This set is the first full recording of this interesting
work. A few extracts have been previously released on Danacord’s Danish
Songs (DACOCD348) but this composer has been largely neglected outside
Denmark and hearing this work I wonder why. He clearly follows the traditions
of the early German school both in structure and orchestration and a
style close to Mozart or Rossini. The arias could have come from the
pen of Schubert. Certainly this shows that Weyse was very knowledgeable
of the music of the German and Italian masters. The composer’s background
explains why this is so.
Christoph Weyse was born in Denmark, close to the German
border near Hamburg. In his teens he arrived in Copenhagen as a young
virtuoso pianist to live with Schulz, a composer and conductor of the
Royal Theatre. The introduction to Schulz and the move had been due
to the influence of professor C F Cramer of Kiel who was the son of
the King Frederik V’s court chaplain. The young Weyse had visited Cramer
asking for help to become a musician and so the move to Copenhagen had
been the outcome.
Weyse’s early years in Copenhagen as apprentice to
Schulz led to his acceptance for the post as organist in the German
Reformed Church (1792) at the age of eighteen. He went on to play at
court, perform piano concertos by Mozart and become a member of one
of the city’s private musical clubs. During the early part of his career
he wrote songs and seven symphonies (recorded under the Marco Polo label).
Much of this material was recycled for use in later years, often as
overtures and theatre interval music. He was a master at improvisation
on the piano.
Weyse’s interest in the theatre was helped initially
by Schulz and later when Kunzen replaced Schulz as conductor at the
Royal Theatre. Kunzen’s wife was a singer with a wide knowledge of musical
drama. On a prompt, Weyse studied Mozart and Gluck operas in detail
and decided he wanted to write for the stage himself.
In 1800 he came across Bretzner’s Singspiel in a shop
which he bought. As Weyse describes—
"The Sleeping Draught" seemed to me to be
the best of them, on which I might try my luck. And now in the course
of the summer I composed the whole first act up to the end of the finale,
where the words did not suit me, and the first four numbers of Act Two,
but without writing any of it down."
Weyse played through his new music to Kunzen who was
complimentary and urged him to finish the piece and also have it translated
into Danish. The poet Oehlenschläger (fanmous for Nielsen's Aladdin
and the finale of Busoni's piano concerto. Ed) adapted and translated
the piece, finding it easy to build on Bretzner’s frothy plot. The translation
lay for seven years before being scored. In 1807 Kunzen presented
Don Giovanni with great success at the theatre and which Weyse went
to see. This event was the catalyst to motivate him into completing
The Sleeping Draught two months later. Around 1780 five out of
six Berlin operas were based on Bretzner’s comedies, the man was so
popular. From this period onwards, Bretzner introduced a format different
from his early texts and included elements familiar to the Italian Opera
Buffa where characters interact with each other. There is no such
interaction in the early German Singspiel. Thus, Bretzner gave German
composers the opportunity to write a new type of music, where several
singers are acting and singing at the same time and became a dominant
feature of finales, and so Bretzner provided the German Singspiel packaged
in the Italian manner.
Weyse built on this new format and The Sleeping
Draught was his first Singspiel, the result being nothing less than
superb. With great precision he hit the right tone in captivating the
essence of Bretzner’s story as well as displaying the knack of writing
a Singspiel. Here we have the heroine’s lyrical aria, the hero’s bravura
aria, the comic buffo aria, and the distinctive lyrical romance that
was to become a Weyse speciality. There are also several ensembles and
two great act finales, of 20 minutes and 120 minutes’ duration. The
overture comes from one of his symphonies (the final movement of the
2nd Symphony). The notes describe the aria content in detail.
He went on to satisfy greater ambitions and write true
operas for the stage, some with spoken dialogue. These were Faruk
(1812), Ludlam’s Cave (1816), Floribella (1825), and
Kenilworth (1836). Although some of their songs were popular
the public never really identified with his later operatic style, for
whatever reason. This is a pity because The Sleeping Draught
held much promise of better things to come.
Act 1 opens in the house of Brausse, a surgeon.
The family are found sitting at dinner and entertaining
Walther, the fiancé of their daughter Charlotte. Her father,
Brausse, is to amputate the leg of a farm-hand the following day and
asks Walther, who pretends to be a surgeon, to carry out the operation
on his behalf. Walther has to confess that he is not a surgeon after
all but is a lawyer. At once the furious Brausse asks him to leave the
house. Walther who has just previously exchanged a ring with his beloved
protests whilst Charlotte and Brausse’s niece, Rose, protest and try
to calm him down. The other member of the family, Saft, has been busy
eating throughout the Act ignores the commotion around him and continues
with his greedy scoffing.
Brausse has plans for his niece Rose to marry Saft
but she has ideas of her own and is in love with a hunter, Valentin.
