Franz Peter Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic eras. Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of piano and chamber music. His major works include the Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (Trout Quintet), the Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 (Unfinished Symphony), the ”Great” Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944, the String Quintet (D. 956), the three last piano sonatas (D. 958–960), the opera Fierrabras (D. 796), the incidental music to the play Rosamunde (D. 797), and the song cycles Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795) and Winterreise (D. 911).
Born in the Himmelpfortgrund suburb of Vienna, Schubert showed uncommon gifts for music from an early age. His father gave him his first violin lessons and his elder brother gave him piano lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808, at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school, where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home to live with his father, where he began studying to become a schoolteacher. Despite this, he continued his studies in composition with Antonio Salieri and still composed prolifically. In 1821, Schubert was admitted to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member, which helped establish his name among the Viennese citizenry. He gave a concert of his own works to critical acclaim in March 1828, the only time he did so in his career. He died eight months later at the age of 31, the cause officially attributed to typhoid fever, but believed by some historians to be syphilis.
Appreciation of Schubert's music while he was alive was limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, but interest in his work increased greatly in the decades following his death. Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and other 19th-century composers discovered and championed his works. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of Western classical music and his music continues to be popular.
Early life and education
Franz Peter Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund (now a part of Alsergrund), Vienna, Archduchy of Austria on 31 January 1797, and baptised in the Catholic Church the following day. He was the twelfth child of Franz Theodor Florian Schubert (1763–1830) and Maria Elisabeth Katharina Vietz (1756–1812). Schubert's immediate ancestors came originally from the province of Zuckmantel in Austrian Silesia. His father, the son of a Moravian peasant, was a well-known parish schoolmaster, and his school in Lichtental (in Vienna's ninth district) had numerous students in attendance. He came to Vienna from Zukmantel in 1784 and was appointed schoolmaster two years later. His mother was the daughter of a Silesian master locksmith and had been a housemaid for a Viennese family before marriage. Of Franz Theodor and Elisabeth's fourteen children (one of them illegitimate, born in 1783), nine died in infancy.
At the age of five, Schubert began to receive regular instruction from his father, and a year later he was enrolled at his father's school. Although it is not known exactly when he received his first musical instruction, he was given piano lessons by his brother Ignaz, but they lasted for a very short time as Schubert excelled him within a few months. Ignaz later recalled:
I was amazed when Franz told me, a few months after we began, that he had no need of any further instruction from me, and that for the future he would make his own way. And in truth his progress in a short period was so great that I was forced to acknowledge in him a master who had completely distanced and out stripped me, and whom I despaired of overtaking.
His father gave him his first violin lessons when he was eight years old, training him to the point where he could play easy duets proficiently. Soon after, Schubert was given his first lessons outside the family by Michael Holzer, organist and choirmaster of the local parish church in Lichtental. Holzer would often assure Schubert's father, with tears in his eyes, that he had never had such a pupil as Schubert, and the lessons may have largely consisted of conversations and expressions of admiration. Holzer gave the young Schubert instruction in piano and organ as well as in figured bass. According to Holzer, however, he did not give him any real instruction as Schubert would already know anything that he tried to teach him; rather, he looked upon Schubert with "astonishment and silence". The boy seemed to gain more from an acquaintance with a friendly apprentice joiner who took him to a neighbouring pianoforte warehouse where Schubert could practise on better instruments. He also played viola in the family string quartet, with his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on first and second violin and his father on the cello. Schubert wrote his earliest string quartets for this ensemble.
Young Schubert first came to the attention of Antonio Salieri, then Vienna's leading musical authority, in 1804, when his vocal talent was recognised. In November 1808, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt (Imperial Seminary) through a choir scholarship. At the Stadtkonvikt, he was introduced to the overtures and symphonies of Mozart, the symphonies of Joseph Haydn and his younger brother Michael Haydn, and the overtures and symphonies of Beethoven, a composer for whom he developed admiration. His exposure to these and other works, combined with occasional visits to the opera, laid the foundation for a broader musical education. One important musical influence came from the songs by Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, an important composer of lieder. The precocious young student "wanted to modernize" Zumsteeg's songs, as reported by Joseph von Spaun, Schubert's friend. Schubert's friendship with Spaun began at the Stadtkonvikt and lasted throughout his short life. In those early days, the financially well-off Spaun furnished the impoverished Schubert with much of his manuscript paper.
