Franz Peter Schubert


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Related to Franz Peter Schubert: Franz Liszt, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms

Schubert, Franz Peter

 

Born Jan. 31, 1797, in Lichtenthal, near Vienna; died Nov. 19,1828, in Vienna. Austrian composer.

The son of a schoolmaster, Schubert began his musical education by studying violin with his father, piano with his elder brother Ignaz, and voice with M. Holzer, the choirmaster of the parish church. In 1808 he was awarded a place in the court chapel as a choirboy; he studied figured bass under W. Ruzicka and, until 1816, counterpoint and composition under A. Salieri. Schubert attended a training school for elementary teachers in 1813 and 1814, then worked as an assistant teacher at his father’s school until 1818, when he struck out on his own. For several years he gave music lessons and repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, tried to obtain a permanent position as a musician.

Schubert was surrounded by friends and supporters who rendered him as much financial assistance as they were able; they included the civil servant J. von Spaun, the amateur poet F. von Schober, the poet J. Mayrhofer, the painter M. von Schwind, the poet and comic dramatist E. von Bauernfeld, and the composer A. Hüttenbrenner. The singer M. Vogl popularized Schubert’s songs. Schubert’s friends and acquaintances often gathered to perform his works at evenings that became known as Schubertiaden. Schubert’s works were first published in 1821.

Schubert left Vienna only rarely, usually in the summer. In 1818 and 1824 he was a music teacher to the daughters of Count J. Esterházy in Hungary, where he became acquainted with Hungarian folk music and Gypsy music. He visited Upper Austria with Vogl in 1819, 1823, and 1825 and Graz in 1827. Schubert’s songs achieved wide renown, and in 1823 he was elected an honorary member of the Styrian and Linz musical societies. On Mar. 26, 1828, a concert of his works was given in Vienna, with great success. In the fall of that year Schubert contracted typhoid fever and died.

Schubert, who lived in the harshly reactionary Austria of Metternich, was the first great representative of romantic music. In his works he sought to re-create the shining ideal absent from life; his music reflects a longing for that ideal and the sufferings of a man in an alien and hostile social milieu. The warm, heartfelt quality of Schubert’s music, its immediacy and open expressiveness, flow from the composer himself. Schubert’s music is closely connected with the folk art of Austria (although actual folk themes rarely appear in his work) and with Viennese music evocative of everyday life; it also reflects the folklore of the Hungarians and the Slavic peoples, some of which were at that time part of the Austrian Empire. Although first and foremost a melodist, Schubert is noted for his inventive use of tonality, his original and richly colored harmonies, and his brilliant orchestration. Innovative as his music was, it remained firmly rooted in the traditions of the Viennese classical school.

An important place in Schubert’s oeuvre is occupied by the lied, which Schubert, by more closely uniting words and music and by enhancing the meaning and distinctiveness of the musical images, transformed into a genre capable of expressing a profound content. In the Schubertian lied the vocal melody, which often includes recitative elements, generally can stand alone as a coherent musical creation. The piano accompaniment, profoundly expressive, at times takes on a pictorial quality. Schubert, by developing and enriching previous types of songs, created a new genre in which a musical idea is developed throughout the song and the varying themes in the piano are woven into a whole; he also created the first mature song cycles.

Schubert set his more than 600 lieder to the poems of approximately 100 poets. For each major poet he found an appropriate musical style. The poets who figure most prominently in his songs are Goethe (approximately 70 songs, including “Erlkönig” and “Gretchen am Spinnrade”), F. Schiller (more than 40 songs, including “Des Mädchens Klage” and “Gruppe aus dem Tartarus”), W. Müller (the song cycles Die Schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise), H. Heine (six songs, including “Der Doppelgänger”), and Mayrhofer (47 songs). He also wrote notable songs to the texts of C. F. D. Schubart (“Die Forelle”), F. O. Stolberg (“Auf dem Wasser zu singen”), M. Claudius (“Der Tod und das Mädchen”), G. P. Schmidt (“Der Wanderer”), L. Reilstab (“Ständchen” and “Aufenthalt”), F. Rückert (“Sei mir gegrüsst” and “Du bist die Ruh’”), M. von Collin, J. N. von Craigher, F. Schober (“An die Musik”), W. Scott (“Ave Maria”), and Shakespeare (“Hark! hark! the lark!”).

Schubert’s choruses, cantatas, oratorios, and quartets for male and females voices are related to his songs. In his church music, notably the last two masses (1819 and 1828), he expressed, as did J. S. Bach, simple human emotions. Although Schubert composed three operas and six Singspiels, they were never performed in his lifetime and have not found a place in the repertoire, primarily because their librettos are inferior. The three plays for which he composed music did not long remain on the stage, but the overture and dances from the music for H. von Chézy’s play Rosamunde von Cypern (1823) are often performed.

