Exactly 219 years ago to this day a baby was born to Franz and Elisabeth Schubert; they called him Franz, after his father. So, many birthday wishes sent your way, Mr. Schubert!
Today I’ll be posting about Franz Peter Schubert’s life, but even more importantly, I’ll be posting about his contributions to the musical world. I often find it very boring to read dry paragraph after dry paragraph about a person’s life. For this reason, I’m going to concentrate more on what Schubert has contributed to the world, and not his life. I encourage you to research Schubert yourself. There were many things that I left out… discover them! Enjoy the post!
Franz Peter Schubert was born to a poor but reasonably happy family. Little Franz, named after his father, was the 4th son of the Schubert family. From a very young age, he showed exceptional musical ability, and at age seven began official lessons on the violin and piano with his father and older brother. He soon outgrew his home teachers, however, and began study with the parish choir master and admiring teacher, Holtz, who once remarked, “Whenever I begin to teach him anything I find he he knows it already; I never had a student like that before.” By the time Schubert was 11, his voice had come out so well that he entered examinations in front of the Court Capellmeister and singing master; he passed the “test” with flying colors and was immediately handed a uniform of the imperial choristers. He played in the school orchestra, often taking the parts of 1st violinist or soloist, and was often asked to lead the orchestra when the conductor was absent.
One day, timid Franz mustered the courage to speak to the big conductor, Spaun, within the school. He remarked to Spaun that already he had composed a great deal and would like to do it every day if only he could afford more music paper. Spaun took pity on the lad and his plight, keeping him well stocked with music paper in the future.
(And now is when we start to see the contributions of Franz Schubert…)
By the time he was 14 Franz had fantastic comprehension of harmony and had composed chamber music plus multiple piano pieces. He was composing at such an unbelievable rate that it was hard for Spaun to keep him supplied with music paper. First was a fantasia of 12 movements and then an attempt at a song, also of 12 movements.
At the end of the year 1813 at age 17, Schubert left the school. He composed his 1st Symphony before he left, in honor of of his musical director, Dr. Lang. Schubert was ready to face the world, full of ambition and musical excitement. Then, he was was given a dreadful blow. He was given a choice, be drafted into the army or teach at your father’s school. Schubert, struck, chose the school teaching, knowing that this may allow him a small amount of time for composing.
In 1814 Schubert composed his 1st mass; it was performed by Franz and his friends in the Augustine church. He also composed 17 songs that included “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel.” Schubert soon found that song writing was his specialty; his new friend poet Johann Mayrhofer wrote poems which Schubert then set to music. Earning him the title as said by Liszt, “the most poetical composer who ever lived.”
The next year, 1815, he wrote 137 songs! Plus, 6 operas and much music for the church. In August alone 29 of the songs were written, many exceeding 20 pages in length.
In 1816, an important and lifelong friend of Schubert’s entered his life, Franz Schober. Upon Schober’s arrival in Vienna he immediately found Schubert, being familiar with some of his works, and being musically inclined himself. Schubert and Schober very soon discovered that they were “kindred spirits.” Schober felt sorry for Schubert (still stuck as schoolteacher at his father’s school) and suggested that the two friends make a home together. Schubert, delighted by the proposition of being free from teaching at last, accepted. Unfortunately, the arrangement lasted only 6 months before the brother of Schober took Schubert’s place. Now, Schubert was homeless and without food or money. Even though he hated teaching he accepted a position as music teacher to the the family of Count Johann Esterházy. This meant he was to spend winters in Vienna and summers in the family’s home in Zelész. The summers in Zelész offered great musical inspiration; he often heard Hungarian tunes played by the servants in the castle. His first set of Valses reflected his time spent there.
The rest of Schubert’s life was a flurry of composition. It was as if he was obsessed with some spell, melodies were coming to him in great numbers. He would write down his melodies on anything (a bill of sale, a scrap of paper) and anywhere (a beer garden, a bar) – it didn’t matter. This was how the famed song Standchen came about. Schubert had gone to dinner with his friends and one of them read from a book of poetry. Schubert, upon hearing the poem, wrote down the melody line on a bill of sale. Now it is probably the most famed of his songs.
Schubert almost worshiped the great composer Beethoven, but he was so shy that upon passing him in the street he was too dumbstruck to speak to him. He did however, write a variation on a French air and dedicated it to Beethoven. He was though, too shy to present it to the great composer by himself and went along with the publisher, Diabelli. Beethoven, totally deaf, pushed paper and pen toward Franz but he was too nervous to write a word. Beethoven glanced through the music, pointing at something he didn’t approve of, Schubert’s nerves at this point broke and he fled the house. 5 years later however a collection of 60 of Schubert’s songs was placed in Beethoven’s hands. “Truly Schubert has the divine power, ” he exclaimed! Weeks later the famed man died and Schubert was asked to be a torch bearer at his funeral, not knowing that he would soon be placed in the ground with him.
The last year of Schubert’s life produced some of his finest works, including the Quintet in C major, German dances, and piano Sonatas. But his health was not good, he worked himself to the grave, some would say. Sleep was almost none for him. Some claimed he slept with his glasses on so he could start work as soon as he waked. There was no hope; Schubert died peacefully on the 19th of November, 1828. He was given has final wish, to be buried beside Beethoven in Währinger Cemetery. The monument, erected by friends the following year reads, “Music has here entombed a rich treasure, but much fairer hopes.”
Date of Birth: January 31st, 1797
Date of Death: November 19th, 1828
Place of Birth: Suburb of Vienna, Austria
Place of Death: Apartment of Brother Ferdinand in Vienna
Number of Compositions: Close to 1,500 Items
~ 600 Lieder for Solo Voice and Piano
~ Nearly 600 pieces for Piano
~ 150 Part Songs
~ 40 Liturgical Compositions
~ 20 Stage Works
~ 12 symphonies (7 completed)
~ Several Overtures, Quintets, Trios and Duos
~ 20 string quartets
~ For a complete catalog of his works visit this link.
Click here to watch Schubert’s Quintet in C minor D8.
Click here to watch Schubert’s Serenade Standchen transcribed for violin and piano
Click here to watch Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony.
Click here to watch Schubert’s Ave Maria, sung by Renèe Fleming.
Click here to watch Schubert’s Erlkönig (Erlking).
Click here to watch a collection of Schubert’s best pieces.
~ Cameron S.