"A divine spark lives in Schubert; he will yet attract much attention in the world."
-Beethoven, few months before his own death
Schubert was a man of melody. He was known to be one of the
greatest writers of melody of all time. When an individual composes
over 600 songs and has over 100 songs, all within the expanse of 31
short years, this individual is quite special. He was one of the
few composers how gradually forced the change from the classical age to the age of
romantics. And in
transcending this age, he left the world with heavenly melodies
that would be fit for a god's ear. Yet, during his lifetime, he
received virtually no credit for these pieces. Only a few of his
pieces were ever published. And historically speaking, there is
only one mentioned concert in his entire career, granted he lived
secluded in a small sanctuary. Nonetheless, a composer is not rated
on the accomplishments made during his life, but rather on the
pieces that live on to be enjoyed by the ages after him. And in
this, Schubert ranks as high as anyone.
Franz Schubert was born on January 31, 1797 in Vienna as twelfth child of the schoolmaster Franz Theodore Schubert and his wife Maria Elisabeth Vietz. His father moved in 1783 from Moravian Silesia (today Czech Republic) to Vienna and the mother came from Bohemia. Only five of the fourteen children of the couple lived to see their first birthday, among them Franz was the second youngest. Nonetheless, he had three older siblings help him learn to play the piano, violin, organ and viola. The Schubert family made music regularly and the father was soon able to form a string quartet, where the elder sons Ignaz and Ferdinand played the violin, himself the violoncello and Franz the viola.
When he turned eleven, he became a choir boy at the Imperial Chapel Choir. He also attended school nearby. The school was called the State Konvict and was rather jail-like. As soon as his voice changed, he "escaped" the jail as soon as possible. During his time at the Konvict he composed fifteen lieder (German art songs), eight string quartets, one piano trio, five overtures, one symphony as well as numerous fantasias and dances for piano and several unfinished compositions. He soon posed as a school teacher at a nearby school at the tender age of fifteen. Here he composed quickly and furiously. He would be annoyed if a little school boy annoyed him. Many believe this is where he gained his innate ability to compose quickly and precisely. By the time he decided to quit posing as a teacher (the pay was non-existent), he had already composed 350 songs, a few symphonies, operas, some sonatas, and a string quartet.
With no income, he could not perform in front of a large audience. His genius was only recognized by his close friends, but the monetary generosity that they gave him was hardly substantial. His private performances were the only display his music to the world; they soon became to be known as Schubertiads.
During these late teen years, he had already been married twice. Both of these marriages were arranged by his father. The second of there was to Anna Kleyenböck. This wife lasted for a long time. She felt his torment as he applied continuously for various music professions, with the recommendation of his mentor, Salieri, but was still unemployed. Then he decided to move to a small village with a few of his friends. They were still the only people to know about Schubert's prowess in composition. Nevertheless, he began to receive small commissions from members of society. By this time he had already composed five hundred songs, numerous lieder, and several string quartets.
But luckily Schubert was saved by Johann Michael Vogl who pleaded for him as interpreter in the following years and paved the way to the public for the composer. Together they exposed Schubert more than he had previously had been, but he was still relatively unknown heading into his final years. But during these years he composed with a passion, and some Germany's best music was created.
The last years of Schubert's life were outwardly determined by his syphilitic disease and frequent moves. He had a creative demise in the early 1820's and from that time comes his ever famous Unfinished Symphony. It was dark and mysterious, but for some reason he never finished it. Nevertheless, despite all difficulties, he developed an astonishing creative power. Even the syphilis that he acquired, most likely form a prostitute, did not lower his level of composition. He continuously composed songs, lieder, symphonies, and chamber music. A few major pieces from his final years were Winterreise, his final C Major symphony, and the highly-recognized C Major String Quintet.
In his final year of life he did receive some recognition. On
March 26th, 1828, his friends hosted an all-Schubert concert. It
was well-attended and Schubert was finally given his due with
repeated requests for encores. Two months later, after claiming
that his dinner had been poisoned, he became delirious. Uttering
the words, "Here is my end," he died on November 19th, 1828. He was
buried a few feet from Beethoven's
Schubert's chamber music plays an important role in his works.
Fourteen complete string quartets, one piano quartet, numerous
piano duets with different orchestrations, two string and two piano
trios, two string quintets and one piano quintet, two octets and
moreover a great number of single settings and fragments reckon
among this genre. His numerous lieder his most famous compositions.
These German songs are the epitome of his melodic genius. Although
many scholars attack his structural weaknesses, none can dispute
the light melodies which we can still recognize today as
Among Schubert's notable works many strike us as brilliant. "Die
Forelle" is a short vocal song. His famous chamber pieces include
the ever-popular "Trout"
Quintet which is in our Fifteen Greatest. The variations
in this movement contrasted against the impeccably long melody make
it a true pleasure to listen to. His most famous quartet is
"Death and the
Maiden." And his only string quintet is simply exhilarating to
listen to. Many historians say that this reflected some dark point
in his life, and perhaps was his autobiographical reflection. As
for symphonies, the Unfinished is perhaps his greatest, the Fifth
his most intriguing, and the Ninth the most expansive in terms of
orchestra use. Though these are a few of his many elegant songs,
any piece holding the name of Schubert is worth listening to.
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