Father of Romanticism

Beginnings

Vienna, a place that became a musical Mecca, and ingrate graveyard for Mozart and Beethoven actually was the birthplace to Franz Peter Schubert in the Red Crab House (Zum Rothen Krebsen) Liechtental (technically a close suburb) on the last day of the beginning of 1797. He had eight out of nineteen siblings, whom he was thirteenth, surviving into adulthood from his schoolmaster father's wife who was a cook (like Beethoven's). His father taught Schubert violin at the age of eight, and the oldest brother, Ignaz taught him piano. Unlike another genius tutored by parents, Schubert was too precociously prodigious for them, and did not receive the stronger challenge from which his talents would have further benefited. He met every obstacle that his musical teacher specializing in choir, and piano, organ, violin, and theory, Michael Holzer, threw at him as well. He developed his singing virtuoso furthermore, as well as performing on violin at the parish-church of Lichtental.

Imperial Konvíkt

When he was eleven, the pudgy kid was misjudged as merely some lower middle class with his homemade coat while waiting in the examination queue at the Imperial Chapel's Choir School (Konvíct or, Convict). That misconception continued until they witnessed Antonio Salieri's calling and testing the boy's crystalline soprano vocalization. He soon afterwards was wearing the gold festooned uniform of the Royal Chapel Choristers, but the conditions were far from cushy. The rooms were mostly unheated, and they were not fed sufficiently; his family only could spare limited funds for the beleaguered youth. He did become involved with their orchestra led by a soon-to-become friend, and benefactor, Joseph von Spaun. This experience put him in touch with all the master's works, Mozart through G-minor Symphony brought literal visions of angel choirs; and to Beethoven he would undergo adoration to the point of spying on him during his mad romps in the fields. By 1810 he had proven the Director, Ruczisca and Salieri's adulation of his multifaceted talent correct by finishing a fantasia for four hands. By 1813, the year he left the Convict, he had composed a quintet-overture, seven string-quartets, vocal pieces, miscellaneous instrumentals and his first symphony. He had became so preoccupied with music and composing that he hardly cracked a book in writing, poetry, geography, history, Latin, French, Italian, and mathematics; but his compositions were being played along with the standard composers by the pupils of the Convict. The shows that they attended that included Weigl, Gluck, Cherubini and Boildieu operas, Beethoven's Fifth through Seventh Symphonies, but also his favorite, Mozart inspired him to write even more music.

 

I was put on earth to be a composer, so that I could create freely and without troubles.

 

On His Own

After leaving the Imperial School, he went to the Normal School of Saint Anna to get the preparation necessary to assist his father in the profession of teaching, which he did begrudgingly for a while, but the first chance that a friend, Franz von Schober (a poet of which he wrote music for fifty works of verse) gave him to come live in his house, he jumped at. He also stayed for a while with poet Mayerhofer, also for whose poems he wrote music. These and other friends must have helped support Schubert because through 1816 to 1818 it is a mystery to how Schubert made do.

Profile of the Prolific

But, even here in the school he was not indolent in creativity as he wrote four hundred various works during this three year period. He wrote his first Mass for the Parish Church where it debuted on Sunday October, 16, 1814 and was a family affair: Franz conducted, other brother Ferdinand played organ, a one time maybe fiancee, Terese Grob sang, and his old teacher, Holzer led the choir. With Salieri, who (along with Beethoven) admitted that Schubert was his student, present, his delighted father awarded Schubert with a five-octave piano. In 1815 he wrote a hundred and thirty-seven songs among which was the tremendous Erl-King (Erikönig) inspired after reading the poem by Goethe written spontaneously but its intricate harmonies not well received at his old school. It is ironic that Goethe did not reciprocate the appreciation until posthumous, and Antonio Salieri had previously advised Schubert (like himself) not to use his and Schiller's poems. During this time, ironically, Metternich imposed a harsh police state in reaction to the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, but this made the Bohemian friends that he made through his life all that much closer.

