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ClassicsOnline Home » WEBER / MAHLER: Drei Pintos (Die)
Mahler’s Only Opera?
During the summer of 1820 Carl Maria von Weber,
court conductor of the Dresden Opera, completed his
romantic opera Der Freischütz. He looked around for
something to do next and decided on two projects:
incidental music for a new Berlin production of Pius
Alexander Wolff’s play Preciosa and a comic opera,
Die drei Pintos, to a libretto by Theodor Hell.
Work on Die drei Pintos progressed from July 1821
until 8th November. He intended to stage it at Dresden
and dedicate it to the King, but was refused permission.
It was therefore not a hard decision to put it aside when
he was asked for an opera for the 1822-3 season at the
Kärntnertor Theatre in Vienna. Stung by press criticism
of the structure of Der Freischütz, he decided that a
comic opera would not be an adequate response. A
grand opera was the only possible rejoinder, so he
started to compose Euryanthe. What happened to Die
drei Pintos after this remains something of a mystery
and in trying to piece it together, any writer must be
fully indebted, as I am, to John Warrack’s chapter on it
in his superb and comprehensive Carl Maria von Weber
(Cambridge University Press, 1968, rev. 1976).
Die drei Pintos was based on a novella, Der
Brautkampf, by Carl Seidel, published in four
instalments in the Dresden Abendzeitung in December
1819. The writer Theodor Hell, a Dresden contemporary
and friend of Weber, converted it into a three-act opera
libretto, cutting and slightly altering the original.
Weber’s plan was that the opera should contain an
overture and sixteen numbers, but when he stopped
work on it on 8th November 1821 he had sketched only
seven. Almost certainly there were more. One of his
friends was played parts of Oberon and Die drei Pintos
in Berlin in December 1825 when Weber told him that
both operas were ‘nearly finished’, but that does not
necessarily mean that the music was written down. His
English pupil Julius Benedict, in his book on Weber
published in 1881, has described how ‘the idea of a
whole musical piece would flash upon Weber’s mind,
like the bursting of light into darkness. It would remain
there uneffaced, gradually assuming a perfect shape,
and not till this process was attained would he put it
down on paper... The whole was already so thoroughly
developed in his brain that his instrumentation was little
more than the labour of a copyist’.
Benedict recalled hearing ‘every piece’ of Act 1 of
Die drei Pintos ‘as it came fresh from the brain of the
author’. He claimed he could ‘remember every note’.
Weber’s widow wanted Benedict to complete it, but
was persuaded against her will to give the surviving
sketches to Jacob Meyerbeer who kept them for twenty
years and then said he found the task impossible. They
then remained in the possession of Weber’s son Max
until his death in 1881 when they passed to his son
Capt. Carl von Weber. He knew that Meyerbeer had
found the libretto to be weak and had planned a new
one. Carl felt that the original text and words of the
songs should be retained, but that Meyerbeer’s idea of
using music from other works by Weber was worth
adopting. Then, in 1886, enter Gustav Mahler, aged 26,
newly appointed assistant conductor to Arthur Nikisch
at Leipzig Municipal Opera. In the early summer of
1887, Carl handed him the sketches, together with his
own version of the libretto, for the conductor to study.
At this date Mahler had had none of his own music
published. He had written the cantata Das klagende
Lied and the song-cycle Lieder eines fahrenden
Gesellen. His first setting of a song from Des Knaben
Wunderhorn was written in Leipzig from the Weber
family’s copy of the Arnim and Brentano anthology and
he was just about to compose his first symphony. He
agreed to undertake the Pintos task and decided to
follow Meyerbeer and to fill out the original with other
Weber pieces. What awaited him was what Meyerbeer
had discovered in 1846 when he wrote in his diary:
‘These sketches have not only to be orchestrated but
figured and harmonized as well. To a large extent
Weber has composed only the vocal parts, very seldom
written the bass, even more seldom indicated an
instrumental figuration. A terrifying task: so little to go
on, and yet such work as exists, the singing parts, must
be treated in the most conscientious way possible, and I
would not leave a note out or change one for any
Mahler set to work in an equally conscientious
fashion. At the Webers’ house, he met Carl’s wife,
Marion Mathilde, with whom he had an affair and at
one time planned to elope. In spite, or perhaps because,
of this agreeable diversion, he was able to search
through Weber’s scores for suitable additional material.