In his instrumental works, Schubert used the melodic and graceful themes typical of his songs, generally developing them into finished wholes and heightening their effect in various ways. Of the seven completed symphonies the last, in C major (final version, 1828), achieves a heroic, epic quality. This majestic composition is, in the words of V. V. Stasov, truly a work of genius “in its power, its passion, its beauty, its expression of close ties with the people, and its evocation of the broad masses.” The lyric and dramatic Symphony No. 8 in B minor (Unfinished Symphony; 1822), of which two movements were completed, is imbued with psychological profundity. The most popular of Schubert’s concert overtures are the two Overtures in the Italian Style.

Many of Schubert’s chamber works reflect the domestic music-making popular in Austria at that time, notably the joyous Piano Quintet in A major (The Trout; 1819), the penultimate movement of which contains variations on the song “Die Forelle” (The Trout). Several of the chamber works are often orchestral in nature, such as the String Quartet in C major (1828) and the three final string quartets: the quartets in A minor (1824), G major (1826), and D minor (Death and the Maiden; 1824–26), which includes variations on the song “Der Tod und das Mädchen.”

Works for the piano occupy an important place in Schubert’s oeuvre. In his piano sonatas he was influenced by L. von Beethoven but made his own distinctive contributions to the genre. His finest sonatas are those in A major (1819), A minor (1823), A minor (1825), D major (1825), G major (1826), and B flat major (1828). The Fantasy in C major (1822), which uses the melody from the song “Der Wanderer,” foreshadows the structure of F. Liszt’s symphonic poems. The 11 Impromptus (1827–28) and six Moments musicaux (1818–28) are romantic miniatures for piano that anticipate the characteristic features of the piano music of F. Chopin and Liszt. The dances for piano, including waltzes, Ländler (Austrian slow waltzes), deutsche Tänze (German waltzes), écossaises, and galops, mark an important stage in the poeticization of the dance. Schubert composed numerous piano duets, including the Fantasy in F minor (1828), the Divertissement à la hongroise, variations, marches, and polonaises.

Some of Schubert’s late works, such as Die Winterreise and the lieder set to Heine’s poems, show an intensification of dramatic, even tragic, feeling. Even in his final years, however, he composed works, including songs, imbued with energy, strength, fortitude, and joy. During his lifetime Schubert was known primarily as a composer of lieder, and many of his large-scale instrumental works were not performed until decades after his death; the Symphony in C major (The Great Symphony), for example, was first performed in 1839, with F. Mendelssohn conducting, and the Unfinished Symphony received its first performance in 1865. Not until the early 20th century was Schubert’s greatness as a composer of instrumental works recognized.

WORKS

Werke: Kritisch durchgesehene Gesammtausgabe, vols. 1–41. Leipzig, 1884–97. (Facsimile edition, vols. 1–19. New York-Wiesbaden, 1965–69.)
Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, series 1–8. Kassel, 1964–77. (At the end of 1977, 15 volumes of various series had appeared; publication continues.)

REFERENCES

Venok Shubertu, 1828–1928: Etiudy i materialy. Moscow, 1928.
Glazunov, A. K. Fronts Shubert: Ocherk. Leningrad, 1928.
Dahms, W. Fronts Shubert. Moscow, 1928. (Translated from German.)
Zhizn’ Frantsa Shuberta v dokumentakh. Moscow, 1963.
Vospominaniia o Shuberte. Moscow, 1964.
Goldschmidt, G. Fronts Shubert: Zhiznennyi put’, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from German.)
Khokhlov, Iu. O poslednem periode tvorchestva Shuberta. Moscow, 1968.
Khokhlov, Iu. Shubert: Nekotorye problemy tvorcheskoi biografii. Moscow, 1972.
Muzyka Avstrii i Germanii XIX v., book 1. Moscow, 1975.
Franz Schubert: Die Dokumente seines Lebens und Schaffens, vol. 3: Sein Leben in Bildern. Edited by O. E. Deutsch. Munich-Leipzig, 1913.
Mies, P. Franz Schubert. Leipzig, 1954.
Schubert: Die Dokumente seines Lebens. Compiled and with commentary by O. E. Deutsch. Kassel, 1964.
Deutsch, O. E., and D. R. Wackeling. Schubert: Thematic Catalogue of All His Works in Chronological Order. London, 1951.
Einstein, A. Schubert. New York, 1951.
Einstein, A. Ein musikalisches Porträt. Zürich, 1952.
Vetter, W. Der Klassiker Schubert, vols. 1–2, Leipzig, 1953.
Schubert: Die Erinnerungen seiner Freunde, 2nd ed. Edited and with commentary by O. E. Deutsch, Leipzig, 1966.
Brown, M. J. E. Schubert: A Critical Biography. London, 1958.
Brown, M. J. E. Essays on Schubert. London-New York, 1966.
Reed, J. Schubert: The Final Years. London, 1972.

IU. N. KHOKHLOV