Composer (1797- 1828)
Franz Schubert was born into a musical family in Vienna in 1797. His father played the violoncello his brother Ignaz the piano and Ferdinand the violin. At a very young age his father taught him to play the violin and Ignaz taught him to play the piano. In a very short time his talent was discovered. His family, as a result, on realizing his capabilities, did everything they could with their small income to obtain a good education for the boy. He was sent to the Seminary for choristers when he was eleven but there he frequently suffered from hunger and cold and was not altogether very happy about this situation. However, when he became acclimatized to his new surroundings his attitude changed and he became completely absorbed in his musical studies, finding therein endless fascination and adventure. He also made some intimate friendships, particularly one with Josef von Spaun, who had formed a students' orchestra of which Schubert became part and who remained an intimate friend of the composer's for the remainder of his life. He also met Antonio Salieri on whom he made a great impression.
In 1812, Schubert's mother died and it was in this year, during the main school holiday, that a family string quartet was formed, with the composer playing the viola, his brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand the violins and his father the cello. For this family quartet the early string quartets of 1811 to 1814 were composed. Other compositions which date with certainty from his early years as a composer are the Fantasie in G for piano duet (1810), the Six Minuets for wind instruments (1811) and the song Hagars Klage (1811).
The compositions of 1813 are numerous and their variety indicates the wealth of his musical experience. Salieri's tutelage is apparent in the many vocal canons, which are primarily contrapuntal exercises, and in the varied settings of verses by Metastasio. Songs of the year include settings of Schiller, Hölty and Matthisson, and a translation by Herder of Pope's Vital Spark of Heavenly Flame (Verklärung). There are German Dances for strings and six string quartets. The finest of these, in E flat, with a finale of true Schubertian quality, was published in 1840 as op. 125 no. 1.
Schubert remained in the seminary until 1813 and then went on to study for a year to be a teacher like his father. The latter did not include musicianship in his list of suitable professions, and Franz was prevented from becoming a child prodigy pianist-composer like Mozart. Although he continued to take lessons with Salieri until the end of 1816, his musical tuition was finished. In 1814 Schubert's Mass in F was performed for the centenary celebrations of the Liechtental Church in the church itself. Schubert conducted the orchestra for the performance. Ten days later the mass was repeated in the court church of St Augustine and both performances brought the young composer a welcome public acclaim. Following these successful Masses, Schubert set the verses which are now known as Gretchen am Spinnrade, after having read Goethe's Faust. It was his first masterpiece.
As a schoolmaster, the composer still found time to put down on paper the music which, throughout that time, echoed ceaselessly in his mind. 1815 was the year where the most volume of work was produced by the composer. He completed his Second Symphony in B flat and also his Third Symphony in D. Other works included numerous dances for piano solo, two sonatas, a set of ten variations on an original theme in F, and a short string quartet in G minor. During this year Schubert set four dramatic texts to music: Der vierjährige Posten, Fernando, Claudine von Villa Bella and Die Freunde von Salamanka. He also composed 145 songs in the same year, the most important of these being Erlkönig.
During the autumn of 1815 Schubert met Franz von Schober who was in Vienna to study law. He was a very cultured young man and was the same age as Schubert. The former came looking for the composer as he had heard some of his work and had liked it. He urged Schubert to devote himself to composition and leave the world of teaching so the composer applied for the post of music master in a training school for elementary teachers in Ljubljana. His request was unsuccessful. In May 1816 von Spaun and his friend Josef Witteczek took lodgings together and the house became the scene of many evening concerts devoted to the music of Schubert. The evenings came to be known as Schubertiade. Schober finally succeeded in getting the composer to leave his teaching position and the latter went to live in the house of Schober's affluent mother on a temporary basis in 1816. In that year Schubert composed his Mass in C, his three sonatas for violin and piano and the String Quartet in E. Songs, which amounted to over one hundred, include Der Wanderer which became extremely popular. Schober introduced Franz to Johann Michael Vogl, the operatic baritone and the two of them began performing together in various drawing rooms.
In 1818 the composer received a position as music teacher to the family of Johann Esterhazy in Hungary. Although his work and his pupils were agreeable and his leisure time was abundant, he remained in this post for only one summer, returning to Vienna to live with his friend Mayrhofer and to continue his life as a composer. In the year 1820, through the efforts of the baritone Vogl, Schubert 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 another opera, Zauberharfe. Unfortunately both productions were failures, and Schubert was back where he started. His friends decided to procure a publisher for the composer's best music but not one was interested for one reason or another. Finally his friends decided to publish some of his works themselves in 1821. Although a lot of his work was published, not one of them succeeded in alleviating the composer's distressing poverty. This was followed by rejection of his opera Alfonso und Estrella. These set backs led to a period of desperation which was only softened when the Musikverein of Graz elected him an honorary member. Although this was not a great honour and did not carry with it any remuneration, it brought the composer considerable happiness as it was a form of recognition for his talent. He decided to compose a symphony in honour of the Musikverein and this turned out to be his Unfinished Symphony, which consists of only two and not four movements. Apparently, the composer was unable to maintain the high plane of overwhelming beauty upon which the symphony was poised so, rather than compose two inferior movements to the first two, he decided to leave it unfinished.
Schubert was a great fan of the composer Beethoven and went to visit him on his deathbed after learning that the latter had expressed appreciation for some of Schubert's work. Schubert expressed a wish to his friends that, if he were to die soon, then he would like to be buried beside Beethoven.
During Schubert's last few years he composed some of his finest work, such as the Symphony in C Major, the Mass in E-flat, and some emotional songs which included the Winterreise cycle. On March 26th, 1828 the Musikverein of Vienna gave a public concert devoted entirely to Schubert's music. It was an amazing success and turned out to be the one and only taste of fame that the composer experienced in his life.
In the autumn of 1828, the composer showed grave signs of illness and the doctors recommended a visit to the country. Consequently, he went to stay with his brother Ferdinand who had rented a house in Neue-Wieden, a suburb of Vienna. His brother took it upon himself to look after Franz during his illness. As the weeks went on the composer's illness developed acutely and although his death was imminent he was not aware of it. He continued to work and began making plans for his future when his health got better. He wanted to improve his skills as a composer and was arranging, therefore, to study fugue and counterpoint under Sechter, an important court organist. He was optimistic about his work being successful in the future until the night of November 16th when delirium set in. On November 19th the great composer died and a few days later he was buried, as requested, in the Währing cemetery, near Beethoven. A concert was held a short time later in honour of Schubert and the proceeds were used to purchase a monument for his grave. The monument still stands today and its inscription is from a poem by Franz Grillparzer; "Here lies buried a rich treasure, and yet more glorious hopes".