Carl Maria von Weber

Carl Maria Friedrich Ernst von Weber (18 or 19 November 1786 5 June 1826) was a German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, and was one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school.



Weber was born in Eutin, Bishopric of Lübeck, the eldest of the three children of and his second wife, Genovefa Weber, a Viennese singer. The "von" was an affectation; Franz Anton von Weber was not actually an aristocrat. Both his parents were Catholic and originally came from the far south of Germany.

In April 1779 Franz Anton had been appointed director of the prince-bishopric orchestra Eutin which, however, was dissolved 1781 because of spending caps. He changed to the position of Eutin's municipal music director. Dissatisfied with this position he took his leave in 1787 and founded a theatre company in Hamburg. After a transitional stay in Vienna, he joined the theatre company of Johann Friedrich Toscani and Peter Carl Santorini, who performed in Kassel, Marburg and Hofgeismar. He tried repeatedly to establish a lasting company of his own but only accomplished interludes which lasted for a year or two.

Franz Anton's half-brother, Fridolin, married Cäcilia Stamm and had four musical daughters, Josepha, Aloysia, Constanze and Sophie, all of whom became notable singers. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart attempted to woo Aloysia, composing several pieces for her. But after she rejected his advances, Mozart went on to marry Constanze. So Mozart's wife was a cousin of Carl Maria von Weber.

A gifted violinist, Franz Anton had ambitions of turning Carl into a child prodigy like Franz's nephew-by-marriage, Mozart. Carl was born with a congenital hip disease and did not begin to walk until he was four. But by then, he was already a capable singer and pianist.


Franz Anton gave Carl Maria a comprehensive education, which was however interrupted by the family's frequent moves. In 1796, Carl Maria continued his musical education in Hildburghausen, where he was instructed by the oboist Johann Peter Heuschkel. After moving to Salzburg (autumn 1797) Carl Maria studied with Michael Haydn (starting 1798), the younger brother of Joseph Haydn, who agreed to teach Carl Maria free of charge.

The time in Salzburg was overshadowed by the death of Carl Maria's mother Genovefa on 13 March 1798, who succumbed to tuberculosis. His one-year-old sister Antonetta died at the end of the year on 29 December 1798 in Munich.

A travel to Josef Haydn in Vienna (presumably in hope of advanced lectures) remained fruitless. In autumn 1798 Weber moved to Munich where he studied singing with Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and composing with Johann Nepomuk Kalcher who supervised Weber's first opera, Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins (The Power of Love and Wine). Like other compositions of that period this opera is lost. Six fughettas for piano of the twelve-year-old Weber were published in Leipzig.

Carl Maria's musical education was amended by the manual basics of lithography which he learned in the workshop of Alois Senefelder, the inventor of the process, and Franz Gleißner (autumn 1799). A set of his Variations for the Pianoforte was lithographed by Weber himself.

In 1800, the family moved to Freiberg in Saxony, where Weber, then 14 years old, wrote an opera called Das stumme Waldmädchen (The Silent Forest Maiden). It was produced at the Freiberg and Chemnitz theatre and later in Saint Petersburg (1804), Vienna (1805/1805) and Prague (1806). The young Weber also began to publish articles as a music critic, for example in the Leipziger Neue Zeitung in 1801.

In 1801, the family returned to Salzburg, where Weber resumed his studies with Michael Haydn. Carl Maria composed his third opera Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn (Peter Schmoll and His Neighbours) which was positively received by his teacher. After a concert tour in 1802 the Webers returned to Augsburg where Peter Schmoll presumably premiered.

In mid 1803 Carl Maria continued his studies in Vienna with Georg Joseph Vogler, known as Abbé Vogler, founder of three important music schools (in Mannheim, Stockholm, and Darmstadt). Another famous pupil of Vogler in Darmstadt was Jakob Meyer Beer, later better known as Giacomo Meyerbeer, who became a close friend of Weber. In letters they addressed each other as brother.

Early career 1804–1810

Vogler recommended his 17-year-old pupil Carl Maria to the post of Director at the Breslau Opera in 1804, who was offered and accepted the mission. Weber sought to reform the Opera by pensioning off older singers, expanding the orchestra, and tackling a more challenging repertoire. His ambitious and dedicated work as director of the orchestra was acknowledged though his tempi were frequently critized as too fast. As the daily routine did not leave sufficient time for own creative work, Weber abandoned the prolongation of his two-year appointment.

