Composers

Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert
31.01.1797 - 19.11.1828
Country:Austria
Period:Romantique

Biography

The birthplace of the famous Austrian composer Peter Schubert is Vienna. The date of his birth is January 31, 1797. Originated from a family of the parish schoolmaster Franz Theodor Schubert and a daughter of the Silesian locksmith Elizabeth Vietzhe he was one of five children who survived infancy. Franz Theodor had in general fourteen children (the child born in 1783 was illegitimate), but nine of them died being only infants. Schubert’s mother had worked as a housemaid for a well-to-do Viennese family before she married Franz Theodor, who was a respected teacher of a well attended Lichtental school, and enjoyed a solid reputation. Franz Theodor was not a talented musician, but he gave his son a lot of useful knowledge and essential basics.

Five year old Schubert began receiving instructions on regular basis and one year later enrolled on Himmelpfortgrund school run by his father. He also started taking music lessons around this time. His father was keen on giving him violin lessons, and Schubert’s brother Ignaz helped him to master the piano. Michael Holzer, a church choirmaster and organist gave Schubert lessons when the boy was seven years old. Holzer’s expression of admiration and conversations didn’t seem to have much influence on young Schubert, he profited more from the acquaintance with an apprentice of a joiner who would often accompany him to a local pianoforte warehouse, which was well supplied with good musical instruments and gave an excellent opportunity for the boy to practice. Together with his brothers Ignaz and Ferdinant, Franz participated in a family quartet as a viola player, and their father played on the violoncello. Later Schubert would write many string quartets especially for this family band.

Schubert had also an exceptional vocal talent and he was recognized by a Vienna musical authority Antonio Salieri, in 1804. In October 1808, Schubert was accepted to the choir of the Imperial seminary (Stadtkonvikt) as a pupil. There he came to know symphonies and overtures of Mozart. The boy’s infatuation to these masterpieces and other lighter compositions, in addition to his acquaintance with opera became the basis of his great musical knowledge. An important song composer Johann Zumsteeg had also had great influence upon Franz Schubert, and according to Schubert’s friend Joseph von Spaun, Schubert was eager to modernize his Lieder (songs). Schubert and Spaun remained friends till the rest of his life. In those days, Spaun who was richer that impoverished Schubert supplied his friend with necessary manuscript paper.

Schubert’s compositions of this time reveal his extraordinary genius. In this period Salieri himself started a private training in musical theory and composition with Franz Shubert, and Schubert was sometimes allowed to lead the orchestra of the educational establishment. The Stadtkonvikt's amateur orchestra performed many of later Schubert’s compositions. The reminder of his time spend at Stadtkonvikt was devoted to his work at chamber music, as well as songs, several pianoforte pieces, and more ambitious attempts: Salve Regina(D. 27) and a Kyrie (D. 31), wind instruments octet written in commemoration of his mother who died in 1812, the cantata for mail voices and guitar in favorem of his father, and the symphony (D. 82).

In late 1813 Schubert returned home to be trained as a teacher at the Normalhauptschule. A year later he became a teacher for the youngest students at his native school. For more than two years Schubert had a distressful work which he endured with indifferent success. Still, there were other more interesting activities in his life, which compensated his malaise. Salieri continued to give him abundant private lessons, and contributed to Schubert’s knowledge of music and composition more, that any other teacher the young man had ever had. Only in 1817 the ways of Schubert and Salieri would part.

In 1814 he met Therese Grob, a young soprano girl and a daughter of the local silk producer. Schubert devoted her several songs (Tantum Ergo and Salve Regina) that passed to her voice, and Therese also participated in performance of Schubert’s first Mass in 1814. The musicologist Rita Steblin while investigating the facts from Schubert’s life found Schubert's brother marriage petition in the attic of the church in Lichtental. According to Rita Steblin, Schubert wished to marry Therese, but could not do it because of the harsh laws of 1815, requiring from people who wanted to get married finances for the maintenance of the family. In autumn 1816, after the failure to gain a post at Laibach, the man forwarded to Therese a set of songs (this collection remains with her family until 20th century). Maynard Solomon is one of the scholars, who believed that Franz Schubert was attracted not only to women, but to men as well. And this thesis has occasionally been heatedly discussed and debated.