 

The Erl-King

Who rides so late throughout the night
and the wind?
It is the father with his child.
He holds the boy in his arm,
grasps him securely, keeps him warm.
"My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?"
"Father, do you not see the Erl-King?
The Erl-King with his crown and tail?"
"My son, it is only a streak of mist." ...

 

A lot of the operas written during this time were destroyed by a maid who used parts of the long set-aside manuscripts for warming-fuel in 1848. In 1816 he tried to obtain a directorship of a new school, the Normal Institute at Laybach, Trieste which would have provided ample wages, and thus the rest of his life was rather private. His quiet disposition was animated only when enthused, especially hanging around his favorite watering hole - taverns - a place where he wrote his famous Serenade on the back of the bill! Another one of his friends was Johann Michael Vogl one of the tenors at the Vienna Opera house who loved to sing and thus popularize Schubert's songs.

Hard Times and Competition

In 1817 Rossini came to Vienna like a superstar, and though Schubert joshed about that composer's popular brash and brassy Tancredi it caused a quality control check in Schubert's compositions that now relatively numbered less. This was compounded by the fact that he was bumped out of the Count Schobers' by a brother needing his room, and his survival for these years is a mystery.

Hungary

He finally got a position in 1818 to tutor music at the estate of Count Esterhazy Zelescz, Hungary, and after sharing in the families' many musical ventures, a little later he also was able to delve into his passion, composing. He is most known for his writing of songs, even though in letters Franz speaks of his privately playing to the Countess, more often in reality he could be found hanging out with the help. The short squat little long haired composer with his little oval glasses that Mods and Hippies would emulate a hundred and fifty years later had fingers too short to execute music that he had written; and he had an idealistic love for the Countess' youngest eleven year old daughter.

 

When I sang of love, it caused me suffering, when I sang of suffering, it turned into love.

 

 

Waltzing back to -- and Schmaltzing back in -- Vienna

Though he had some adventure and work accomplished, and money saved, Schubert missed the bright (oil) lights of Vienna, his stepmother, and his friends and by winter of 1819 he was spending that money with those friends at coffeehouses and Schobers'. There were special music evenings called 'Schubertiad' where he and or others would invent and re-do, écossaises, ländler, waltzes and gallops, and most of it never being recorded. In between rowdy times either being a "Tyrant" making their friend, Joe Hüttenbrenner his go-for, or initiating any newcomer to their group becoming "Kanevas," (Kann er was = 'What can he do?) the 'fatty' toad stool "Schwammerl," or called "Bertl," he found time to write marvelous works, as he admitted, in "genius and ... poverty...in my greatest distress". When a friend left a work of Shakespeare behind, he penciled music to the Hark, Hark, Hark! on the back of "l'addition." (Bill of fare). One of these taverns was the scene witnessed by his friend, Bauernfeld of his drunken indignant outburst ("...not you, worms and insects, who want solo pieces---but I will never write them for you...!") at some musician's request of his writing a part for them. Most of the time in spite of the partying, he was not so rude, or disorganized as his friend found him the next morning, all repentant of his previous night's impertinence. The good times he had with his friends have been exaggerated unfairly as being more lascivious than they really were. His friend Vogl introduced him to some of his royal connections and in return played many times playing delightful tunes and runs -- made up waltzes --on the piano for the dances.

---Sublime feriam sidera vertice---translate that!

