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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Weber (1786-1826) - Overture: Oberon

“Germanic”, “four-square”, even “stodgy” or downright “dull”. These are all criticisms levelled by some at Carl Maria von Weber, composer of symphonies, concertos, piano, chamber, church and choral music, in addition to music for the theatre and seven operas. It is perhaps entirely the fault of performing tradition, because there's certainly nothing dull about his tunes. If his music is afforded the same lightness of touch as that of his famous operatic contemporary, Rossini, the same effervescence emerges. His ingenuity of orchestration (using only a “standard” orchestra) is confirmed by figures such as Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, and even Debussy, who all expressed admiration. Weber was also an operatic original, earning himself the tag “Father of German (Romantic) Opera”. His breaking with the almost universal Italian style, mainly through adopting the contours of German folk tunes, set a path which was to be followed by Marschner and Lortzing, and would lead ultimately to Wagner. 

Oberon, to a libretto by Planch‚ (after Wieland), compounded Shakespeare and medieval legend. It was his last opera, first performed at Covent Garden. A few weeks later, while still in London, he died, aged only 40 (though, I hasten to add, this was nothing to do with the première). 

The memorable tunes, warm colours, and vibrant rhythms might (just about) bring Rossini to mind, but there any resemblance ends. Weber, far from content with dashing off a pot-pourri à la rondo, weaves seven or eight themes into a thoroughly satisfying sonata structure. The slow introduction, a mysterious forest of horns and strings with skipping woodwind as felicitous as Mendelssohn's fairies, yields to a sprightly brass theme which must have impressed Suppé! The “first subject” proper, thrusting, powerfully rhythmic, and classical, is magically linked to the lyrical themes of the “second subject” by a brief recall of the introduction. After an action-packed “development”, the “recapitulation” turns out to be no mere literal repeat, instead spinning seamlessly into a buoyant coda. Stodgy? Oh, aye - about as stodgy as a soufflé!

© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


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