Here is his final scenario, with indications of which
‘extra’ numbers were chosen:
1. Short orchestral introduction composed by Mahler,
followed by chorus taken from a piece for two male
voice choirs, Das Turnierbankett, written by Weber in
2. Rondo alla polacca, written by Weber in 1809 for use
in a pasticcio based on Haydn devised by his brother
3. Terzettino, from three-part folk-song setting, Ei, ei, ei
for male voices, Op. 64, No. 7 (1818). Mahler accompaniment
4. Romanze, from Leise weht es for voice and guitar,
written for Friedrich Kind’s play Das Nachtlager von
Granada, 1818. Satirical song about a lovesick cat.
Mahler’s orchestral accompaniment.
5. Duet — No. 4 in Weber’s sketches.
6. Trio — No. 5 in Weber’s sketches.
7. Finale — No. 6 in Weber’s sketches.
Entr’acte composed by Mahler on themes from Weber’s
8. Introduction and ensemble — No. 1 in Weber’s sketches.
9. Ariette, from song Keine lust for voice and piano, Op.
71, No. 1 (1819) and waltz from Ariette der Lucinde
written for Kauer’s play Das Sternenmädchen im
Maidlinger Wald, 1816.
10. Aria — No. 2 in Weber’s sketches.
11. Duet — No. 3(a) in Weber’s sketches.
12. Trio. Finale — No. 3(b) in Weber’s sketches.
13. Chorus, No. 7 from the Jubel-Cantate for chorus
and orchestra, Op. 58 (1818), wholly re-written and rescored
14. Duet — No. 7 in Weber’s sketches.
15. Trio, from Mädchen, ach, canon for three voices,
Op. 13, No. 6 (1802). Mahler added ostinato of fourths
on timpani and violas.
16. Ariette, from song Mein Weib ist capores, for
baritone, written for Anton Fischer’s Singspiel Der
travestirte Aeneas (1815).
17. Rondo-Trio, from song Elle était simple et
gentillette for voice and piano (1824); part of Gesang
der Nurmahal from Moore’s Lalla Rookh, for soprano
and piano (1826).
18. Chorus — No. 1 in Weber’s sketches (as in No. 8 above).
19. Women’s chorus, from No. 4 of cantata Den
20. Finale A. Composed by Mahler on themes from Act 1.
21. Finale B — No. 7 in Weber’s sketches (as in No. 14 above).
Mahler conducted the first performance of Die drei
Pintos on 20th January 1888. Opera conductors and
directors from all over Europe (and from New York)
attended and it was an immediate success. Fifteen more
performances were given in the Leipzig season and it
was soon performed in twenty other European opera
houses including Vienna, Dresden and Berlin. Mahler
wrote to his parents before the première: ‘No one will
be allowed to know beforehand what is by me and what
is by Weber, or else the critics would have an easy time
The remarkable thing about Die drei Pintos is how
Mahler subjugated his own strong musical personality
to Weber’s, although he jettisoned the overture because
it was so unmistakably Weber that anything that
followed it would seem like imitation or pastiche. In the
entr’acte Mahler wrote what John Warrack calls ‘a kind
of hommage à Weber by a composer who recognised
with affection a musical ancestor’. Throughout the work
what seems Weberian often sounds Mahlerian and vice
versa. Mahler’s re-scoring is governed by a close and
subtle identification with Weber’s musical nature.
Pieces by Weber incorporated into the opera which
already had orchestral accompaniment by Weber were
re-scored by Mahler so that a homogeneity of sound
could be preserved. None of the numbers in the opera is
based on a theme invented by Mahler, but he needed to
invent several linking passages. Although we must
wonder what the opera would have been if Weber had
left a completed score, we must also wonder how those
operas of his own which the youthful Mahler
abandoned might have sounded. Die drei Pintos takes
us as near as we can ever come to an answer.
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WEBER / MAHLER: Drei Pintos (Die)