Despite the decline of his reputation over the last hundred years, German composer Carl Maria von Weber can be said to be one of the most influential composers of the nineteenth century. Through his operas Euryanthe, Oberon and particularly Der Freischütz, he established himself as the leading German operatic composer of the 1820s and influenced composers such as Mendelssohn, Wagner, Berlioz, Liszt and Meyerbeer.
The son of a court musician turned travelling theatre company director, Weber was born in 1786. Having shown promise in his early musical education, his father hoped for a prodigy of the talent of Mozart, and ensured he received a comprehensive musical training in Salzburg and Munich.
After composing early operas and a mass, Weber moved to Vienna where he continued his training with Vogler, also meeting Salieri, Haydn and Hummel. After a conducting appointment in Breslau, he gained a position in Stuttgart as Geheimer Sekretär to Duke Ludwig Friedrich Alexander, but was forced to leave in 1810 when prosecuted for embezzlement.
Moving to Darmstadt to continue his studies with Vogler, he was able to sell some of his works to publishers and founded a secret society of literary musicians, the Harmonischer Verein, that would promote each other's works through music criticism and reviews.
In 1813, after a few years of self-promoting travel, the Estates Theatre offered him a position in Prague as Musikdirektor, though the heavy work-load and frequent bouts of ill-health made composition difficult. He became involved in several stormy relationships and eventually married the singer Caroline Brandt in 1817.
With his new wife, Weber moved to Dresden as Kapellmeister to create a new German-language opera. Unfortunately the singers available to him were somewhat disappointing and Weber engaged in long standing arguments with the supporters of Italian opera who, he thought, were trying to discredit him. However, he did meet the poet Friedrich Kind, provider of the libretto for Weber's greatest work, the opera Der Freischütz.
The huge international success of Der Freischütz prompted a flood of job offers and, most importantly, a commission from Vienna's Kärntnertortheater for a new opera. This became Euryanthe, first performed in 1823 to a mixed reception in Vienna, but produced with great success in Dresden.
Although Weber's profile was at its height during these years, his compositional output dropped markedly after 1821, and there was an almost total cessation of literary activities from 1820. It seems the composer could generate no new enthusiasm for composition; only one small work was written between autumn 1823 and January 1825. In the meantime the ailing composer, still suffering from ill-health, continued to conduct.
Charles Kemble's commission of two new operas for Covent Garden rekindled Weber's enthusiasm and he began work on Oberon, travelling to London in 1826 for its first run. It was a great success but Weber was fading fast and finally succumbed to tuberculosis on 5 June 1826. He was buried in London to the strains of Mozart's Requiem but was exhumed and returned to Dresden in 1844 through the efforts of Wagner.
Although Weber is often characterised as the exponent of early Romanticism in music, many of his works contradict the ideas espoused by Hoffmann in his writings on opera. However, his opera overtures laid the foundation for the concert overtures and symphonic poems of the mid-nineteenth century, and many of Wagner's early works owe something to Weber. Neither is his considerable influence confined to the nineteenth century: Debussy and Stravinsky both recognised and acknowledged his contribution to music.