Carl Maria von Weber

Portrait of Carl Maria von Weber

Carl Maria von Weber was a German composer, conductor, virtuoso pianist, guitarist, and critic who was one of the first major composers of the Romantic era. He is best known today for his operas. He was born in November 1786 in Eutin, Germany and died in London on 5th June 1826 aged 39. 

Major Works

“Silvana” (1810)
“Abu Hassan” (1811)
“Der Freischütz” (1821)
“Die drei Pintos” (1820–21) 
“Euryanthe” (1823)
“Oberon” (1826)

Biography Timeline

Carl Maria von Weber was born on 18th November 1786 in Eutin, Holstein in Germany. His father was Franz Anton a musician and soldier of fortune who tacked on the noble term von to his name which he had no right to. His mother, Genovefa was a singer from Vienna and most of his extended family were involved in music or the theatre. Weber was not a strong child and suffered from a diseased hip and he was the eldest of three children. He was baptised Carl Friedrich Ernst and the Maria was added later.

1779: In April his father is appointed director of the Prince-Bishop’s orchestra in Eutin. Franz Anton’s half-brother, Franz Fridolin had four daughters including Constanze, who married Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and he had hopes that the young Weber would become a prodigy just like Mozart.

1781: His father’s orchestra is disbanded due to spending cuts. 

1787: His father had become Eutin’s municipal music director but resigns and moves the family to Hamburg to try and start a theatre company but with little success. Instead he joins Johann Friedrich Toscani and Peter Carl Santorini, who take their performances to several German cities.

1796: He continues his musical education in Hildburghausen in Thuringia where his teacher is the oboist Johann Peter Heuschkel.

1797: He moves to Salzburg, Austria in the autumn.

1798: His father enlists Michael Haydn (younger brother of the composer Joseph) to teach his son who does not charge a fee. Weber writes his first major piece “Sechs Fughetten” (Six Fugues). His mother Genovefa dies of tuberculosis on 13th March and Weber is looked after by his Aunt Adelaide and moves to Munich in the autumn to study singing under Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and composing with Johann Nepomuk Kalcher. Weber writes his first opera “Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins” (The Power of Love and Wine). His one-year-old sister Antonetta dies on 29th December 1798 in Munich. 

1799: His father hoped to set up a printing business to print his son’s music and Weber studies lithography under Alois Senefelder, its inventor, and he prints a set of his “Variations for the Pianoforte” himself.

1800: He composes the opera, “Das Stumme Waldmädchen” (The Silent Forest Maiden). It is staged at Freiberg where the family have moved but is a failure there although it is given later in St Petersburg, Russia in 1804, Vienna in 1805 and Prague in 1806.

1801: He publishes the first of many of his music criticisms in the newspaper “Leipziger Neue Zeitung”. The family return to Salzburg, where Weber continues his studies with Michael Haydn. He composes his third opera “Peter Schmoll und Seine Nachbarn” (Peter Schmoll and His Neighbours).

1803: Completed in Salzburg “Peter Schmoll” is premiered in Augsburg but is again a failure. Weber moves to Vienna to study with Abbe Vogler.

1804: He resumes his studies under Abbé Vogler and is appointed musical director at Breslau. He instigates a number of reforms of the orchestra and chorus and tackles an ambitious repertoire all of which are not universally popular. He also accidentally ingests some engraving acid which permanently harms his voice.

1806: He does not extend his contract at Breslau by mutual consent and becomes Director of Music to Duke Eugen of Wurttemberg in Silesia. He writes two symphonies for the orchestra.

1807: He moves to Stuttgart to become private secretary to Duke Ludwig, the brother of King Frederick the First of Wurttemberg. His excessive lifestyle means he accrues large debts. He is also imprisoned for a short time after being involved with the Duke’s sale of confirmations of ducal service and being personally accused of embezzlement. He and his father are then both banished from the Kingdom and move to Mannheim. His first song with guitar accompaniment, “Liebeszauber”, is printed.

1808: He composes “Er an Sie”.

1809: To earn a living he writes a great amount of reviews of other people’s music as well as some of his own poetry. He writes the song “Was zieht zu deinem Zauberkreise”.

1810: He composes the Romantic opera “Silvana” as well as several songs and pieces for piano and visits a number of cities throughout Germany.

1811: He moves to Darmstadt and meets Vogler again and the German composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, who was also taught by Vogler. The two become close friends. He composes the “Grand Concerto No. 1 in C Major” and the one-act opera “Abu Hassan”. As he is unable to obtain a post in Darmstadt he moves on to Munich where he writes “Concertino” and two clarinet concerti. From December he tours with the Munich Court clarinettist Heinrich Baermann and they perform the new works to great enthusiasm.

1812: He puts on a performance of “Silvana” in Berlin.

1813: He is appointed conductor of the opera at Prague.

1816: Again, he meets opposition to his reforms and is forced to resign and he moves to Berlin. He composes the “Duet Op. 38” for guitar and piano. He marries Caroline Brandt on 4th November, who is the singer for whom he created the title role of “Silvana”.

1817: His reputation is now rising and he accepts the appointment as director of the opera at Dresden with the task of establishing a German opera in contrast to the Italian opera which is dominant in Europe at the time. He becomes inspired by the German folk song collection “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano.

1819: He composes “Invitation to the Dance” for piano.

1821: He composes his most famous opera “Der Freischütz” (The Magic Marksman) which is a great success when it is first performed in Berlin on 18th June and leads to performances all over Europe. A week after his opera he premieres “Konzertstuck” for piano and orchestra.

1823: He composes his first full-length, through-composed, opera “Euryanthe” with a libretto by the German playwright Helmina von Chezy. The music is said to anticipate the early, romantic operas of Richard Wagner

1824: He receives an invitation from the Royal Opera in London for a new work. Based on Christoph Martin Wieland’s poem “Oberon”.

1826: He travels to London to perform “Oberon” and stays with the musician Sir George Smart. He conducts another eleven sold-out performances after the premiere on 12th April but his health is rapidly declining from tuberculosis and he is barely able to walk anymore.

Carl Maria von Weber died in his sleep of tuberculosis during the night of 5th June 1826 at Sir George Smart’s house in London, England. He was buried in London but his remains were transferred to the family burial plot in the Old Catholic Cemetery in Dresden in December 1844 and placed beside his youngest son Alexander.

Further Information

List of compositions by Weber.

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