FRANZ PETER SCHUBERT
Franz Peter Schubert, youngest son of a parish schoolmaster and a cook, was born in the
Lichtenthal district of Vienna on 31 January 1797. The Schubert family was musical. Father
Schubert played the violincello, and Franz`s older brothers, Ignaz and Ferdinand, were
violinists. Their music-making gave Franz Schubert his earliest musical impressions. Before
long, Franz, too, was given instruction in the art, under the guidance of his father, his brother
Ignaz, and Michael Holzer, choirmaster of the parish. "He seems to know the lessons perfectly
before I begin to explain them to him," Holzer once told Schubert`s father in amazement.
In his eleventh year, Schubert passed the entrance examinations for the Convict School, which
trained choristers for the Imperial Court Chapel. Life at the Convict was not without hardship;
the young music-students frequently suffered cold and hunger. "Hunger has become so pressing,"
Schubert wrote to his brother, Ferdinand, "that willy-nilly I must make a change. The two
groschen that father gave me went in the first few days. If, then, I rely upon your aid, I hope I
may do so without being ashamed (see Matt. ii, 4—So also thought I!) How about advancing me
a couple of kreutzer monthly?" (The passage in the book of Matthew referenced is completely
irrelevant in this case.)
When Schubert became acclimated to his new surroundings at the convict he was far from
unhappy. He was completely absorbed in music-study, finding therein endless fascination and
adventure. He also made some intimate friendships, particularly one with Josef Spaun, seven
years his senior, who remained an intimate friend for the remainder of his life.
In the Convict School, Franz Schubert began his first compositions. Supplied with note-paper by
Spaun, Schubert composed his first song, Hagars Klage, which came to the notice of Salieri,
director of the Convict. Salieri was so impressed with this achievement that he placed Schubert
under the personal guidance of Ruczizka, professor of harmony. Then, when Ruczizka confided
to Salieri that Schubert "seems to have been taught by God himself, the lad knows everything,"
Salieri decided to take the boy under his own wing. One of the first exercises which Schubert
composed for Salieri was— an opera! "Franz´l, you can do everything," Salieri told him. "You
are a genius!"
In 1813, Schubert`s voice broke; he was now compelled to leave the Convict school and return
to his father`s home. He was eager to devote himself entirely to composition (he had already
produced a symphony, some church music, piano works, overtures, and quartets!) but the
necessity of earning a living compelled him to adopt the profession of teaching. A year of
preparation at the Normal School of St. Anna enabled Schubert to assume a pedogogical post at
his father's school. He was a miserable teacher. While in the classroom, he was far removed
from his pupils, troubling himself little with their attendance, work, or behaviour, while his
mind was busy conceiving melodies and development of themes. School-teaching was
detestable to him, the four walls of a classroom a prison. When the school- day ended, however,
Schubert found release; he could belong to music, and music alone. Nights were spent in the
production of an incredible amount of music. In 1815 alone, Schubert composed two
symphonies, two masses, five operas, four sonatas, several smaller choral works, and one
hundred and forty-six songs.
It was in 1815 that Schubert created the first of his undisputed masterpieces. His friend, Spaun,
burst in upon him one day to find him in a fervor of composition. Schubert had just stumbled
across a ballad of Goethe, the Erlkönig, which inflamed his imagination. He reached for
music-paper and, during the next few hours, set the great poem to music. When the song was
completed, Spaun and Schubert hurried to the Convict school to perform it before several
friends. But— as was to be expected of a song so far ahead of its time—it was greeted coldly.
The Erlkönig was one of Schubert`s highest flights of genius, an amazingly one-piece and
mature production for a boy of eighteen. Goethe, who first ignored it, heard it sung to him two
years before his death when, with tears in his eyes, he acknowledged it to be a masterpiece.
Jean Paul, the poet, begged a few moments before his death for a last hearing of this melody.
At this time, too, Schubert made several friendships which persisted until the end of his life.
Together with Spaun, there were Mayrhofer, a poet, Vogl, a singer, Schober and Hüttenbrenner,
two fervent admirers of Schubert`s music; these, calling themselves "Schubertians," formed an
intimate circle which, throughout the life of the composer, brought him encouragement, advice
and material assitance. They held frequent social evenings devoted to music and
entertainment— called "Schubertiaden"—which furnished Schubert the few moments of
contentment and happiness he knew in his life.
