Among the Great Masters of Music: Scenes in the Lives of Famous Musicians Weber byWalter Rowlands
The picture of Weber sitting among the airy visions evoked by music's spell, which is known as "Weber's Last Thoughts," and is supposed to represent him as composing the waltz so called, is based upon an error. For this popular piece, published in 1824, is not the work of Weber at all, but was written by Reissiger. The probable cause of its being ascribed to Weber is that a manuscript copy of it, given him by Reissiger on the eve of the master's departure for London, was found among Weber's papers after his death.
Weber's son, in his life of his father, tells us that when the composer was in London, Miss Stephens, of whose talent he was a great admirer, offered to appear at his concert. "The celebrated artist, however, was desirous of singing some new composition by the master; and Weber, exhausted as he was, could not gainsay her wish. Miss Stephens herself chose the words from Moore's 'Lalla Rookh;' and the composer set himself to work on 'From Chindara's Warbling Fount I Come.' But fearfully painful was the effort now. Twice Weber flung down his pen in utter despair. At last, on the morning of the 18th of May, the great artist's flitting genius came back to him, and for the last time gave him a farewell kiss upon that noble forehead, now bedewed with the cold sweat of death, - for the last time! The trembling hands were unable to write down more than the notes for the voice. Weber rehearsed his last composition with the celebrated artist from this sketch, and accompanied the song from memory at his concert."
Here we have the true story of the master's last composition.
The concert spoken of, at which he made his last appearance in public, was, unfortunately, not a pecuniary success, because of the indifference of the English aristocracy. This was a severe blow to the composer, who knew that he had not long to live, and who had hoped to realise from this concert a substantial sum, which he could add to that received from his opera of "Oberon," and use all in providing for his wife and children. "The following day Weber was somewhat better. He was still supported by the hopes of his benefit; he still found sufficient strength to write to his wife in such wise as to place in its least painful light his cruel disappointment. As yet, in spite of his bodily weakness, his handwriting had remained distinct and clear. In this letter, it displays the utter ruin of his strength. 'Writing is somewhat painful to me,' runs one phrase of it; 'my hands tremble so.' Fürstenau saw only too clearly the sinking state of the poor man, and generously offered to give up his own concert, in order to hasten the departure of his friend. 'What a word of comfort you have spoken!' gasped Weber, clutching the hand of the kind fellow. He wrote again to his wife, with a last gleam of his spirit: 'You will not have many more letters from me; and so receive now my high and mighty commands. Do not answer this to London, but to the poste restante, Frankfurt. You are astounded! Well! I am not coming home through Paris. What should I do there? I cannot walk - I cannot speak. I will have nothing more to do with business for years to come. So it is far better I should take the straight way home by Calais, through Brussels, Cologne, Coblentz, and thus by the Rhine to Frankfurt. What a charming journey! I must travel very slowly, however, and probably rest for half a day, now and then. I shall gain a good fortnight thus; and by the end of June I hope to be in your arms.' At this time he was still resolved to keep his promise of conducting at Miss Paton's concert. But he came home in a state of such feverish agitation and complete exhaustion that his friends came around him, and wrung from him the promise that he would conduct no more, and even give up his own benefit. This resolution, strange to say, appeared to bestow fresh spirits on him; it enabled him to hasten his return. Now that all last earthly interests were laid aside, love and affection for the dear ones at home had alone possession of his mind. One thought alone occupied his whole soul, - to be at home again, amongst his own - to see them, if but once - but once! With this feeling, in which gleamed one last ray of cheerfulness, he wrote: 'How will you receive me? In heaven's name, alone. Let no one disturb my joy of looking again upon my wife, my children, my dearest and my best.... Thank God! the end of all is fast approaching.' ... The end of all was fast approaching. On the 1st of June, every painful symptom of the poor sufferer had so increased that his friends held counsel with Doctor Kind, who considered his state highly precarious. Fürstenau was desirous of watching by his bedside. 'No, no,' replied Weber, 'I am not so ill as you want to make me out.' He refused even the attendance of Sir George Smart's servant in his anteroom. Blisters were applied to his chest, and he noted in his diary, 'Thank God, my sleep was sweet!' He fixed his departure for the 6th, arranged all his pecuniary affairs with minuteness, and employed his friends in purchasing presents for his family and friends in Dresden. He was strongly urged by his friends to postpone his journey until he could have recovered some degree of strength. But this solicitation only irritated him. 'I must go back to my own - I must!' he sobbed, incessantly. 'Let me see them once more - and then God's will be done!' The attempt appeared impossible to all. With great unwillingness he yielded to his friends' request to have a consultation of physicians. 'Be it so!' he answered. 'But come of it what may, I go!' His only thought, his only word, was 'Home!' On the 2d of June he wrote his last letter to his beloved wife, - the last lines his hand ever traced. 'What a joy, my own dear darling, your letter gave me! What a happiness to me to know that you are well! ... As this letter requires no answer, it will be but a short one. What a comfort it is not to have to answer! ... God bless you all, and keep you well! Oh, were I but amongst you all again! I kiss you with all my heart and soul, my dearest one! Preserve all your love for me, and think with pleasure on him who loves thee above all, thy Karl.' What an outpouring of the truest affection there was in that last loving prayer!
