Music Carl Maria von Weber
Joseph E. Morgan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 November 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0267


With a career that began at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, just as a concept of a unified German identity was emerging, Carl Maria von Weber (b. 1786–d. 1826) earned a great deal of fame writing songs for soldiers and students. Since then, Weber’s three late operas, and specifically his Der Freischütz (1821), have long been recognized as central to a narrative surrounding the emergence of a German operatic style. Indeed, Richard Wagner recognized Weber’s influence in his own writings, and later, the hyper-nationalistic elements of Germany laid great credence to that influence in their conception of a culturally superior German art and culture. However, in the late 20th century, critics started to isolate and study the aspects of Weber’s style that he had borrowed from foreign cultures. One particularly striking example is Weber’s adoption of the traditional formal conventions of the Italian Scena (Basevi’s la solita forma) in the 19th century. Despite Weber’s own overt statements against the Italian style, scholars have noted the clear influence of Italian opera on his works. Similarly, many of the very elements that would be cited as prototypically German in Weber’s works—the systems of thematic reference and motivic organization, the greater role of the orchestra in the texture, and the greater demands placed on the singer in terms of volume—are all increasingly cited as French in origin. Thus, the historical understanding of who Weber was and the character of his nationalist identity remains in flux, and Der Freischütz, Euryanthe, and Oberon retain a place in the operatic repertoire. On the other hand, Weber’s prominence as a musician and composer of symphonies, chamber music, and German Art songs has undergone a different path of study. As an early Romantic composer of piano sonatas, linking the delicate ornamentation of Frédéric Chopin (b. 1810–d. 1849) with the Viennese classicism of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1756–d. 1791), Weber has maintained his position on the edge of the mainstream repertoire in this genre, too. His compositions for clarinet as well as his bassoon and horn concertos also remain important parts of those instruments’ repertoires. Yet perhaps his biggest exposure results from the performance of his operatic overtures on the concert stage. In all, looking at individual genres, Weber’s impact is easy to underestimate, but taken as a whole, as an accomplished composer, pianist, conductor, and writer, his works and career made a tremendous impact on classical music in the 19th century.


Biographies of Weber range from those for undergraduates beginning their first research project (Morgan 2017, Stebbins and Stebbins 1940) to the most extensive biography useful for more sophisticated investigations (Warrack 1976). One of the unique things about Weber is that by the time he died, music criticism and research was emergent, and there are biographies extant from his peers, including one written by his student Julius Benedict (Benedict 1896), and one by his son Max Maria von Weber (Weber 1864–1866, Weber 1968), although it should be noted that his son was very young when Weber died, so many of the details are secondhand and require corroboration. Dwight 1858 offers a unique perspective from the United States, while MacCormack 1928 describes some of Weber’s activities only weeks before he died.

  • Benedict, Julius. Weber. The Great Musicians. 5th ed. Edited by F. Hüffer. London: S. Low, 1896.

    A biography written by Weber’s student, giving unique firsthand accounts, and providing an interesting glimpse into Weber’s life and music from a contemporary perspective.

  • Dwight, John Sullivan. “Carl Maria Von Weber.” Dwight’s Journal of Music 11.25 (1858): 193–194.

    An narrative of Weber’s life from the perspective of a 19th-century critic from Boston. Available online.

  • MacCormack, Gilson. “Weber in Paris.” Music & Letters 9.3 (1928): 240–248.

    A rich description of Weber’s visit to Paris just before his death in 1826.

  • Morgan, Joseph. Experiencing Weber: A Listener’s Companion. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

    A book-length entry-level biography for undergraduates that contains a list of works and a bibliography of selected readings and recordings.

  • Stebbins, Lucy Poate, and Richard Poate Stebbins. Enchanted Wanderer: The Life of Carl Maria Von Weber. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940.

    A readable and accessible biography, with an extensive bibliography.

  • Warrack, John Hamilton. Carl Maria Von Weber. Rev. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

    The definitive English scholarly biography of Weber; includes extensive analysis of most of Weber’s music and a discussion of much of his life in great detail.

  • Weber, Max Maria. Carl Maria Von Weber: The Life of an Artist. Translated by J. Palgrave Simpson. New York: Haskell House, 1968.

    The life of the composer as told by his son, translated into English and abridged. Not perfect in detail, but quite informative.

  • Weber, Max Maria von. Carl Maria von Weber: Ein Lebensbild. Leipzig: Ernest Keil, 1864–1866.

    First biography of Weber by his son. Not perfect in detail, but quite informative and in German.

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