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Franz Peter Schubert (1797 – 1828)

 B i o g r a p h y

Franz Peter Schubert (January 31, 1797 – November 19, 1828) was an Austrian composer. He wrote some 600 lieder, nine symphonies (including the famous "Unfinished Symphony"), liturgical music, operas, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. He is particularly noted for his original melodic and harmonic writing.

While Schubert had a close circle of friends and associates who admired his work (including his teacher Antonio Salieri, and the prominent singer Johann Michael Vogl), wider appreciation of his music during his lifetime was limited at best. He was never able to secure adequate permanent employment, and for most of his career he relied on the support of friends and family. Interest in Schubert's work increased dramatically in the decades following his death.

In 1823 appeared Schubert's first song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (D.795), after poems by Wilhelm Müller. This work, together with the later cycle "Winterreise" (D.911; also written to texts of Müller) is widely considered one of the pinnacles of Lieder. The song Du bist die Ruh ("You are stillness/peace") D.776 was also composed during this year.

In the spring of 1824 he wrote the Octet in F (D.803), "A Sketch for a Grand Symphony"; and in the summer went back to Želiezovce, when he became attracted by Hungarian idiom, and wrote the Divertissement a l'Hongroise (D.818) and the String Quartet in A minor (D.804). It has been said that he held a hopeless passion for his pupil Countess Karoline Eszterházy; if this is the case, the details are unknown to historians.

Despite his preoccupation with the stage and later with his official duties, he found time during these years for a good deal of miscellaneous composition. The Mass in A flat (D.678) was completed and the "Unfinished Symphony" (Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D.759) begun in 1822. The question of why the symphony was "unfinished" has been debated endlessly and is still unresolved. To 1824, beside the works mentioned above, belong the variations for flute and piano on Trockne Blumen, from the cycle Die schöne Müllerin. There is also a sonata for piano and arpeggione (D.821). This music is nowadays usually played by either cello or viola and piano, although a number of other arrangements have been made.

The mishaps of the recent years were compensated by the prosperity and happiness of 1825. Publication had been moving more rapidly; the stress of poverty was for a time lightened; in the summer there was a pleasant holiday in Upper Austria, where Schubert was welcomed with enthusiasm. It was during this tour that he produced his "Songs from Sir Walter Scott". This cycle contains his famous and beloved Ellens dritter Gesang (D.839). This is today more popularly, though mistakenly, referred to as "Schubert's Ave Maria"; while he had set it to Adam Storck's German translation of Scott's hymn from The Lady of the Lake that happens to open with the greeting Ave Maria and also has it for its refrain, subsequently the entire Scott/Storck text in Schubert's song came to be substituted with the complete Latin text of the traditional Ave Maria prayer; and it is in this adaptation that this song of Schubert's is commonly sung today. During this time he also wrote the Piano Sonata in A minor (D.845, Op. 42) and the Symphony No. 9 (in C major, D.944), which is believed to have been completed the following year, in 1826.

From 1826 to 1828 Schubert resided continuously in Vienna, except for a brief visit to Graz in 1827. The history of his life during these three years is little more than a record of his compositions. The only events worth notice are that in 1826 he dedicated a symphony to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and received an honorarium in return. In the spring of 1828 he gave, for the first and only time in his career, a public concert of his own works which was very well received. But the compositions themselves are a sufficient biography. The String Quartet in D minor (D.810), with the variations on Death and the Maiden, was written during the winter of 1825-1826, and first played on January 25, 1826. Later in the year came the String Quartet in G major, the "Rondeau brilliant" for piano and violin (D.895, Op.70), and the Piano Sonata in G (D.894, Op.78) (first published under the title "Fantasia in G"). To these should be added the three Shakespearian songs, of which "Hark! Hark! the Lark" (D.889) and "Who is Sylvia?" (D.891) were allegedly written on the same day, the former at a tavern where he broke his afternoon's walk, the latter on his return to his lodging in the evening.

In 1827 Schubert wrote the song cycle Winterreise (D.911), a colossal peak of the art of art-song (remarkable is already the way it was presented at the Schubertiades), the Fantasia for piano and violin in C (D.934), and the two piano trios (B flat, D.898; and E flat, D.929): in 1828 the Song of Miriam, the Mass in E-flat (D.950), the Tantum Ergo (D.962) in the same key, the String Quintet in C (D.956), the second Benedictus to the Mass in C, the last three piano sonatas, and the collection of songs published posthumously under the fanciful name of Schwanengesang ("Swan-song", D.957), which whilst not a true song cycle, retains a unity of style amongst the individual songs, touching unwonted depths of tragedy and the morbidly supernatural. Six of these are to words by Heinrich Heine, whose Buch der Lieder appeared in the autumn. The Symphony No. 9 (D.944) is dated 1828, and many modern Schubert scholars (including Brian Newbould) believe that this symphony, written in 1825-6, was revised for performance in 1828 (a fairly unusual practice for Schubert, for whom publication, let alone performance, was rarely contemplated for many of his larger-scale works during his lifetime). In the last weeks of his life he began to sketch three movements for a new Symphony in D (D.936A).

The works of his last two years reveal a composer increasingly meditating on the darker side of the human psyche and human relationships, and with a deeper sense of spiritual awareness and conception of the 'beyond', reaching extraordinary depths in several chillingly dark songs of this period, especially in the larger cycles, (the song Der Doppelgaenger reaching an extraordinary climax, conveying madness at the realization of rejection and imminent death, and yet able to touch repose and communion with the infinite in the almost timeless ebb and flow of the String Quintet). Schubert expressed the wish, were he to survive his final illness, to further develop his knowledge of harmony and counterpoint.

In the midst of this creative activity, his health deteriorated. He had battled syphilis since 1822. The final illness may have been typhoid fever, though other causes have been proposed; some of his final symptoms match those of mercury poisoning (mercury was a common treatment for syphilis in the early 19th century). At any rate, insufficient evidence remains to make a definitive diagnosis. His solace in his final illness was reading, and he had become a passionate fan of the writings of James Fenimore Cooper. He died aged 31 on Wednesday November 19, 1828 at the apartment of his brother Ferdinand in Vienna. At 3 p.m. "someone observed that he had ceased to breathe." By his own request, he was buried next to Beethoven, whom he had adored all his life, in the village cemetery of Währing. In 1888, both Schubert's and Beethoven's graves were moved to the Zentralfriedhof, where they can now be found next to those of Johann Strauss II and Johannes Brahms.

In 1872, a memorial to Franz Schubert was erected in Vienna's Stadtpark.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Homepage: www.schubertline.co.uk

 A l b u m s

Forellenquintett / Der Tod und das Mädchen (Decca Classics, 1964)
Symphonien Nr. 8 & 9 (Deutsche Grammophone, 1966)
Sterichquartett / Quartettsatz (Deutsche Grammophone, 1975)
6 Moment Musicaux / Allegretto D 915 / 2 Scherzi D 593 / 12 Walzer D 969 (Deutsche Grammophone, 1978)
Winterreise D 911 (Deutsche Grammophone, 1980)
Sonatas for Violin & Piano op. 137 n.1, 2, 3 & D. 574 (Opus Production, Paris, 1995)