After an interlude at the court of Duke Eugen (I.) of Württemberg, who resided in Silesia, Weber served from 1807 to 1810 in Stuttgart as private secretary to Duke Ludwig, brother of King Frederick I of Württemberg. Weber's time in Württemberg was plagued with troubles. He fell deeply into debt and became entangled in financial manipulations of his employer, e.g. the sale of confirmations of ducal service which exempted from military service. Carl Maria was arrested and charged with embezzlement and bribery. As he could disprove the allegations one restricted the case to civil law because one did not want to compromise the conjectured manipulator, the brother of the king. Weber accepted to pay his debts (last payment 1816) and was banished from Württemberg together with his father.

As sobering side effect Weber started to keep a diary to list his expences, sent and received letters and occasional comments of special events.

Nevertheless, Carl remained prolific as a composer during this period, writing 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.

Later career 1810–1826

In 1810, Weber visited several cities throughout Germany; 1811 was a pivotal year in his career when he met and worked with the Munich court clarinetist Heinrich Baermann and composed the Concertino in E Major, Op. 26, J. 109, and the two concerti J. 114 and J. 118 for him; from December 1811 through March 1812, Weber went on tour with Baermann playing the clarinet works, and it was some of the final concerts on this tour that changed public, critical and royal opinions of Weber's work, and helped him to mount a successful performance of Silvana in Berlin later that year; 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. On 4 November 1817, he married Caroline Brandt, a singer who created the title role of Silvana. In 1819, he wrote perhaps his most famous piano piece, Invitation to the Dance.

The successful premiere of Der Freischütz on 18 June 1821 in Berlin led to performances all over Europe. On the very morning of the premiere, Weber finished his Konzertstück in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, and he premiered it a week later.In 1823, Weber composed his first (and only) full-length, through-written opera Euryanthe to a libretto by Helmina von Chézy, several passages of which (notably the music for the villainous couple Lysiart and Eglantine) anticipate the early, romantic operas of Richard Wagner. In 1824, Weber received an invitation from The Royal Opera, London, to compose and produce Oberon, based on Christoph Martin Wieland's poem of the same name. Weber accepted the invitation, and in 1826 he travelled to England, to finish the work and conduct the premiere on 12 April.

Weber was already suffering from tuberculosis when he visited London. He conducted the premiere and twelve sold-out performances of Oberon in London during April and in May, and despite his rapidly worsening health, he continued to fulfill commitments for private concerts and benefits.

He died in his sleep during the night on 5 June 1826 at the home of his good friend and host Sir George Smart; he was 39 years old. He was buried in London.

18 years later in December 1844 his remains were transferred to the family burial plot in the Old Catholic Cemetery (Alter Katholischer Friedhof) in Dresden at the side of his youngest son Alexander, who at the age of 19 had died of measles seven weeks before. The simple gravestone, designed by Gottfried Semper, lies against the northern boundary wall. The eulogy at the reburial was delivered by Richard Wagner.

Weber's unfinished opera Die drei Pintos (The Three Pintos) was originally given by his widow to Giacomo Meyerbeer for completion; it was eventually completed by Gustav Mahler, who conducted the first performance in Leipzig on 20 January 1888.


Weber's operas Der Freischütz, Euryanthe and Oberon greatly influenced the development of the Romantische Oper (Romantic opera) in Germany. Der Freischütz came to be regarded as the first German national opera, Euryanthe developed the Leitmotif technique to an unprecedented degree, while Oberon may have influenced Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and, at the same time, revealed Weber's lifelong interest in the music of non-Western cultures. This interest was first manifested in Weber's incidental music for Schiller's translation of Gozzi's Turandot, for which he used a Chinese melody, making him the first Western composer to use an Asian tune that was not of the pseudo-Turkish kind popularized by Mozart and others.

Weber's compositions for clarinet, bassoon, and horn occupy an important place in the musical repertoire. His compositions for the clarinet, which include two concertos, a concertino, a quintet, a duo concertante, and variations on a theme from his opera Silvana, are regularly performed today. His Concertino for Horn and Orchestra requires the performer to simultaneously produce two notes by humming while playing—a technique known as "multiphonics". His bassoon concerto and the Andante e Rondo ungarese (a reworking of a piece originally for viola and orchestra) are also popular with bassoonists.

Weber's contribution to vocal and choral music is also significant. His body of Catholic religious music was highly popular in 19th-century Germany, and he composed one of the earliest song cycles, Die Temperamente beim Verluste der Geliebten ([Four] Temperaments on the Loss of a Lover). Weber was also notable as one of the first conductors to conduct without a piano or violin.

Weber's orchestration has also been highly praised and emulated by later generations of composers – Berlioz referred to him several times in his Treatise on Instrumentation while Debussy remarked that the sound of the Weber orchestra was obtained through the scrutiny of the soul of each instrument.