In the meantime, Schubert's genius began to show in his compositions; Salieri decided to start training him privately in music theory and even in composition. According to Ferdinand, the boy's first composition for piano was a Fantasy for four hands; his first song, Klagegesang der Hagar, would be written a year later. Schubert was occasionally permitted to lead the Stadtkonvikt's orchestra, and it was the first orchestra he wrote for. He devoted much of the rest of his time at the Stadtkonvikt to composing chamber music, several songs, piano pieces and, more ambitiously, liturgical choral works in the form of a "Salve Regina" (D 27), a "Kyrie" (D 31), in addition to the unfinished "Octet for Winds" (D 72, said to commemorate the 1812 death of his mother), the cantata Wer ist groß? for male voices and orchestra (D 110, for his father's birthday in 1813), and his first symphony (D 82).
Teacher at his father's school
At the end of 1813, Schubert left the Stadtkonvikt and returned home for teacher training at the St Anna Normal-hauptschule. In 1814, he entered his father's school as teacher of the youngest pupils. For over two years young Schubert endured severe drudgery; there were, however, compensatory interests even then. He continued to take private lessons in composition from Salieri, who gave Schubert more actual technical training than any of his other teachers, before they parted ways in 1817.
In 1814, Schubert met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a "Salve Regina" and a "Tantum Ergo") for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her, but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family. In November 1816, after failing to gain a musical post in Laibach (now Ljubljana, Slovenia), Schubert sent Grob's brother Heinrich a collection of songs retained by the family into the twentieth century.
One of Schubert's most prolific years was 1815. He composed over 20,000 bars of music, more than half of which were for orchestra, including nine church works (despite being agnostic), a symphony, and about 140 Lieder. In that year, he was also introduced to Anselm Hüttenbrenner and Franz von Schober, who would become his lifelong friends. Another friend, Johann Mayrhofer, was introduced to him by Spaun in 1815.
Throughout 1815, Schubert lived at home with his father. He continued to teach at the school and give private musical instruction, earning enough money for his basic needs, including clothing, manuscript paper, pens, and ink, but with little to no money left over for luxuries. Spaun was well aware that Schubert was discontented with his life at the schoolhouse, and was concerned for Schubert's development intellectually and musically. In May 1816, Spaun moved from his apartment in Landskrongasse (in the inner city) to a new home in the Landstraße suburb; one of the first things he did after he settled into the new home was to invite Schubert to spend a few days with him. This was probably Schubert's first visit away from home or school. Schubert's unhappiness during his years as a schoolteacher possibly showed early signs of depression, and it is a virtual certainty that Schubert suffered from cyclothymia throughout his life.
In 1989 the musicologist Maynard Solomon suggested that Schubert was erotically attracted to men, a thesis that has, at times, been heatedly debated. The musicologist and Schubert expert Rita Steblin has said that he was "chasing women". The theory of Schubert's sexuality or "Schubert as Other" has continued to influence current scholarship.
Support from friends
Significant changes happened in 1816. Schober, a student and of good family and some means, invited Schubert to room with him at his mother's house. The proposal was particularly opportune, for Schubert had just made the unsuccessful application for the post of kapellmeister at Laibach, and he had also decided not to resume teaching duties at his father's school. By the end of the year, he became a guest in Schober's lodgings. For a time, he attempted to increase the household resources by giving music lessons, but they were soon abandoned, and he devoted himself to composition. "I compose every morning, and when one piece is done, I begin another." During this year, he focused on orchestral and choral works, although he also continued to write Lieder. Much of this work was unpublished, but manuscripts and copies circulated among friends and admirers.