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Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Piano Music Vol. 3
It was natural that there should be an element of the operatic in the music of Weber. The composer of the first great Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz, spent much of his childhood with the peripatetic theatre-company directed by his father, Franz Anton Weber, uncle of Mozart's wife Constanze and, like his brother, at one time a member of the famous Mannheim orchestra. At the time of Weber's birth his father was still in the service of the Bishop of Lübeck and during the course of an extended visit to Vienna had taken a second wife, an actress and singer, who became an important member of the family theatre-company established in 1788.
Weber's musical gifts were fostered by his father, who saw in his youngest son the possibility of a second Mozart. Travel brought the chance of varied if inconsistent study, in Salzburg with Michael Haydn and elsewhere with musicians of lesser ability. His second opera was performed in Freiberg in 1800, followed by a third, Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn, in Augsburg in 1803. Lessons with the Abbe Vogler led to a position as Kapellmeister in Breslau in 1804, brought to a premature end through the hostility of musicians long established in the city and through the accidental drinking of engraving acid, left by his father in a wine-bottle.
A brief and idyllic period in the service of Duke Eugen of Württemberg-Öls at Carlsruhe was followed by three years as secretary to Duke Ludwig of Württemberg, a younger brother of the reigning Duke. The financial dealings of his father, who had joined him there, led to imprisonment and expulsion, and a return to a career as an active musician, at first principally as a pianist, appearing in the principal cities of Germany. A short stay in Berlin proved fruitful, before his appointment to the opera in Prague in 1813. In 1817 he was invited to Dresden, where it was hoped he would establish German opera, although the first performance of Der Freischütz was given in Berlin in 1821.
While the rival Italian opera in Dresden continued to cause Weber trouble, he was invited to write an opera for Vienna. Euryanthe, described as a grand heroic-Romantic opera, with a libretto by the blue-stocking authoress of Rosamunde, for which Schubert provided incidental music, had a mixed reception.
In spite of deteriorating health, the result of tuberculosis, Weber accepted a commission from Covent Garden for an English opera, Oberon, which was first performed there in April 1826 under the direction of the composer. A pioneer in the use of the conductor's baton, his first appearance with this potential weapon caused initial alarm among English musicians at his possibly aggressive intentions. The English weather could only further damage his health and he died during the night of 4th June on the eve of his intended departure for Germany.
Weber's achievement was both considerable and influential. In German opera he had opened a new and rich vein that subsequent composers were to explore: as an orchestrator he demonstrated new possibilities, particularly in the handling of wind instruments: as a conductor and director of performances he instituted a number of reforms, as he had first attempted as an adolescent Kapellmeister in Breslau. In style his music follows classical principles of clarity, with a particular lyrical facility shown both in his operas and his instrumental and vocal compositions.
According to Weber's biographer, John Warrack, "Weber's piano music is always superbly written and usually extremely difficult to play. There is no contradiction in terms here: his difficulties are invariably pianistic, never written against the natural possibilities, though they often take their nature from the exceptional size of his hands." An etching and an engraving of the twenty-six-year old composer shows clearly his long fingers and narrow nail beds, with extraordinary thumbs that reach the middle joint of the index finger. There is no doubt about it, that octave glissandos and frequent four-part chords covering a tenth evident in his music, were very easy for Weber to play. Since he wrote for himself, he was happy to make the most spectacular use of his own hands, and in this lie many of the difficulties in playing his music.
The Sonata No.3 in D Minor, Opus 49, although lacking in musical continuity, shows Weber's interest in pianistic virtuosity, and the immediate effect and appeal of a particular melody or dramatic episode. This sonata is generally known by the epithet of "Demoniac". Like the second sonata, it was composed in 1816. The work begins with a movement of a savage and rugged character, marked Allegro feroce. It is a movement of great power and rich in melodic invention. The second movement, beginning like a Mendelssohn "Song Without Words", forms a most effective contrast to its predecessor. It is followed by a fiery rondo. The finale, often performed separately as a concert encore under the title Allegro di bravura, is a remarkable piece of musical interlacing. It consists of three separately appearing subjects that become gradually intertwined in the most ingenious and effective manner.
The Eight Variations on the air de ballet from "Castore e Polluce" by Abbe Vogler, Opus 5, were composed by Weber in 1804. Although showing much originality, they are still the work of a developing musician. The Seven Variations on Bianchi's air "Vien quà, Dorina bella", Opus 7, were composed by Weber in 1807 and dedicated to the Queen of Westphalia. It is unclear as to which of the Bianchis wrote the actual theme. It has been attributed to the singer and composer from Milan, Antonio Bianchi (1758-after 1817) as well as to the more famous opera composer from Cremona, Francesco Bianchi (c.1752-1810). The treatment of Bianchi's beautiful and romantic theme in every variation, each of which bears a special character of its own, is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the inspiring strain, and it becomes more intense as it proceeds. Clearly, Weber is much more at ease in handling the variation form here. The Seven Variations on an Original Theme, Opus 9, which Weber composed in 1808 demonstrate an even more lucid style. This set of variations was Weber's fifth and most ambitious. For most players, the finger-stretch was too great. Weber had exceptionally large hands that could actually play twelfths, while repeated chords of tenths with other notes filling out the harmony (as in Variation 4) are common throughout his piano music.
The Momento capriccioso, Opus 12, was also written by Weber in 1808. He dedicated this striking and difficult piece to Meyerbeer. It is a scintillating little show-piece - a prestissimo tour de force on one main idea that comes off brilliantly. Staccato chords at such speed were an unheard of boldness for the time and as a result it became a popular encore piece in the nineteenth-century on programmes of virtuosos like Franz Liszt, Hans von Bülow, Carl Tausig, and Clara Schumann.
1994 Victor and Marina A. Ledin
Born in Kishinev, in Moldavia, in 1956, Alexander Paley had his first musical training in his native town, where he attended the School of Music, giving his first concert when he was thirteen and three years later winning the Moldavian National Music Competition. He later studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where, his teachers included Bella Davidovich and Vera Gornstayeva, completing his course there in 1981. His subsequent concert career took him to major musical centres throughout Eastern Europe, and in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Spain, with distinguished awards in important international competitions. In 1988 he emigrated to the United States and with a repertoire of some thirty concertos and solo piano works ranging from Scarlatti to Bartók has continued his international career, now winning the highest ac claim also from American critics.