In 1815 Schubert wrote over 20,000 pieces of music, among which there were compositions for orchestra, church works, one symphony, and 140 Lieder. In 1815 his most prolific period, Schubert also got acquainted with Franz von Schober and Anselm Hüttenbrenner, with whom he had friendly relations till the rest of his life. In 1814 Spaun had also introduced him to Johann Mayrhofer, who was also to become Schubert’s lifelong friend.

In 1816 the fortune favored Franz Schubert as he was invited to lodge with a student of means Schubert at the house which belonged to Schubert’s mother. This proposal was especially fortunate, taking into account Schubert’s unsuccessful attempt to apply for a position of a Kapellmeister in Laibach, and his wish to abandon his duties as a teacher at school. At the end of that year Schubert moved into Schubert’s house where he lodged as a guest for some time. There was time when he decided to resume his teaching practice and give music lessons, but the idea was soon abandoned. After that the man devoted himself completely to composition, working every morning, starting a new piece as soon as the previous was finished. During this time, he concentrated mainly on choral and orchestral works, but he also wrote several Lieder. Not all of his works were published, but copies and manuscripts were favored by his admirers and friends.

At the beginning of 1817, Schubert got acquainted with an outstanding baritone Johann Michael Vogl, who was 20 years senior that Schubert. Schubert wrote many songs for Vogl, who became one of the most grateful Schubert’s friends and ardent proponents in musical cycles of Vienna. Anselm Hüttenbrenner’s brother Joseph Hüttenbrenner also played an important role in popularization of Schubert’s music. The increasing circle of musicians and close friends were later responsible for collecting, promoting, and after Schubert’s death, preserving the composer’s priceless works.

At the end of 1817, moved after his father, who gained a post at Rossau school (situated near Lichtental), and gratefully took up his teaching duties. In 1818 Schubert failed to become a member of Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, a very prestigious establishment that could have offered many prospects for his career. Nevertheless he became the press’s favorite after the premiere of his secular work, the overture staged in 1818, received much praise from Viennese and foreign press.

Schubert worked as a music teacher to Count Johann Karl Eszterházy and his family at the mansion in Zseliz, during summer months in 1818. Among his duties were singing and teaching piano for two sisters Marie and Karoline. These duties were not very hard and the remuneration was pretty good. In the long run, Schubert happily continued his work on composition. After his return from Hungary he resided with his close friend Mayrhofer. Schubert also continued the chain of compositions for a piano duet.

In 1820 Schubert and a tight circle of his friends was given an unexpected severe blow. Schubert together with four other young men was put under arrest by Austrian policemen, who were very suspicious of any student gatherings. Johann Senn, one of his friends was put in prison for one year and then permanently forbidden to return to Vienna. Schubert himself was "severely reprimanded" for insult and use of “opprobrious language". The other four were accused of the same things as Schubert. The composer never saw his friend Senn again, but he put Senn’s poems "Schwanengesang" and "Selige Welt" to music. This incident might have influenced somehow Schubert’s relation to his co-resident Mayrhofer with whom he had fallen out.

