At the age of about thirty-five, I played in a performance of Weber’s Der Freischütz in Baden-Baden, on the northeast edge of the Black Forest. At the end of the second act I heard, for the first time, the famous ‘Wolf’s Den’ scene, in which seven bullets for a high-stakes shooting contest are magically forged through a bit of soul-selling. The following text comes forth:
KASPAR one! ECHO one! (birds flutter down)
KASPAR two! ECHO two! (a black boar)
KASPAR three! ECHO three! (a wind arises)
KASPAR four! ECHO four! (a ghost wagon drives by)
KASPAR five! ECHO five! (barking dogs; hunters; stags)
KASPAR. six! ECHO six! (terrible thunder and lightning)
… at which point I realized that it wasn’t for the first time that I was hearing this. I had heard it before, or a close echo of it at least, when I was about five:
COUNT: Why don’t we ‘co-operate’? I will count the cookies and you will eat them.
COUNT: One! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Two! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Three! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Four! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Five! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Six! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf
COUNT: Seven! COOKIE MONSTER: mampf, mampf (music, thunder)
Culture travels, and is remembered for odd reasons, often reasons stuck in strange rhymes. It changes its meaning to suit its environment, to find new resonances and echoes if it can. But it can only find resonance if it it is heard in the first place. The music of Carl Maria von Weber was a powerful catalyst in German Romantic culture, and brought consequence. In the establishment of a German Romantic style, in the establishment of a sense of national folk history and tradition, and even in the idea of the Deutscher Wald (German woods) itself, no one comes before Weber. An epic hailstorm in Munich in1984 further reinforced the myth of Freischütz, causing 3 billion dollars in damage as the ‘wolf’s den’ scene played at the Prinzregententheater. Viewers in Munich thought the noise to be part of the production; perhaps someone as far away as Sesame Street felt a disturbance in the Force.
Weber was a tremendously skillful composer, especially in the area of orchestration. His sense of instruments comes through strongly in the clarinet quintet — especially in the cello and viola, which have strong, dark voices against the brilliant openness of the clarinet. The music speaks very clearly for itself, on Romantic terms which are fairly familiar to us (partly through Weber’s own influence). But there are two areas of Weber’s influence, with two very different trajectories, which are worth further mention, in the context of today: 1) his development of the ‘leitmotif’ idea changed musical history and 2) he was one of the first Western composers to integrate Chinese melody — without any sense of parody — into his incidental music for Schiller’s Turandot. Which was natural enough. Horizons were expanding, contacts were made, and echoes could travel further.