An Electrifying Oberon in Berlin

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

In the clip below, conductor Mariss Jansons leads the Berlin Philharmonic in a spectacular and rousing performance of the overture to the opera Oberon by Carl Maria von Weber.

Weber’s music contains some of the earliest seeds of Romanticism. His orchestration was new and innovative. It mixed tonal colors in exciting ways and expanded the size and power of the orchestra. (Notice the trombones, which were a relatively new addition at the time). Berlioz referred to Weber in his influential Treatise on Instrumentation and Debussy remarked that the sound of Weber’s orchestra was “obtained through the scrutiny of the soul of each instrument.” Weber’s opera Euryanthe anticipated Wagner’s Leitmotif technique, in which a short, recurring musical phrase is used to represent a character or idea. Even twentieth century composers returned to Weber’s music. (Listen to Paul Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis, which is based on themes by Weber).

The Oberon Overture begins with a distant horn call and slowly awakening strings. Listen to the harmony at 1:15 and you’ll be reminded of yet-to-be-written Wagner. A few moments later at 1:33, we hear the playful laughter of Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. And then, after this sleepy and introspective opening, the music suddenly explodes into a fireball of virtuosity. A cast of characters comes alive through the instruments of the orchestra. The overture, which began so quietly, ends in a high-flying flourish of euphoria.

Oberon was first performed at London’s Covent Garden on April 12, 1826. The three act Romantic opera’s plot dates back to a medieval French story, Huon of Bordeaux. You can hear Maria Callas sing an excerpt from the opera here.

  • Find Carl Maria von Weber’s overtures at iTunes, Amazon.
  • Find the complete opera here.

Rienzi in Dresden

Last year, conductor Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden gave this electrifying performance of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture. Take a moment and listen:

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I love the way this overture grows out of a single trumpet call. The music slowly awakens, searching for a direction forward. Then, suddenly it opens up into one of Wagner’s most noble and majestic melodies (1:19).

Premiering in Dresden in 1842, Rienzi was Wagner’s first big hit as an opera composer. Seeds of his more mature works can be heard here, as well as the influence of Carl Maria von Weber (Overture to Euryanthe). In 1859 Franz Liszt wrote a Fantasy on Motifs of Rienzi for solo piano.

Learn more about Rienzi and read the synopsis here.

Dresden-Altstadt von der Marienbruecke-II

Music of the Hunt

Vanity Sounds the Horn and Ignorance Unleashes the Hounds Overconfidence, Rashness, and Desire (from The Hunt of the Frail Stag), 1500–1525 South Netherlandish
“Vanity Sounds the Horn and Ignorance Unleashes the Hounds Overconfidence, Rashness, and Desire” (from The Hunt of the Frail Stag) , Dutch tapestry, 1500–1525

The sound of horns and trumpets evokes ancient and sometimes subconscious associations. Horns were used during the hunt to call hounds because their sound was similar to the human voice but could carry for great distances. Trumpets served as a way to communicate on the battlefield during military campaigns. Originally these instruments were played without valves. Only pitches in the harmonic series were available, leading to a uniquely “open” sound.

Let’s listen to a few pieces that were inspired by sounds of the hunt:

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Paganini Caprice No. 9 in E Major[/typography]

Paganini’s Caprice No. 9 for violin imitates the sound of hunting horns. Here is a great performance by James Ehnes:

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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Hunter’s Chorus[/typography]

Suzuki violin students learn an arrangement of Carl Maria Von Weber’s Hunter’s Chorus in Book 2. Here is the original version from Act 3 of Weber’s opera, Der Freischütz. Read the synopsis of the opera here.

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[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Bruckner’s “Hunt” Scherzo[/typography]

Anton Bruckner drew upon the mythical associations of horns and trumpets in the Scherzo of Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major. Listen to the sense of quiet excitement and anticipation Bruckner creates in the opening of this movement as a medieval forest awakens. Notice the sound of distant, echoing horn and trumpet calls around 1:27. At 4:05 you’ll hear a more pastoral trio section before the return of the Scherzo.

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Listen to Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic perform Bruckner’s entire Symphony No. 4 here. The opening of the first movement, which also features the horn, emerges out of silence. The hushed string tremolo creates an intense rumble which seems otherworldly.

Did I miss any significant pieces which are inspired by the hunt? Share your own music in the thread below.

[quote]The basic hunting myth is of a kind of covenant between the animal world and the human world. The animal gives its life willingly, with the understanding that its life transcends its physical entity and will be returned to the soil or to the mother through some ritual of restoration. -Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth”[/quote]