In 1818, Schubert received a position as music teacher to the family of Johann Esterhazy in his
estate at Zélesz, Hungary. The work was pleasant, the pupils agreeable, and the leisure
abundant. However, Schubert did not remain at the post longer than one summer. The following
winter, Schubert roomed with Mayrhofer, leading something of a Bohemian existence. The
mornings belonged to intense composition. "He would sit down at the table clad only in his shirt
and pants and compose the most beautiful things," recorded Spaun. In the afternoon, the two
friends—often supplemented by Spaun, Vogl and Schober— would go to the café-house for
Until this time, though Schubert had composed prolifically, his works had been completely
ignored by the music world. In 1820, however, two important performances of Schubert`s works
took place in Vienna. Through the efforts of Vogl, Schubert had received a commission from the
Kärthnerthor Theatre to compose an opera, Zwillingsbrüder. At the same time, the
Theatre-an-der-Wien engaged Schubert to prepare still another opera, Zauberharfe. It seemed
that, at last, Schubert`s star as a composer was rising. However, both productions were failures,
leaving Schubert as comfortably obscure as he had been before. Zwillingsbrüder, after being
bitterly reviewed, ran for only six nights. The Zauberharfe was not better received. One critic
found there "a want of technical arrangement" and that the "harmonic progressions were too
harsh; the instrumentation overlade; the choruses vapid and weak." Another critic felt that "the
work was deficient in real melody."
An effort was made by Schubert`s friends at this time to procure a publisher for some of his
greatest songs. One publisher after another, however, either found that the accompaniments were
too difficult or the composer too obscure. Finally, in 1821, Schubert`s friends decided to
publish some of these songs themselves. A hundred subscribers were found, and Schubert`s first
published work appeared. Following this publication, several other of Schubert`s songs reached
the presses. None of these publications, however, succeeded in alleviating Schubert`s
distressing poverty, his royalties from them amounting to only a few coins, hardly enough to
even buy a single meal!
These failures were followed by still other misfortunes. In 1822, Schubert composed an opera,
Alfonso und Estrella, the score of which he showed to Karl Maria von Weber.
Weber,—embittered by the fact that Schubert had at one time severely criticised his own
Euryanthe—said that "first operas and first puppies should always be drowned." After many
futile and heartbreaking attempts to procure a production for the opera, Schubert was forced to
discard his opera into his bulging trunk. In 1823, Schubert composed incidental music to a
drama by Wilhelmina von Chezy, Rosamunde, which was performed in Vienna the same year.
"Herr Schubert," wrote one critic, "shows originality in his compositions, but, unfortunately,
bizarrerie also. The young man is passing through a phase of development; we hope that he will
emerge from it successfully. At present he is too much applauded [sic!!!]; in the future may he
never complain of being too little recognised!"
These repeated failures plunged Schubert into an abysmal despondency. "Picture to yourself," he
wrote broken-heartedly to a friend at this time, "a man whose health can never be reestablished,
who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better; picture to yourself, I say, a man
whose most brilliant hopes have come to nothing, to whom proffered love and friendship are but
anguish, whose enthusiasm for the beautiful—an inspired feeling, at least—threatens to vanquish
entirely; and then ask yourself if such a condition does not represent a miserable and unhappy
man....Each night, when I go to sleep, I hope never again to waken, and every morning reopens
the wounds of yestreday."
In 1823, the Musikverein of Graz elected Franz Schubert an honourary member. This was no
great honour, nor did it carry with it any remuneration. But, to Schubert—starved as he was for
recognition—it brought considerable happiness. Overflowing with gratitude, Schubert decided
to compose a symphony in honour of the Musikverein.
The work that Schubert composed was the world-famous Unfinished Symphony, so called
because it comprises only two, instead of four, movements. Why Schubert never completed this
work (the third movement, as a matter of fact, is abruptly halted after a few measures) has been
a subject of much speculation. It is believed that, after the first two movements, Schubert was
completely unable to maintain the high plane of ineffable beauty upon which the symphony was
poised. Rather than permit the symphony to own two inferior movements, he preferred to keep it
an unfinished masterpiece.
