The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

95. Weber and Der Freischütz
D'Albert and Rosenthal

December 12, 1886

All musical Germany is celebrating the centenary of the birth of its most national composer, the inspired founder of German opera, the glorious singer of freedom and fatherland, the man who honored Germany's rebirth with the most precious gift, the composer of Der Freischütz: Carl Maria von Weber.

To what German has Der Freischütz not become a treasure? What expatriate has not dreamt himself back to childhood in the rustling of its forests, in the dawns and twilights of its ghostly shadows, and found asylum? And what of the great historical importance of Der Freischütz, whose victory over the effeminate Italian operatic idiom also dealt a fatal blow to its toughest opponent, the spectacle opera of Spontini? German national consciousness, newly awakened and strengthened under Napoleonic oppression, literally thirsted for its cultural manifestation, and it was reserved to Carl Maria von Weber to sound the strings vibrating in the souls of his countrymen in one mighty chord.

It is only from this point of view that one can explain the fascination of Der Freischütz for its own time, still far from ripe enough to appreciate the full significance of its novelty and daring. Did not Tieck,1 a friend of Weber, and fine connoisseur of music, call Der Freischütz the most unmusical din that ever roared from any stage? And Spohr, a year later, could write:2 "Since until that time I had not rated Weber's talent as a composer very highly, I was eager to make the acquaintance of this opera, hoping to find out why it had been so enthusiastically received in Germany's two capital cities [ Berlin and Vienna]. A closer acquaintance did not solve, for me, the riddle of its enormous success, unless it was simply Weber's gift of writing for the masses." And then, finally. E. T.A. Hoffmann, the brilliant interpreter of Don Giovanni and the Beethoven symphonies and the works of Gluck, who felt that for the Wolf Glen scene, the "high point" of the work, the designer and the engineer deserved the "heartfelt thanks of all tender souls."3Weber had to hear from every side that the opera owed its success solely to deviltry and fireworks. This is reflected in a letter he wrote to Lichtenstein:4 "You may well believe that there are adversaries. It is only natural, also, that all the deviltry often confuses me, too, and were it not for honorable souls who pressed my hand in satisfaction, I might well think, 'All right, M'sieur Samiel did it all alone.' " What charming skepticism!

-238-

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