His operas influenced the work of later opera composers, especially in Germany, such as Marschner, Meyerbeer and Wagner, as well as several nationalist 19th-century composers such as Glinka. Homage has been paid to Weber by 20th-century composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Mahler (who completed Weber's unfinished comic opera Die drei Pintos and made revisions of Euryanthe and Oberon) and Hindemith (composer of the popular Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, based on lesser-known keyboard works and the incidental music to Turandot).

Weber also wrote music journalism and was interested in folksong, and learned lithography to engrave his own works.

A brilliant pianist himself, Weber composed four sonatas, two concertos and the Konzertstück in F minor (concert piece), which influenced composers such as Chopin, Liszt and Mendelssohn. The Konzertstück provided a new model for the one-movement concerto in several contrasting sections (such as Liszt's, who often played the work), and was acknowledged by Stravinsky as the model for his Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra. Weber's shorter piano pieces, such as the Invitation to the Dance, were later orchestrated by Berlioz, while his Polacca Brillante was later set for piano and orchestra by Liszt. However, Weber's piano music all but disappeared from the repertoire. One possible reason for this is that Weber had very large hands and delighted in writing music that suited them. There are several recordings of the major works for the solo piano, including complete recordings of the piano sonatas and the shorter piano pieces, and there are recordings of the individual sonatas by Claudio Arrau (1st sonata), Alfred Cortot and Emil Gilels (2nd sonata), Sviatoslav Richter (3rd sonata) and Leon Fleisher (4th sonata). The Invitation to the Dance, although better known in Berlioz's orchestration (as part of the ballet music for a Paris production of Der Freischütz), has long been played and recorded by pianists (e.g., Benno Moiseiwitsch [in Carl Tausig's arrangement]). Invitation to the Dance also served as the thematic basis for Benny Goodman's swing theme song for the radio program Let's Dance.



Church music

  • Missa sancta No. 1 in E-flat, J. 224 (1818)
  • Missa sancta No. 2 in G, Op. 76, J. 251 (1818 November–1819 January)


  • Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 19. J. 50 (1812)
  • Symphony No. 2 in C. J. 51 (1813)

    Vocal works with orchestra

  • Cantata Der erste Ton for chorus and orchestra, Op. 14, J. 58 (1808 / revised 1810)
  • Recitative and rondo Il momento s'avvicina for soprano and orchestra, Op. 16, J. 93 (1810)
  • Hymn In seiner Ordnung schafft der Herr for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 36, J. 154 (1812)
  • Cantata Kampf und Sieg for soloists, chorus and orchestra, Op. 44, J. 190 (1815)
  • Scene and Aria of Atalia Misera me! for soprano and orchestra, Op. 50, J. 121 (1811)
  • Jubel-Cantata for the 50th royal jubilee of King Frederick Augustus I of Saxony for soloist, chorus and orchestra, Op. 58, J. 244 (1818)


  • Piano
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 11, J. 98 (1810)
  • Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 32, J. 155 (1812)
  • Konzertstück in F minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 79, J. 282 (1821)
  • Bassoon
  • Bassoon Concerto in F major, Op. 75, J. 127 (1811 / revised 1822)
  • Andante and Rondo Hungarian (Andante e Rondo Ongarese) for Bassoon and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 35, J. 158 (1813), revised from J. 79 (1809) for viola
  • Clarinet
  • Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73, J. 114 (1811)
  • Clarinet Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 74, J. 118 (1811)
  • Concertino for Clarinet in E-flat major, Op. 26, J. 109 (1811)
  • Flute
  • Romanza Siciliana for Flute and Orchestra, J. 47 (1805)
  • Horn
  • Concertino for Horn and Orchestra in E minor, Op. 45, J. 188 (1815)
  • Cello
  • Grand Potpourri for Cello and Orchestra in D major, Op. 20, J. 64 (1808)
  • Variations for Cello and Orchestra in D minor, J. 94 (1810)
  • Viola
  • Six Variations on the theme A Schüsserl und a Reind'rl for Viola and Orchestra, J. 49 (1800 / revised 1806)
  • Andante and Hungarian Rondo for Viola and Orchestra, J. 79 (1809)
  • Harmonichord
  • Adagio and Rondo for Harmonichord and Orchestra in F major, J. 115 (1811)

    Piano music

  • Piano Sonata No. 1 in C, Op. 24 (1812)
  • Piano Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 39 (1814–16)
  • Piano Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 49 (1816)
  • Piano Sonata No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 (1819–22)
  • Waltz in A, J. 146
  • Rondo brillante, Op. 62