Schubert’s compositions of the period between 1819 and 1820 demonstrate his maturity as a composer and marked advance in his style. In February he began the oratorio "Lazarus", followed by the 23rd Psalm the Quartettsatz in C minor, the Gesang der Geister, a composition for piano the "Wanderer Fantasy", as well as numerous other smaller works. In 1820 two of his operas Die Zwillingsbrüder (D. 647) and Die Zauberharfe (D. 644), were staged at different theatres. The former was munted at the Theater am Kärntnertor, while the latter at another Theater an der Wien. Thus, his more grandiose works (apart from the masses) had since been unavailable to the performers of Gundelhof amateur orchestra, and so with his compositions he addressed a wider audience. Publishers, however, did not exult at the opportunity to publish Schubert’s works, with the exception of Anton Diabelli who hesitantly agreed to publish a number of compositions on commission. The first works appeared on the same terms; after the cease of the commission he received some meager pittances from publishing houses. His state of affairs improved in March 1821 after Vogl’s performance of "Der Erlkönig" which was very well received by the audience. In March he (in addition to 50 other composers) wrote a variation of Anton Diabelli’s waltz as a contribution to the Vaterländischer Künstlerverein.

On production of two of his operas, Schubert turned his more precise attention to the stage where he had primarily been unsuccessful. Because of libretto, Alfonso und Estrella was refused in 1822. Fierrabras (D. 796) was declined in autumn of 1823; it happened largely because of the popularity of the Italian opera style, and namely that of Rossini, as well as fiasco of Euryanthe by Carl Maria von Weber. Owing to its title, Die Verschworenen (D. 787) received a bad welcome by the censor, and Schubert’s Rosamunde was recalled after two performances because of the incidental music and the play’s overall pitiful quality. The two of these compositions are exceedingly difficult to perform due to their scale (Fierrabras, for example, contains about 1000 sheets of manuscript score), Die Verschworenen in turn is an exceptionally bright comedy, and his Rosamunde is renowned for musical pieces that rate among the best and most charming Schubert ever created. In 1822 Schubert came to know Beethoven and Weber, but the composer did not gain much in either case. Ludwig von Beethoven heartily acknowledged Schubert’s genius on various occasions, saying that a divine genius rests in Franz Schubert.

In 1823 Franz Schubert created his first cycle of songs, called Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795), following the example of Fierrabras. This song cycle was based on Wilhelm Müller’s poems. This work, in addition to the later "Winterreise" song cycle (written in 1827, it was also based on Müller’s texts) is universally regarded as the milestones of Lieder composition. This year he also wrote Du bist die Ruh, the conventional translation for this song is "You are peace/ stillness". That year he also experienced first symptoms of syphilis.

The Octet in F, "A Sketch for a Grand Symphony" was written in spring 1824; and in summer he returned to Zseliz. Schubert came to like Hungarian musical idioms, and created the Divertissement à l'Hongroise and some other works.

Schubert has been rumored to hold an unreciprocated passion for one of his pupils, the Countess Eszterházy, but the composer made her a heroine of only one of his works Fantasie in F minor written for piano. Schubert’s friend Bauernfeld even penned a verse dedicated to composer’s unrequited sentiments. In it Bauernfeld would call his friend affectionate pother, and his love to a Countess – a desperate case.

Despite the official duties and his preoccupancy with stage affairs, he devoted much time to composition, and became one of the most prolific composers of the time. He finished the Mass in A flat, in 1824 he composed Trockne Blumen, which belonged to the cycle Die schöne Müllerin, as well as some string quartets. In the period of a general craze over the instrument, Schubert created the Arpeggione Sonata. In 1822 he started the so-called "Unfinished Symphony", but never brought it to an end. Why it actually remained unfinished is still not known, but the possible reasons have endlessly been debated.

The misfortunes of later years were duly compensated by the happiness and prosperity of 1825. He was welcomed by publishing houses which eagerly published Schubert’s compositions and contributed to his well-being. The fear of poverty was lightened; and he enjoyed his summer holidays in Austria, where he was cordially welcomed. During the tour he created the "Songs from Sir Walter Scott". The cycle comprises Ellens dritter Gesang, which was conventionally, though mistakenly, considered as Ave Maria von Schubert. And it was a translation of the anthem The Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott. It begins with the salutation Ave Maria, which is repeated in refrains; the whole Scott’s text in Schubert's Lied has often been replaced by the traditional Latin prayer Ave Maria. In 1825 he also composed the Sonata in A minor for the piano, and started the (“Great”) Symphony No. 9 in C major, that was finished next year.

