Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz” Overture
Notes by TŌN bass trombonist Samuel Boeger
Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) is a three-act opera composed by Carl Maria von Weber between 1817 and 1821 and premiered in Berlin in 1821. The opera is a story of persuasion, as many key plot points are focused on the concept of a Faustian Bargain. The tale itself is about a character named Max, who is down on his confidence, struggling to find his true self both personally and on the shooting range. Max wants to be the best version of himself in preparation for his marriage to Agathe, but before their marriage, Cuno, Agathe’s father and hereditary forester, declares that Max must win in a marksman competition to become true heir. Max meets with Caspar, another hunter who owes his soul to Samiel, the “Black Huntsman.” Caspar convinces Max to enter a pact of forbidden power and summon the seven magic bullets, where he controls the first six bullets but the seventh is controlled by Samiel.
The overture gives a quick synopsis of the opera plot. It begins with massive orchestral swells as if Weber was asking the audience “good or evil?”—a question that is often asked throughout the opera. After this, the horns play a beautiful chorale, reminding us of the hunting horns. Suddenly the mood shifts completely into something much darker: in the unsettling tremolo of the strings we hear a diminished seventh chord associated in the opera with Samiel, who is the devil in disguise.
Once the slow intro passes, we hear the theme from Max’s aria in the first act that describes his unsure and a darker personality: from a violent and passionate flow of strings in C minor to a stately march; the question motif is heard again. The mood and the mode changes as we hear Agathe’s theme in C major from her aria in the second act. A call and response effect is added to this theme, when the woodwinds are answered by the low strings and low brass, revealing a sense of doubt. But in the end C major wins over C minor, the love conquers dark powers, the question is answered, and the overture predicts a happy end of the opera.