Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) – Der Freischütz: Overture

Der Freischütz was one of the key definers of a German style of opera. The storyline
embraces ideas from both the supernatural and the world of nature, as did so many works of German romanticism.

The story of Der Freischütz (The free-shooter) is full of excitement, competition and
danger. Kuno, a hunter, wishes for his apprentice Max and his daughter Agathe to be wed. First, however, Max must prove himself in a test of his shooting prowess. Kaspar, another of Kuno’s assistants, also wishes to marry Agathe; his desire and jealousy lead him to sell his soul to the devil.

Max, unfortunately, misses every shot in the practice round. He is then enticed by Kaspar to make “free-bullets.” These bullets will always find their way to their target; but there is, of course, a catch. The first six will find their way home, but the seventh will belong to the devil. Kaspar’s intention is for this final bullet to hit Agathe – if he can’t have her, then nobody can. However, the last bullet finds its way home to the real demon – Kaspar himself.

Weber stated that the overture captures the two key parts of the opera: “the life of the hunter and the rule of demonic powers.” The overture has a broad and lyrical opening, which sets the scene in a forest. The horns then play a beautifully phrased quartet, which depicts Max. Represented by dark, low notes in the lower woodwinds and strings and the pulsing timpani, the agent of the devil enters the story. His name is Zamiel, and he is there to tempt hunters to sell their souls to the devil in return for the magic bullets. The overture includes many themes which will subsequently be heard in the opera itself. The first melody heard after the horn theme is from Max’s aria, which contains the words “but dark forces are ensnaring me.” This is followed by a reference to “Leise, Leise” – Agathe’s aria – in a major key. The themes of good and evil continue to clash through the rest of the overture, before Agathe’s theme is heard again at the end to indicate her union of love with Max.

Copyright © Helena Maher 2020. All rights reserved.
This program note was written as part of the Words About Music program at the 2020 Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp

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