“I Am Dreaming for the Future”
A Four-Hands Panorama on Carl Maria von Weber

The question of when Romanticism finally established itself as a new musical art form, thus replacing Classicism, is difficult to answer precisely, and it raises the further question of whether we can really speak of one Romanticism and one Classicism in the first place, when it was a long and fluid process that influenced many great spirits. Beethoven, for example, already stretched out traditional forms to their limits; he sought to “leave behind all definite feelings and surrender to an unspeakable longing”1, but always maintained the Classical style. It was only after his death, once Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann had taken the helm, that the first High Romantic works came into being. But this musical seed could only grow into something so accomplished because the ground had already been prepared by two composers who could hardly have been more different: Franz Schubert and Carl Maria von Weber.

As far as Schubert’s and Weber’s output for piano duo is concerned, there is little need to dwell here on Schubert’s substantial works. It is an entirely different matter with Weber: his original compositions for piano four hands, presented complete for the first time on this recording, are likely to be new to the vast majority of listeners; they were initially new to us too, the performers. Now they have accompanied us for a long time and revealed an unexpected richness, for they cast a very individual light on one of the most fascinating periods in the history of European music. By listening to and experiencing this music in its entirety, one follows an alert and creative mind on his way through a time of fundamental change in art and society.

When the idea for this project materialised, we had first of all to occupy ourselves thoroughly with Weber’s work, which did also involve doing away with some of our prejudices about him. Even today, there does not yet seem to be a fully developed aesthetics for the reception of his work, as two strong factors are still acting against it: firstly, his music is categorised as “Romantic” and subconsciously compared to that of the aforementioned composers, usually to Weber’s disadvantage. Above all, however, he is still generally perceived as the composer who “was born into the world to compose Der Freischütz.”2 This opera, with its pleasing mixture of love story and horror story qualities, and some patriotic elements added too, was soon elevated to a model of national identification in Germany, thus inevitably and completely overshadowing all other works by its creator.

And yet Weber was more of a subtle person by nature, someone interested more in poetic elegance than sublime greatness. Accordingly, Beethoven – without whom the artistic self-image of Schubert and many later composers would have been inconceivable – was not of particular importance to him: “I differ too greatly from Beethoven in my opinions for there to be any possibility of convergence with him.”3

What Weber’s art wants most of all is to tell stories and be understandable to everyone. It seeks the fantastic, but equally a harmonious union with nature – like the poems of his contemporary Joseph von Eichendorff. Hence the brevity of the four-hands piece, for example, which are essentially untitled character sketches. Their quality comes not from an artistically conceived formal principle, but from the expectations of a new genre: the piano miniature, which lives off the brief, atmospheric concentration of a very particular mood, and which we later find in the works of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin.

Chopin in particular owes much to Weber (in fact, Weber was one of the few composers he admired). If one listens to Weber’s Second Piano Concerto on the present recording, for example, especially the slow movement with its expansive melody, virtuosic arpeggios and ornamentations, it becomes clear what was already there for Chopin to build upon later in his own work – and one cannot but be amazed by visionary Romantic drama in Weber’s music, written in the Classical environment of 1812. That was when Beethoven was writing his Seventh Symphony and Schubert’s voice was breaking.

This love of experimentation, incidentally, was met with incomprehension at the time: “They say, Bach did this! Handel didn’t write that! Mozart took that liberty! But if one has the good fortune to think of something they have not already done, it would be better to cross it out at once, for there is nothing one can use to show that such a thing is allowed. What a lack of solid foundations and standards is inherent in music! Emotion and more emotion – but who can say, ’my way is the right way?’”4

Another thing that makes Weber’s style hard to classify is that the Romantic idiom had first of all to take root in him. This is most evident in the appearance of the score, to which we and other performers today must once more find a way of connecting – another possible reason for the obscurity of his four-hands output. Thus Weber, especially in the early Op.3 and Op.10 cycles, locks his freely-flowering ideas in an ascetic notation that gives few hints as to the dynamic shaping and elastic playing flow this music needs. If one follows this strict outward appearance, which almost resembles early Classical works, one easily arrives at mistaken ideas of fixed tempo, stable periods and orderly structures. One has to pluck up the courage and treat the score much more freely than it seems to permit. Only then can Weber’s music come alive, giving the performer a secure sense of interpretive approach and allowing them finally to feel this sensual, poetic, simply Romantic beauty that contains both the old and the new at once: “I remember past times, I dream for the future”.5

The Individual Works

1. Original Compositions

Even the “little easy pieces” of Opus 3 already reveal the enormous talent of the then 15-year-old Weber: though the music is still following the secure framework of Classicism, it is original and highly professional in its craftsmanship. They already show the elegant finesse that would become his trademark, while the allemandes written at the same time are not ashamed to embrace the down-to-earth character of the “German dance”.

