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A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Marschner, Heinrich

MARSCHNER, Heinrich, celebrated German opera-composer, born Aug. 16, 1796 [App. p.711 "1795"], at Zittau in Saxony. He began to compose sonatas, Lieder, dances, and even orchestral music, with no further help than a few hints from various musicians with whom his beautiful soprano voice and his pianoforte playing brought him into contact. As he grew up he obtained more systematic instruction from Schicht of Leipzig, whither he went in 1816 to study law. Here also he made the acquaintance of Rochlitz, who induced him to adopt music as a profession. In 1817 he travelled with Count Thaddäus von Amadée, a Hungarian, to Pressburg and Vienna, where he made the acquaintance of Kozeluch and of Beethoven, who is said to have advised him to compose sonatas, symphonies, etc., for practice. In Pressburg he composed 'Der Kyffhäuser Berg,' and 'Heinrich IV.' Weber produced the latter at Dresden [App. p.711 "July 19, 1820"], and Marschner was in consequence appointed in 1823 joint-Capellmeister with Weber and Morlacchi of the German and Italian Opera there [App. p.711 "add that in 1824 he was appointed Musikdirector"]. Weber had hoped to obtain the post for his friend Gänsbacher, but he soon recovered the disappointment, and the friendship which ensued between them was of great service to Marschner. He resigned on Weber's death in 1826, and after travelling for some time, settled in 1827 at Leipzig as Capellmeister of the theatre. Here he produced 'Der Vampyr' (March 29, 1828 [App. p.711 "March 28"]), his first romantic opera, to a libretto by his brother-in-law Wohlbrück, the success of which was enormous in spite of its repulsive subject. In London it was produced, Aug. 25, 1829, in English, at the Lyceum, and ran for 60 nights, and Marschner had accepted an invitation to compose an English opera, when Covent Garden Theatre was burnt down. His success here doubtless led to his dedicating his opera 'Des Falkner's Braut' to King William IV, in return for which he received a gracious letter and a golden box in 1833. His attention having been turned to English literature, his next opera, 'Der Templer und die Jüdin,' [App. p.711 "Dec. 1829"] was composed to a libretto constructed by himself and Wohlbrück from 'Ivanhoe.' The freshness and melody of the music ensured its success at the time, but the libretto, disjointed and overloaded with purely epic passages which merely serve to hinder the action, killed the music. In 1831 Marschner was appointed Court Capellmeister at Hanover, where he produced 'Hans Heiling' (May 24, 1833) to a libretto by Eduard Devrient, which had been urged upon Mendelssohn in 1827 (Devrient's 'Recollections,' p. 40). This opera is Marschner's masterpiece. Its success was instantaneous and universal, and it retains to this day an honourable place at all the principal theatres of Germany. In 1836 it was performed under his own direction at Copenhagen with marked success, and he was offered the post of General Musik-director in Denmark, an honour which the warmth of his reception on his return to Hanover induced him to decline. After 'Hans Heiling'—owing chiefly to differences with the management of the theatre—Marschner composed little for the stage, and that little has not survived. He died at Hanover, Dec. 14, 1861. Besides the operas already mentioned he composed 'Lucretia' and 'Schön' Ellen' (1822); 'Des Falkner's Braut' (Leipzig, 1832; Berlin, 1838); 'Das Schloss am Aetna' (Berlin, 1838); 'Adolph von Nassau' (Hanover, 1843); 'Austin' (1851); and an operetta 'Der Holzdieb.' [App. p.711 "Dresden, 1825"] He also composed incidental music for von Kleist's play 'Die Hermannsschlacht,' and published over 180 works of all kinds and descriptions; but principally Lieder for one and more voices, still popular; and choruses for men's voices, many of which are excellent and great favourites. An overture, embodying 'God save the king,' is mentioned as being performed in London at a concert on the occasion of the baptism of the Prince of Wales (Jan. 25, 1842).

As a dramatic composer of the Romantic school, Marschner ranks next to Weber and Spohr, but it is with the former that his name is most intimately connected, though he was never a pupil of Weber's. The strong similarity between their dispositions and gifts, the harmonious way in which they worked together, and the cordial affection they felt for each other, are interesting facts in the history of music. Marschner's favourite subjects were ghosts and demons, whose uncanny revels he delineated with extraordinary power, but this gloomy side of his character was relieved by a real love of nature and out-door life, especially in its lighter and more humorous characteristics. He worked with extreme rapidity, which is the more remarkable as his scores abound in enharmonic modulations, and his orchestration is unusually brilliant and elaborate. Such facility argues an inexhaustible store of melody, and a perfect mastery of the technical part of composition.

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