In 1797 Weber studied the piano and composition under Ilanschkel, a thoroughly scientific musician, and found in his severe drill a happy counter-balancing influence to the more desultory studies which had preceded. Major Weber’s restless tendencies did not permit his family to remain long in one place. In 1798 they moved to Salzburg, where young Weber was placed at the musical institute of which Michael Haydn, brother of the great Joseph, was director. Here a variety of misfortunes assailed the Weber family. Major Franz Anton was unsuccessful in all his theatrical undertakings, and extreme poverty stared them all in the face. The gentle mother, too, whom Karl so dearly loved, sickened and died. This was a terrible blow to the affectionate boy, from which he did not soon recover.
The next resting-place in the pilgrimage of the Weber family was Munich, where Major Weber, who, however flagrant his shortcomings in other ways, was resolved that the musical powers of his son should be thoroughly trained, placed him under the care of the organist Kalcher for studies in composition.
For several years, Karl was obliged to lead the same shifting, nomadic sort of life, never stopping long, but dragged hither and thither in obedience to his father’s vagaries and necessities, but always studying under the best masters who could be obtained. While under Kalcher, several masses, sonatas, trios, and an opera, “Die Macht der Liebe und des Weins” ("The Might of Love and Wine"), were written. Another opera, “Das Waldmaed-chen” ("The Forest Maiden"), was composed and produced when he was fourteen; and two years later in Salzburg he composed “Peter Schmoll und seine Nachbarn,” an operetta, which exacted warm praise from Michael Haydn.
At the age of seventeen he became the pupil of the great teacher Abbe Vogler, under whose charge also Meyerbeer was then studying. Our young composer worked with great assiduity under the able instruction of Vogier, who was of vast service in bringing the chaos of his previous contradictory teachings into order and light. All these musical Wanderjahre, however trying, had steeled Karl Maria into a stern self-reliance, and he found in his skill as an engraver the means to remedy his father’s wastefulness and folly.
A curious episode in Weber’s life was his connection with the royal family of Wurtemberg, where he found a dissolute, poverty-stricken court, and a whimsical, arrogant, half-crazy king. Here he remained four years in a half-official musical position, his nominal duty being that of secretary to the king’s brother, Prince Ludwig. This part of his career was almost a sheer waste, full of dreary and irritating experiences, which Weber afterward spoke of with disgust and regret. His spirit revolted from the capricious tyranny which he was obliged to undergo, but circumstances seem to have coerced him into a protracted endurance of the place. His letters tell us how bitterly he detested the king and his dull, pompous court, though Prince Ludwig in a way seemed to have been attached to his secretary. One of his biographers says: