Franz Schubert Biography
SCHUBERT, shōō'bẽrt, Franz (1797–1828). A famous Austrian composer. He was born Jan. 31, 1797, in Vienna. His violin lessons began at the age of eight. A few lessons from an elder brother, Ignaz, sufficed to start him on the pianoforte, and he continued to study by himself. In 1808 he passed his examination for the court choir. The manuscript of a piano duet, Leichenfantasie, after Schiller, bears date April 8–May 1, 1810. He was not then 14; the next year was important in his development as a composer, for from it date his first songs, "Hagar's Klage" and "Der Vatermörder." Salieri, who was one of the instructors at the Stadtkonvikt, where Schubert received a general schooling, was so struck with "Hagar's Klage" that he made arrangements for Ruczizka to give the boy lessons in harmony. At this time Franz already had composed chamber music, which he took home with him on holidays and tried over in the family circle.
In 1813 he began work on an opera, Des Teufels Lustschloss, and composed a symphony. During this year his voice broke, and he was obliged to leave the choir. Some of his most important compositions were written during this period—between his seventeenth and twentieth years. At this time, too, he formed a close attachment for Mayrhofer, whose melancholy disposition was the very opposite of Schubert's joviality. Of Des Teufels Lustschloss, finished in 1814, only the first and third acts remain. The composer gave the score to Josef Hüttenbrenner for a small debt, and in 1848 a servant lit the fire with the second act. One of his best masses, that in F, dates from this year.
In 1816, when he was only 19 years old, he wrote two of his most famous songs, "The Erlking" and "The Wanderer." Josef Spaun, who had provided him with music paper at the choir school, chancing to call upon him one afternoon, found him working excitedly over Goethe's poem. The very same evening the composer appeared at the school with the finished song. It seems incredible at this day that five years should have elapsed before this immortal song was heard in public, yet such was the case. Previously, however, it had been sung frequently in private. To the "Erlking" year belongs, besides many other compositions, the Tragic Symphony. Although his application for the post of musical instructor in Laibach was unsuccessful, he was able to obtain freedom from the drudgery of teaching through the generosity of one of his admirers, Franz von Schober, the latter a student at the University of Vienna, who recognized Schubert's genius and invited the composer to live with him.
In 1818 Count Johann Eszterházy offered Schubert the post of music teacher in his family, with a residence in winter in Vienna and in summer at Zelész in Hungary. This arrangement, however, did not last long, for early in 1819 Schubert was sharing quarters in Vienna with another friend, Mayrhofer.
The first public performance of a song by Schubert appears to have been at a concert in 1819, when the "Schäfer's Klagelied," sung by Franz Jäger, a tenor, was received with applause. Vogl induced the management of the Kärnthnerthor Theater to commission Schubert to set to music the farcical Die Zwillingsbrüder. It was produced in June and had six repetitions, without, however, making a decided impression. Despite the admiration for Schubert's many compositions, up to 1821 none had been published. In that year Leopold von Sonnleithner put an end to the disgraceful neglect.
He took "The Erlking" to the publishing houses of Diabelli and Haslinger. Both absolutely declined it, giving as reasons that the composer was unknown and that the accompaniment was too difficult. Sonnleithner then persuaded three others to share the expense with him and had the song printed by Diabelli on commission. Other songs of his now were published and sold well, and he would have found himself in comfortable circumstances had he not been without business instinct.
In December, 1823, he finished the opera Alfonso und Estrella. The libretto is by Schober, and it is said that Schubert set Schober's lines to music as rapidly as the librettist wrote them. The opera was not brought out until 1854, when Liszt produced it at Weimar, but unsuccessfully, largely owing to the wretched libretto. One of Schubert's finest works, the Unfinished Symphony, dates from this period. This fragment consists of the first and second movements, which are familiar to concert goers, and nine bars of the scherzo. These are fully scored, but with them the manuscript comes to a complete stop, not even the most meagre sketch of the remainder having been discovered. This exquisite fragment was not heard until 1865, when it was performed in Vienna. Some incidental music written for Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, pleased greatly; but Schubert's genius seems to have been too lyric for opera, and of his few stage works which have been heard only the little opera Der häusliche Krieg, which remained unknown until 1861, when it was brought out in Vienna, has had any success. The year 1823 is noteworthy for the composition of his charming song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
During the few remaining years of his brief life he composed several of his finest works, most notable among them his great symphony in C. He presented the score to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, of Vienna, in return for a purse of 100 florins, which they had voted him. They placed the symphony in rehearsal, but abandoned it as too difficult. The score was discovered in 1838 in Ferdinand Schubert's possession by Schumann and by him sent to Mendelssohn, who produced it at a Gewandhaus concert, Leipzig, March, 1839. On Nov. 4, 1828, Schubert called on the court organist, Sechter, to arrange for lessons in counterpoint. Soon afterward he took to the bed from which he never rose. "Die Taubenpost," the last of the Schwanengesang, composed in October, 1828, is generally regarded as his last composition. In the early stages of his final illness (typhoid) he gave some time to correcting the proof sheets of his song cycle Die Winterreise. He died November 19 and was buried near Beethoven's grave.
Of the modern song (Kunstlied) Schubert is not only the originator, but, to this very day, the unsurpassed master. Development, and even advance in certain directions, there undoubtedly has been. Yet Schubert is not equaled by any of his successors in spontaneity, wealth of melody, and universality of expression. As Schumann truly said: "He has strains for the most subtle thoughts and feelings, nay even for the very events and conditions of life; and innumerable as are the shades of human thought and aspiration, so various is his music. Whatever his eye beholds, whatever his hand touches, turns into music. He was the greatest after Beethoven, who, a sworn enemy of philistinism, practiced music in the highest sense of the word." Schubert's songs range from the simplicity of the folk song to the height of symphonic power, and many of the greatest were written before the composer had reached his twentieth year. The number of his songs now known exceeds 600.
Had Schubert written nothing but these songs, he would still be among the immortals. But also in the field of instrumental music he has left imperishable masterpieces. And here a remarkable fact must be noted. In his case the development of the song writer preceded that of the instrumental composer. While he wrote such masterpieces as "The Erlking" and "The Wanderer," his numerous instrumental works still show the influence of his predecessors. In this field he speaks his individual language for the first time in the great Unfinished Symphony in B minor (1822). Besides the two famous symphonies mentioned he wrote seven others. His chamber music comprises 14 string quartets, a string trio, two piano trios, the famous piano quintet, op. 114, and octet for strings, horn, clarinet, and bassoon. Among the works for piano the 15 sonatas rank very high. In the field of sacred music he wrote an oratorio, Lazarus (unfinished), six masses, and numerous smaller choruses. Among the choral works the most important are: Miriams Siegesgesang; Nachtgesang im Walde; Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe; Schlachtgesang. Of his 17 operas none achieved a lasting success.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 573-575.