"Weber's only thoughts were now concentrated on his journey, and he even reproached Fürstenau with caballing with the others to prevent his undertaking it. 'You may do what you will, it is of no avail,' he said. On the evening of the 3d of June he asked his friend Göschen, with a smile, 'Have you anything to say to your father? At all events I shall tell him that his son has been a dear kind friend to me in London.' 'But you leave many friends and admirers here,' said Göschen. 'Hush! hush!' replied Weber, still smiling softly; 'that's not the same thing, you know.' When, on the evening of the 4th, he sat panting in his easy chair, with Sir George Smart, Göschen, Fürstenau, and Moscheles grouped around him, he could speak only of his journey. At ten o'clock they urged him to retire to bed. But he firmly declined to have any one watch by his bedside, and even to forego his custom of barring his chamber door. When he had given his white, transparent, trembling hand to all, murmuring gently, but in earnest tones, the words, 'God reward you all for your kind love to me!' he was led by Sir George Smart and Fürstenau into his bedroom. Fürstenau, from whom alone he would accept such services, helped him to undress; the effort was a painful one to himself. With his own hand, however, Weber wound up his watch, with his usual punctilious care; then, with all that charm of amiability for which he was conspicuous through life, he murmured his thanks to his friend, and said, 'Now let me sleep.' These were the last words that mortal ear heard the great artist utter. It is clear, however, that Weber must have left his bed later, for, the next morning, the door through which Fürstenau had passed, was barred. For a long time the friends sat together in Sir George Smart's room, filled with sorrowful presentiments, and earnestly consulting what means might best be taken to prevent the journey. About midnight they parted. On their leaving the house, all was dark in Weber's window. His light had been extinguished.
"The next morning, at the early hour when Weber generally required his aid, Sir George Smart's servant knocked at his chamber door; no answer came; he knocked again, and louder. It was strange, for Weber's sleep had always been light. The alarmed servant rushed to Sir George, who sprang out of bed and hurried to the room. Still, to his repeated knocking, no answer was returned. Fürstenau was sent for. He came half dressed, already anticipating the worst. It was now resolved to force the door. It was burst open. All was still within. The watch, which the last movement of the great hand which had written 'Der Freischütz,' 'Euryanthe,' and 'Oberon,' had wound up, alone ticked with painful distinctness. The bed-curtains were torn back. There lay the beloved friend and master dead. His head rested on his left hand, as if in tranquil sleep, - not the slightest trace of pain or suffering on his features. The soul, yearning for the dear objects of its love, had burst its earthly covering and fled. The immortal master was not dead, - he had gone home."
Weber died in London in 1826, but it was not until 1844, and then mainly through the efforts of Wagner, that his remains were taken to his native land. They now rest in Dresden, where a statue was raised in 1860 in honour of Carl Maria von Weber, who has been called "The operatic liberator of Germany."