Thursday, 8 November 2012

Why we should all listen to Weber more!

Whilst I have always loved the Weber piano Sonatas it is only now that I have added the Ab Sonata to my repertoire (previously I had only performed no. 4). This music has preoccupied my imagination in the most infectious way. I wouldn’t be alone in saying that it has, like many of his cousin by marriage, Mozart’s works, intimations of the angelic (Chopin likened this Sonata to an angel passing over the sky).

It seems to me that Weber’s importance as more than just a formative influence on Wagner’s stage dramas is ignored. A passing resemblance between the openings of the Sonata and of Das Rhiengold notwithstanding, there are other more profound links between the styles of these first generation and last generation German romantics. A subject for a book, not a blog!

1816, the date of composition of the Ab sonata is startling. It isn’t so much that the music seems not to belong to its time, because it does; more that music written a long way after could easily be mistaken to be earlier influences on it! The partly self-taught Weber developed a personal style of piano writing that was beefier than any of his contemporaries (ie, Dussek, Hummel). His piano music demands a full blooded legato in the passages that is at odds with the fleet delicacy needed in the likes of Hummel et al, and his gigantic hand-span make him into a kind of hundred year earlier Rachmaninoff in terms of muscular piano technique. This is a far from inappropriate parallel when we consider that Weber was Adolf von Henselt’s idol and as Richard Beattie Davis has pointed out, Henselt’s effect on all of the romantic Russians simply cannot be overstated. The importance of Recitativo in his Operas seems to suggest that a declamatory style of performance is frequently appropriate, especially in slow movements. For any pianist who has played both Weber and late Schubert, the silken yarns of influence that run from Haydn through to Bruckner and Wagner can be easily felt.

His sheer originality is borne out by the fact that his works generally don’t sound dated alongside the composers whom he most obviously influenced (Schubert, Henselt, Schumann). As we can see, Chopin held him in high regard, Liszt performed, arranged and even directly quoted him (see the ‘Dante’ sonata in relation to the finale of the Ab sonata) and I wonder if the first movement of the sonata (a barcarolle in sonata form) is the source from which Chopin’s Barcarolle flows so gracefully?

I’m performing the Ab Sonata for the first time next weekend at the Lamberhurst Music Festival alongside Chopin’s Op 25 Etudes and can’t wait! I’ve a feeling this Sonata will become a trusted and valued travel companion!