Saft is not over-interested in Rose and considers that to marry a lawyer
will ensure there is always food on the table.
In preparing for the operation for the following day
Brausse gets the anaesthetic ready –drops of opium in a bottle of wine.
The farmhand, Hans, calls asking the surgeon to attend to men injured
in a brawl at the inn. Brausse rushes out with Saft. On cue, Walther
comes in from the garden to tell Charlotte that the law states that
parents cannot object to a marriage without valid reason. In an attempt
to celebrate the situation in the surgeon’s absence, Rose pours a glass
of wine for Walther. After drinking the wine and singing a song Walther
sits down tired. The hunter arrives to woo Rose, but a knock on the
door (Saft) causes them to hide in the hearth with Valentin disappearing
out of the window.
Saft enters to collect the bottle for Brausse and tell
Rose of his love despite her refusal. Once Saft has left Valentin returns
to try to get the now unconscious Walther out of the house. A miller’s
flour chest will be useful to their aid. Hearing that Saft and Brausse
are on their way back everyone hurries out. The girls shortly return
to say they only left because they thought the house was haunted. A
comic situation develops as Valentin ‘haunts’ them.
Abelone, the miller’s wife with whom Brausse is secretly
in love, appears complaining of a swollen finger. Brausse steals an
embrace from her when the miller enters. He shows his anger at seeing
the two together. A comic situation develops as a fight ensues. Saft
goes into the pantry straight into the arms of Valentin and Rose. The
lights go out and the act ends in chaos.
Act 2 is 20 minutes shorter and thus follows theatre
Scene 1 is a court outside the miller’s house, the
The miller and his men sing of the merry morning but
are reminded about the previous evening’s fiasco. Abelone in a song
sings that jealousy can kill love and it shouldn’t come between them.
Scene 2 is an interior of Brausse’s house.
Charlotte believes that her beloved Walther is dead
and Brausse enters to witness her grieving. When Charlotte leaves, Rose
enters and confirms that she is to marry Valentin, not Saft. Saft tells
Brausse that he will not stand in the way of Valentin, helped by a threat
from Valentin, and so Brausse reluctantly gives his consent.
Scene 3 is a room in the Miller’s house.
Abelone is discovered spinning. Charlotte and Rose
enter to ask advice now that Walther is dead. They see Brausse approaching
and hurry into the garden. He enters to look ostensibly at Abelone’s
finger, but she tells him to leave at once for the Miller is on his
way. Brausse hides in a flour chest while Abelone continues her spinning
and singing a ghost ballad. The miller tells her not to be superstitious,
ghosts don’t exist. First Walther and then Brausse show their whitened
faces from the flour chest and thinking that two lovers are hiding the
Miller calls for his men. But the situations are resolved and the act
ends in general happiness and reconciliation.
The score is bright, carries warm harmonies and is
fast moving. In parts the orchestration is thin as if written for a
chamber orchestra, which it probably was. The vocal lines carry enjoyable
themes, and catchy motifs are sprinkled within the orchestration: Charlotte’s
Act 1 Romance is a clear example of this fresh quality of orchestration.
Surprising is Weyse’s casting of Brausse, the formidable surgeon, as
a baritone rather than a more authoritative-sounding bass: to me the
character is too youthful whereas Saft given the voice of a bass is
rather too heavy a voice to match the feeble character. For sure, this
work has been proficiently composed. It may be worth exploring Weyse’s
symphonies to hear other likely specialities of composition of this
The soloists sing their roles with panache. Eva Hess
Thaysen and Elsebeth Dreisig sing their parts effortlessly and with
pure tone. Tina Kilberg with rich timbre does justice to her part of
Abelone. The men sing with clarity, but Gert Henning-Jensen (Walther,
baritone) needed be a little more confident at times and his thick timbre
does not always blend well in the ensemble work. In the recording the
soloists are not too forwardly placed, the sound is crisp and well balanced
so that every nuance of the score can be heard and does justice to the
excellent playing by the Danish Radio Sinfonietta.
Praise should be handed to Danish Radio for bringing
about a revival of this exciting work and recognising the importance
of their heritage of past composers. (Hopefully we in Britain will eventually
do the same rather than provide English translations of our continental
favourites. To dust down the scores of those long lost ballad operas
which Harrison and Pyne and the Carl Rosa Opera company made famous
and played to packed London theatres such as Drury Lane and Royal Italian
Opera at the Haymarket and Covent Garden would be of much interest and
A first class high quality 172 page booklet is included
with essay, notes and libretto in English, Danish, and German. This
includes an interesting account of the Rise of Singspiel in Denmark
around the turn of the 18th-19th Century by Jorgen Hansen. The material
helps put the listener in context with the interesting background to
this composition of Weyse.