The remaining years of Schubert`s life were not particularly eventful. There was continued and
uninterrupted creation, which neither despair nor futility could smother. There were occassional
excursions into the country; one particularly delightful holiday took place in 1825 when
Schubert tramped the Tyrols with Vogl. Most important, however, was Schubert`s visit to
Beethoven`s death-bed in 1827. Schubert worshipped Beethoven with an almost blind
adoration. When, therefore, he heard that the master had seen a few of his songs and had praised
them, he summoned courage and visited the sick-bed of the great composer, standing there in
silent veneration for several hours.
At Beethoven`s funeral, Schubert was one of the pall- bearers. When the ceremonies were over,
Schubert and his friends stepped into a nearby tavern to drink to the memory of a departed hero.
At that time, Schubert raised a toast to the one who would be first among them to follow
Beethoven to the grave. Then—as though in prophetic vision—Schubert begged his friends that,
should he die soon, they would bury him next to Beethoven.
During these last years of Schubert`s life, he composed some of his greatest works—the
Symphony in C-major, the Mass in E-flat, some of his most poignant songs included the
Wingerreise cycle. Until the end of his life, however, he remained a comparatively obscure and
unknown composer. Only one great honour came his way. On 26 March 1828 the Musikverein of
Vienna gave a public concert devoted entirely to Schubert`s music. The concert was
overwhelmingly successful—the first and only taste of fame which Schubert had in his lifetime.
In the Fall of 1828, Schubert revealed more and more startling symptoms of illness. The
physician recommended the country. Fortunately, his brother Ferdinand at that time had rented a
house in the Neue-Wieden suburb of Vienna, and offered to take care of the composer. With the
passing of a few weeks, Schubert`s illness developed acutely. His body was a broken shell;
before long, his physicians despaired completely of his recovery.
Schubert did not know that he was dying. He divided his time between correcting the proofs of
his Winterreise and making important plans for the future. He sensed that, as a composer, he had
technical deficiencies; he was making arrangements, therefore, to study fugue and counterpoint
under Sechter, court organist, when he recovered fully. He was making elaborate plans for his
future compositions, and for the first time he evinced a hope that his works would gain
On the night of November 16th, delirium set in. For three days, Franz Schubert lingered on
half-insane with pain. Finally, the evening before his death, Schubert—still unconcious—called
his brother Ferdinand to his side. "Ferdinand I entreat you to put me in my own room. Don't
leave me in this corner of the earth. Don't leave me here! Do I not deserve a place in the
sunlight?" Ferdinand attempted to calm Schubert. "You are in your own room, Franz'l," he said.
"But no!" Schubert answered hotly, "that cannot be true.....for Beethoven is not here!"
Late the next morning, Schubert once again called to his brother. "Ferdinand, am I lying next to
Beethoven?" he asked. Ferdinand assured him that he was. "Then, Ferdinand, I am so happy!"
Late that afternoon at 1500—the nineteenth of November of 1828—Franz Schubert
Two days later, Schubert was buried in the Währing cemetary, near Beethoven, has he had
requested. Franz Schober, Schubert's friend, read a poetical farewell:
"May peace at last be with you! Angel-pure soul!
In the full bloom of Youth,
The stroke of Death has seized you
And extinguished the pure light within you!"
Shortly after Schubert`s death a concert was held in his honour. With the proceeds from this
concert, a monument was erected in Schubert`s honour. This monument—with an inscription
from a poem of Franz Grillparzer reading, "Here lies buried a rich treasure, and yet more
glorious hopes"—still stands over Schubert`s grave.
Anself Hüttenbrenner, an intimate friend of Franz Schubert, has left us vivid word pictures of
the great composer. "Schubert was not of a very striking appearance. He was very short,
somewhat corpulent, with a full, round face. His brow had a very agreeable curve. Because of
his near-sightedness, he always wore eyeglasses which he never removed, not even while
sleeping. He never concerned himself with his dress, and he detested going into higher society
because it necessitated careful dressing. In general, he found it impossible to discard his soiled
frockcoat for a black suit..."
"His voice was weak, but very agreeable....When Schubert would sing his own Lieder, in the
company of musicians, he generally accompanied himself. When others sang them, he would
generally sit in a remote corner of the room, and listen quietly...."
"Schubert never composed in the afternoon. After dinner, he would go down to the café, drink a
cup of dark coffee, would smoke for several hours while reading papers. In the evening he
would go to the theatre. Good plays interested him as much as good opera."