In Opus 10, written in 1809, Weber has now fully mastered the sonic and pianistic resources of the piano four hands. His inventiveness is remarkable, whether in the melodies, the variety of the individual pieces or in the wealth of colours he uses to add depth especially to quiet moments, such as the mysterious mood of the Andantino con moto of the relaxed cantilena of the Adagio.

The eight pieces of Opus 60 show how much Weber’s skill had increased during the next ten years. This collection includes masterfully crafted examples of the virtuoso Classical style (as in the Allegro or the concluding Rondo) alongside highly sensitive music whose fragile attention to sonority points far ahead into the future. In the gentle heartbeats of the Alla Siciliana, for example, one senses what Debussy may have meant when he commented that Weber “was perhaps the very first to be unsettled by the relationship that must exist between the immeasurable soul of nature and the soul of a human being.”6

2. Transcriptions and Paraphrases

Piano transcriptions of orchestral works are still eyed with suspicion, and in many cases rightly so. When choosing the Overtures presented here, however, we were concerned less with the question of the sound itself than with providing the most multi-faceted portrait of Weber and his time possible, a time in which domestic music-making (to which four-hands arrangements were inseparably tied) constituted at least as large a part of musical life as concert performances.

Amusingly enough, it was precisely the orchestra pit that proved an abundantly colourful pianistic playground: a piece like Abu Hassan, for example, a tribute to the predilection of the time for stories from The Arabian Nights, was very enjoyable to play thanks to its sparkling virtuosity. Silvana, on the other hand, has an almost Mozartian sound and is a further example of how Weber managed to combine Classical forms with Romantic content. Important elements in the plot of this opera, incidentally, are the German forest and a nymph with magic powers, making Silvana a sort of prelude to Der Freischütz – which could not, of course, be omitted from this collection. We could only imagine conveying the expansive sound-world of this overture with two pianos, which ultimately led us to make our own arrangement.

In the case of Euryanthe and Oberon, we were lucky enough to have access to the sheet music for the Hommage à Weber in which Ignaz Moscheles worked with themes from these operas. This work can truly call itself a “Grand Duo”. Created by one of the outstanding pianists of the time, it is not a surrogate for an orchestra but a piece of genuine, demanding piano music for two players. The slow movement is especially moving; here Moscheles conjures up a nocturne of immersed beauty from the romance “Under Blossoming Almond Trees” from Euryanthe.

The four-hands version of the aforementioned Second Piano Concerto brings Friedrich Wilhelm Jähns into play, who, in his capacity as a publisher and biographer, has probably played the most important part in Weber scholarship. In this transcription, which was unusual even for the adventurous 19th century, Jähns – himself a musician and composer – combined the solo and orchestral parts on the same instrument, which requires considerable acrobatics of the players.

In its technical demands, Leopold Godowsky’s Contrapuntal Paraphrase on Weber’s Invitation to the Dance constitutes one of the pinnacles of the two-piano repertoire. Godowsky draws on all the sonic resources available in the early 20th century to weave a dense contrapuntal fabric from the themes of Weber’s rondo, simultaneously unleashing an intoxicating waltz that noticeably surpasses the original in brilliance, agility and sensuality.

Lucia Huang & Sebastian Euler
Translation: Wieland Hoban

1 From E. T. A. Hoffmann: Kreisleriana, Chapter 4: “Beethovens Instrumentalmusik”, 1814
2 Hans Pfitzner on the 100th anniversary of Weber’s death in 1926
3 Letter from Weber to Hans-Georg Nägeli of 21 May 1810
4 C. M. von Weber, Tonkünstlers Leben. Romanfragment, published in 1828
5 Ibid.
6 Claude Debussy, Monsieur Croche antidillettante, 1921