Schubert’s life between 1826 and 1828 passed primarily in Vienna, but for his brief journey to Graz, which happened in 1827. These years were relatively uneventful, and are no more than the record of Schubert’s compositions. The symphony of 1826, written in honor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde was reciprocated by an honorarium from the members of this society. In 1828 Schubert gave his first and unique public concert, where his compositions were performed. This concert was very warmly received by music admirers, but it would remain the only public concert in Schubert’s career. His works themselves are an exceptional and sufficient biography. The G major String Quartet, called "Rondeau brilliant", written for violin and piano, as well as the Sonata in G written for piano and first published under the name "Fantasia in G", both succeeded the D minor String Quartet, significant with the variations on the Death and the Maiden, written in the period between 1825 and 1826. Schubert is alleged to write two Shakespearian songs "Hark! Hark! the Lark" and "An Silvia" on the same day. The former was written at a tavern while his afternoons break, while the latter was written in comfortable surroundings of his lodgings on return from the walk in the evening.

In 1827 the composer wrote the famous Lieder cycle Winterreise, which became a remarkable milestone in the history of art song, and was highly praised at the Schubertiades, the Fantasia written for violin and piano in C, the Impromptus written for piano, piano trios; the Song of Miriam (Mirjams Siegesgesang) based on Franz Grillparzer’s text dated 1828, the Mass composed in E-flat, Tantum Ergo in E-flat, the String Quintet, the Benedictus as a part of the Mass in C, several piano sonatas, in addition to song collection entitled Swan-song (Schwanengesang).

The collection, in spite of the fact that it is not a true song cycle, is characterized by a stylistic unity and integrity, if to compare with other individual songs, penetrating into the supernatural and unwonted depths. The Symphony No. 9 was written in 1828, but musicologists believe that it was largely composed in the period between 1825 and 1826, the symphony was then revised for performance two years later. This was an unusual experience for the composer, for whom the performance, as well as publication of his works, was seldom contemplated for his numerous large-scale compositions during Schubert’s lifetime. The last days of the composer’s life were spent by making sketches for the new Symphony in D.

The composer’s works of the last years display his meditating nature that rests on the obscure side of human relationships and human psyche, and with some more profound sense of spiritual understanding and understanding of the ‘beyond’, aiming at extraordinary depths of existence in several dark songs, the trend more evidently seen in his large cycles. For instance, Der Doppelgänger reaches the climax of intensity and tension, rendering madness at realization of the imminent death and prior rejection, and still capable of touching communion and repose via infinite in the timeless abyss and tunes of the String Quintet. The composer expressed his wish to survive the final illnesses and further the development of his understanding of counterpoint and harmony.

Schubert’s health deteriorated when he was in the midst of his creative activity. The syphilis he contracted in 1822 began to work on Schubert and soon took its tall. He might have died of typhoid fever, although many other reasons have been introduced since his death. He might have died of mercury poisoning (some of the symptoms match the symptoms experienced in this case), which was a popular treatment against the disease in Schubert’s time. In his illness Schubert found consolation in reading, reading primarily the adventurous works of the American writer James Fenimore Cooper. Franz Schubert died in November 19, 1828 at his brother’s apartment in Vienna. Schubert was 31 years old. His last wish was to be buried in Währing in the cemetery, next to Ludwig van Beethoven, whom the composer loved and admired all his life.

In 1925 Währing cemetery was demolished and made a park, which carries Schubert’s name, and the composer’s gravesite was marked by the bust. One more memorial dedicated to Schubert was erected in the Stadtpark of Vienna in 1872. In 1888, both Beethoven's and Schubert's graves were replaced to the main city graveyard (Zentralfriedhof), and they can be found near the graves of other famous composers Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss II.

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