Ordinarily, Schubert drank beer at the Chat noir, on Annastrasse, or at the Escargot at
Peter—and smoked considerably. But when we were more affluent we would drink
wine....Before a glass of wine, Schubert was most loquacious; his opinions on music were
pointed, brief and penetrating; he denounced with a strong feeling for justice. About his own
works, Schubert spoke rarely. His favourite conversation concerned itself with Michael Haydn,
Wolfgang Mozart, and Beethoven. He held the highest esteem of all for Mozart. Schubert was
enchanted by the operas of Mozart; but he could find little enthusiasm for Cherubini. The
favourite works of Schubert were: the Messiah of Händel, the Don Giovanni and Requiem of
Mozart, the Mass in C-major and Symphony in C-minor of Beethoven."
There remains but to add that Schubert was something of a practical jokester, frequently
delighting his friends by whistling his own songs through the teeth of a comb or by absurdly
burlesquing operatic mannerisms on the pianoforte; that he was fond of smoking his assortment
of pipes, and fonder still of dancing; that, though he was fond of women, his natural shyness and
self-conciousness made it impossible for him to associate with them freely; that his few
love-affairs were essentially of a schoolboyish nature; that his intellectual horizon was
considerably limited—he knew little of painting, literature, philosophy, or politics.
Schubert`s greatness as a composer rests principally upon his amazing lyrical gift. Whether he
composed a symphony, a string quartet, or a song, he filled his mould with an endless wealth of
beautiful ideas. He created beauty as freely as men breathe. Each of his thoughts possessed the
wings of lyricism. His melodic output seemed inexhaustible both in its endless variety of mood
and its copiousness.
Since lyricism was his greatest gift, Schubert`s genius found its aptest expression in the Lied,
which he brought to amazing development. "Simple in style and design, wonderfully direct and
sincere, conceived as idealizations of the beautiful and old German Volkslieder, and carried out
with all the artistic perfection and appropriateness of detail that good craftmanship could give,
they are among the few things in music that are absolutely achieved," wrote Daniel Gregory
Mason. "Especially remarkable is the art-concealing art by which Schubert, through some
perfectly simple and unobtrusive feature of rhythm, melody, or harmony, knows how to suggest
exactly the spirit and atmosphere of his text....In short, Schubert strikes at once...the exact tone
and style needed to transfigure the particular feeling with all the magic of music, and throughout
the song maintains the mood perfectly, with no mixture or clouding. And this, too, with the
greatest actual diversity of mood in the different songs, to which his art flexibly
responds....Schubert is often sublimely simple...; but somehow he is merely flat and obvious.
Indeed, writing as he did over six hundred songs in a score of years, not the most inspired of
men could have always avoided platitude. Thus we must set aside many melodramatic and many
trite compositions before we can get an unimpeded view of his real masterpieces. But after that
has been done, we have left about twenty or thirty songs of such incomparable loveliness as to
give him a secure place among the great masters of the musical lyric."
In considering Schubert`s instrumental music—his symphonies, his piano sonatas, ecc.—it
should be pointed out, as Philip Hale has done, that in them can be found the same "striking
characteristics of Schubert`s songs, spontaneity, haunting melody, a birthright mastery over
modulation, a singular good fortune in finding the one inevitable phrase for the prevailing
sentiment of the poem and in finding the fitting descriptive figure for salient detail."
"There is the spontaneous melody," wrote Philip Hale, "the simplicity praised by Walt
Whitman....To speak with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of the movements of animals and
the unimpeachedness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the
flawless triumph of art....Then there is the ineffable melancholy that is the dominating note.
There is a gayety such as was piped naively by William Blake in his Songs of Innocence; there
is the innocence that even Mozart hardly reached in his frank gayety; yet in the gayety and
innocence is a melancholy—despairing, as in certain songs of the Winterreise, when Schubert
smelled the mould and knew the earth was impatiently looking for him—a melancholy that is not
the titanic despair of Beethoven, not the whining or shrieking pessimism of certain German and
Russian composers; it is the melancholy of an autumnal sunset, of the ironical depression due to
a burgeoning noon in the spring, the melancholy that comes between the lips of lovers."
It is interesting to mention that many of Schubert`s masterpieces were, for many years, lying
neglected on dusty shelves in obscure attics. The Symphony in C Major 'Great', for example,
was found in a hidden corner by Robert Schumann who prevailed upon Ferdinand Schubert to
send the manuscript to Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig for its first performance. And
Rosammunde—along with forty songs—was discovered by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir George
Grove in an attic of a physician in Vienna