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Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse

March 5, 1774 - October 8, 1842
born in Altona, Germany, composed during the Romantic period
A talented but conservative musician, C.E.F. Weyse was Copenhagen's cultural tastemaker through much of the first half of the nineteenth century. Though born near Hamburg, he spent his entire adult life in Denmark, never leaving after having been sent there to study with the director of Copenhagen's Kongelige Teater when he was 15. Weyse turned out to be talented at both the organ and piano -- he was particularly noted for his performances of Mozart's concertos -- but it was as a composer of vocal music that he really made his mark.

Weyse's first employment was at Copenhagen churches: the Reformed Church from 1792, then moving to Copenhagen Cathedral in 1805. He was hired as an organist, but from this period and on he wrote a great many cantatas and other vocal works, solo and choral, for sacred and secular use. This is dignified, respectable music, more impressive to Danes of the early nineteenth century than to listeners in the post-Beethoven era.

Weyse, in fact, was appalled by Beethoven's revolutionary music, and maintained allegiance to the style common when he was coming of age, that of the Classical era. His seven symphonies, composed in the late 1790s, legitimately follow the model of Haydn. But the piano pieces he was writing at about the same time are throwbacks to an even earlier style, and his many theater works are noted more for their charm than their individuality; they lack the free spirit of much of the music of Weyse's contemporary in Danish music, Friedrich Kuhlau. Only after 1829, when piano virtuoso Ignaz Moscheles inspired him to return to keyboard writing, did Weyse venture into the Romantic style with several sets of bravura pieces (notably the opp. 51 and 60 etudes).

Piano virtuosity aside, it was Weyse's gentle melodic gift that endeared him to the Danes, and the publication after his death of a collection of art songs and singspiel excerpts secured his reputation in Denmark for several decades to come. Not that he had to wait for death to bring him prominence; Weyse became a professor at the University of Copenhagen in 1816, and three years later earned the position of court composer, generating works for the Kongelige Teater, just as had his first teacher in Copenhagen. His prominence in Danish musical life was rewarded with an honorary doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 1842. ~ James Reel, Rovi
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