Thursday, September 25, 2014

Weber - Symphony No. 2 In C Major

Carl Maria von Weber is mostly remembered in the classical music world as an opera composer. He wrote his first opera at fourteen and had his first success in opera in 1803 when he was seventeen years old.  Three years later he was working at the Breslau Opera as music director. He tried to reform the opera but the intrigues, drama and resistance were so great that he resigned. While he was at Breslau, he met with an unfortunate accident when he drank from a wine bottle that his father had stored engraver's acid in. It took him two months to recuperate and his pleasant singing voice was ruined.

He wrote his only two symphonies when he was twenty years old with the intention of having them performed by the small court orchestra of Duke Eugen Friedrich Heinrich von Württemberg-Öls, where Weber was Kapellmeister. Weber's time at court was also full of intrigues and troubles as he racked up huge debts. His father was charged with embezzling a large amount of the Duke's funds, and both Weber and his father were arrested and put in prison. Later both were released and banished from the Duke's lands.

Both symphonies are in C major. Symphony No. 2 was written in a week's time in January of 1807, and like the first symphony it has a prominent part for oboe, the instrument the Duke liked to play. The symphony is in four movements:

I. Allegro -  The orchestra enters with loud chords that are answered by the woodwinds. This happens twice before the oboe plays the first theme of the movement.  Other lesser themes are played and lead up to the second primary theme being played by solo horn. A solo bassoon takes up this theme. The first theme returns and is expanded slightly, and then the exposition is repeated. At the end of the repeat, the horns mark the beginning of the development by playing a figure from the first theme, followed by the trumpets. A solo flute then plays the first them in a minor key. The drama increases in the development until it reaches a climax. Quietly the orchestra leads to the recapitulation. The usual modulation of themes to the home key follows, with the second theme this time being brought in by the oboe. A short coda beings the movement to a close.

II Adagio, ma non troppo - The horns begin the second movement with a short fanfare. The theme of the movement begins with a solo viola and is continued with the oboe. The theme is expanded until the horns begin a more elaborate repeat of the theme which develops as an operatic aria, no big surprise coming from a natural dramatic opera composer as Weber was. The movement is short, and ends quietly.

III Menuetto. Allegro -  Although labeled a minuet, this movement is in C minor and has the characteristics of a scherzo with its off the beat accents. A contrasting trio section in the major for accompanied oboe uses rests to maintain the off the beat feeling. The beginning of the movement is repeated, and this very short movement (under two minutes usually) ends.

IV Finale. Scherzo Presto - Labeled a scherzo, this movement begins with a short ascending figure in the orchestra followed by silence. The full orchestra a rhythmic theme that is continually being interrupted by rests. The second theme is for oboe and plays straight through without the interrupting rests. There is a third theme for horn in the minor before the quirky first theme returns, this time it plays for a time before asilence interrupts its progress. After the silence, the music builds up to a final climax followed by a silence that may seem like the end of the movement, but the figure that began the movement returns for one more swift and quiet appearance before this also very short movement truly ends.

Whether Weber's talent was to ever respond to the form of the symphony was never to be known as he died from tuberculosis at the age of 39. He had a great sense of melody and orchestral color, valuable assets for a composer of operas, and it may have been a genuine lack of interest instead of a lack of talent for the instrumental genre of the symphony.  His handling of sonata form in the two symphonies is not outstanding. But his lack of mastery of the form may be why the symphonies, especially the second one, are so quirky, in a good way.

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