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Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826)

Weber

Overture – Der Freischutz

Weber was a contemporary of Beethoven and Rossini, who established a German operatic tradition which combines Italianate melody with the atmosphere of German folk tales. His operas are like staged versions of the tales of the Brothers Grimm (his contemporaries), and Der Freischutz is undoubtedly the most famous and best. The story involves a hunter, Max, and his fiancée Agatha, and the mysterious, devilish Samiel, who attempts to buy Max's soul by offering him seven magic bullets (the “free shot” of the title). The most famous scene is the midnight storm in the Wolf's Glen, where Samiel casts the magic bullets – a scene that provided inspiration for a generation of opera composers, including Wagner.

The overture opens with the forest in sunlight, and a beautiful horn theme. Then comes the drama of the struggle between good and evil, contrasting Samiel's music with Agatha's free-flying melody. The ending, after a dramatic pause, shows clearly that good will win the day – but you will have to see the whole opera to find out how!

Overture – Oberon

Weber was a contemporary of Beethoven and Rossini, who established a German operatic tradition which combines Italianate melody with the atmosphere of German folk tales. His most successful opera was Der Freischutz which was very soon performed all over Europe, even reaching London , where it played in three theatres at the same time. Charles Kemble, who managed the theatre at Drury Lane in Covent Garden, could see that Weber was good box office, so he contacted the composer to commission from him an opera, stipulating that it should be in English. Weber accepted the commission and in his enthusiasm began learning English. Weber did well to complete the score, and even better to come to London in April 1826 to conduct the first performances, for he was a very ill man. Though only 39 years old he suffered from tuberculosis which was already very advanced, and within barely four weeks of the Covent Garden premiere of Oberon he was dead.

The cast of Oberon includes Oberon, Titania and Puck, so you might be expecting a variation on Midsummer Night's Dream. But no, this tale is an old French one, and it involves a knight called Sir Huon of Bordeaux and the Caliph of Baghdad. The plot is both complex and rather ridiculous and this, rather than any shortcomings in the music, is why Oberon has fallen out of the regular repertoire.

The overture is Weber at his best. A mysterious opening with soft horn calls, soon gives way to a vigorous allegro that features virtuosic violin writing, three very fine tunes from the opera, and echoes of the opening horn calls.

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