" in the narrow sense of the term defined by artistic philosophy. On Wehnert's view, the composer's experience and portrayal of nature, for instance, are rooted in physical existence and temporality, and his operatic music in general seems too closely bound to the "reality" of words and images to suggest any kinship with the metaphysical aspirations of early Romanticism. This interpretation will give music historians much to digest, challenging as it does the traditional characterization of Weber as a leading figure in early nineteenth-century musical Romanticism.

With essays such as those by Veit, Huck, Heidlberger, and Wehnert, the first volume of Weber-Studien portends a new era in Weber scholarship, one in which careful evaluation of sources and thoughtful reappraisal of the composer's life, works, and attitudes will at long last lead us to a more well-rounded and balanced assessment of Weber's accomplishments and significance for the cultural life of the nineteenth century.
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Author:Tusa, Michael C.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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