Business Misadventures

In 1819 after putting up his own money to publish the Erikönig publicly, he succeeded on its sales to the Diabellis' backing, but he sold too low, where they sold high: one song, The Wanderer,out of the dozen sold for four hundred dollars, profited its buyers upon its sale for thirteen thousand dollars. He chose, to his father's chagrin, the freedom of playing and writing when he chose to the constrictions offered by the organist position at the Court Chapel. Like so many other greats, before and after, he too, wanted to write his masterful opera. Strangely, for such a renown songwriter, most were not received enthusiastically, if at all, one had to make it in the theaters to fully flourish. Alfonso and Estrella, his first from autumn of 1821, was especially brutalized by the operatic expert, Carl Maria von Weber. He was disdained by Schubert e.g. "...in Euryanthe little sentiment is to be found. When Weber was shown Schubert's manuscript, he initially dismissed it: "...puppies and first operas are drowned!" He finally helped have it performed at Dresden. Schubert's continued attempt in this genre, a long Fierabras only brought sickness following closely in the footsteps of despondency, and even in the hospital his art flowed with the beautiful chansons, die Schöne Müllerin. Fortunately in 1822 he wrote one of the most loved Symphonies, his No. 8 in B minor ('Unfinished'), and moving emotionally after Beethoven he waters those seeds of Romantic High artistic music to its fruition. The fact of whether the symphony is unfinished or not is a source of debate.

Hungarian Rhapsody

By the summer of 1824 he was back in the Hungarian mountains with his old royal (and paying) friends, the Esterhazys. His unrequited love for Caroline was most likely rekindled, but his health restored, socializing with the Baron Schönstein and writing love music for the Countess. Here he writes interpretations from Death and the Maiden (Der Tod und das Mädchen) with his String Quartet No. 14 in D minor and prophetically ponders those universal and heavy questions, and sometimes unexpected and unwanted answers.

I feel unhappy, the most wretched being on earth...

Torch Bearing

By 1825 he was having a very good summer with his friends: Bauernfeld went with him to hear Paganini play violin, he had nights at Bogner's Café, and spent scenic and musical times with Vogl. It was during this pleasant period that he wrote his ultra famous, Ave Maria as thanks to his success from the Walter Scott accompaniment, Ellens Song. Letters were left by his comrade Josef Schpaun, as well, praising Franz' "Never a day went by when he did not write several wonderful new songs, and his friends will never forget this entrancing time...". By the next year he was attending Salieri's funeral, and applying in vain for his Royal Chapel Vice-Kapellmeistership vacancy (as well as not making director of the Kärnthnerthor). He was asked to be a torch bearer at his idol's, Beethoven, funeral. Beethoven, who Schubert visited when deathly ill, actually looked at a portion, including variations on his scores, of Schubert's half a thousand works on his deathbed! The rest of that year and the next was more daytime and evening carousing at Gratz, but was inspired to write piano miniatures inspired from his singalongs, like eight Op. 90, and the next year wrote six Moments musciaux Op.94 , and Three Plays for Piano.

Last Days

During 1828 he composed a super lengthy Mass, his only oratorio, a wonderful chamber music score, several songs including Swan Song, and most importantly: Symphony No.9 (7) in C-major his last pinnacle of achievement. In March, on the exact day of Beethoven's passing, he gave his one, and only and last public concert. Most all of the hundred and fifty dollars earned went into his debtor's hands, and later he made another fifty-one floirins for a couple of other works. The saddest predicament of all came to Franz that summer, his ill health came back with a vengeance, and made him too weak and impoverished to get to his friends in the clean mountain air and instead he was stuck in the hot city pollution. By fall his attempts to incorporated Handelian counterpoint was curtailed by the increasing Typhoid fever. (Contrary to rumor, he did not die of Syphilis.) In the middle of November he lost his appetite, and bedridden, by the nineteenth he lost his spark of life. It was reported that he sang the saddest part of the Erlking just before he died. His request to be buried next to Beethoven was granted, and one can read on the monument: "Music had buried a rich treasure, but still fairer hopes." His last song, composed in October was printed a couple of days after his death.

It would take a generation to value Franz Schubert way above what meager belongings he left physically behind, but other discerning artists, like Schumann and Liszt who helped resurface suffocated genius, would know that Schubert was second only to Beethoven. Unfortunately much was lost of the eleven hundred pieces done in this master's short lifetime, but there is enough to go around and around.


Source: Famous Composers; Nathan H. Dole, Crowell; NY, 1925
History of Music; W.J. Baltzell, Presser, Philadelphia, 1908
The Sense of Music; Stephen Brown, Jovanovich, Orlando, 1982
Classical Masterpieces, (liner notes), 1999

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