Schubert, Franz Peter

1797-1828

Famous German lyric composer, who is known as the greatest songwriter that ever lived, of whom Beethoven said: "Truly Schubert has a spark of the divine fire." Schubert was born at Lichtenthal, on the outskirts of Vienna, and came of humble parentage, his father being a poor, self-educated schoolmaster and his mother a cook. Franz was one of fourteen children, of whom nine died in their infancy. His father taught him to play the violin, and his brother Ignaz instructed him on the piano. When he was ten years old he obtained a place in the choir of the village church, and even at that early date had composed a few little songs and instrumental pieces. Later he received some instruction from Michael Holzer, a well-known musician of Lichtenthal; but this teacher declared, that whenever he wished to teach Franz anything new he found he had already mastered it, and that consequently, he could not be said to have been his teacher at all. Schubert's earliest composition of any importance was written when he was thirteen, and was a fantasia for the piano. Two years later he tried his hand at the larger instrumental forms and soon had a number of overtures and chamber-pieces to his credit. Finally he obtained, because of his beautiful soprano voice and his skill in reading music, a place in the Imperial Chapel choir, which entitled him to a free education in the Stadtconvict, of Vienna, a cathedral school attached to the Imperial court. Salieri was one of the examiners of the institution and became one of young Schubert's instructors. He early recognized the boy's ability, and is said to have made the remark at that time, that Schubert was a born genius and could do whatever he chose. While a student in the school, Schubert played in the orchestra, in course of time becoming the leader of the violins, and also conductor. He also obtained the leadership of an amateur orchestra, in which his father and brothers played, and which became in time of great influence in the music culture of Vienna, at a time, too, when public concerts   were rarities. His second composition of importance was a cantata, Hagars Klage. When Salieri saw it he sent the young man to a musician named Ruczizka, for lessons in harmony. Schubert was now continually composing, and overtures, string quartets, sonatas for violoncello and piano, octets for wind-instruments and church-music came from his brain as fast as he could write them down. The year 1813 was his last at school, as that year his voice broke and he left the chapel, and the school. In that year his famous symphony in D was written and performed by the orchestra, composed of members of the choir. Schubert was now seventeen, and had determined to make music his profession and he began to pour forth that flood of compositions, chiefly songs, which only ceased with his death, a few years later. Being unable to secure other employment he became his father's assistant in the school at Lichtenthal, writing down his thoughts whenever he could get a spare moment. During this period some of his finest works were written. Of these, his mass in F is among the best. It was composed in 1814, and was first brought out during festival week at the Lichtenthal parish church. About this time Schubert composed the music of a comic opera, but only the overture and two acts are extant. He was then a keen student of the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and loved always the works of the last two above all other composers. Later he familiarized himself with the scores of Gluck and Beethoven.

The year 1815 was destined to be Schubert's most prolific year, for during those twelve months he wrote no less than one hundred and ninety-five compositions, among others, two symphonies; six operas; two masses; nearly one hundred and fifty songs and a large amount of choral and chamber-music. For three years he performed the duties of this assistant's position, which he detested, and finally in 1817 his friend Franz von Schober, a poet, took him to live with him in Vienna. There he tried to teach, but the work was most irksome to him, and his struggles were many and severe. He had always suffered privations, but there were many times in Vienna when the composer was cold and hungry. He had not the money to buy even the music-paper on which to write down his thoughts, and he often sold his songs for a trifling sum. According to some biographers, Schubert took to drink when he had money. Others declare he was not a tippler but fond of convivial gatherings in a certain Viennese tavern, with his friends, and that he usually spent his evenings there, drinking, a little perhaps, but conversing with those friends of whom he was so fond and more often could be found scribbling down his music. It was at this time that Schubert wrote his marvelous setting of von Goethe's poem, The Erl-King, a song which has since become famous and which is in the repertory of nearly all the great vocalists. In this piece of music, it has been pointed out, Schubert did for vocal music what Beethoven achieved for instrumental music in his Heroic Symphony. He made several attempts to secure some kind of regular employment, but without success, gave a few concerts, and finally was taken into the household of the Count Esterhazy of Vienna, in 1818, to become tutor to his children. That year, according to some of his biographers, Schubert m,et and loved the young daughter of the Esterhazys, Caroline, a very beautiful and lovable girl, who, according to some writers, treated poor Schubert, only with indifference, and laughed at his presumption.