Schubert, Franz Peter


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.

He is said to have brooded over the affair until he was sick in mind and body. However, the truth of this matter has never been settled. From 1818 the young musician's life was uneventful. He traveled very little, passing almost the whole of his short life in or near Vienna. In 1822 Schubert composed his opera, Alfonso and Estrella, and the following year he began his great Unfinished Symphony in B minor, but it was never produced during the composer's lifetime, not indeed until 1865, when it was brought out in Vienna and shortly afterward was heard in London at the Crystal Palace, since which time it has frequently been performed. In 1823 Schubert was urged to write the incidental music to a play, written by the author of the libretto of von Weber's Euryanthe. Rosamund, Princess of Cyprus was the result; but the beauty of the overture, entr'act music and ballet m,usic was utterly lost on the audiences of the time. It fell flat and was performed only twice. All musicians now agree that it is one of the most beautiful works ever written and of lasting value. Two more operas, one never performed, the second, only occasionally given, were composed about this time, but seem in spite of their beauty and melody to have lacked the dramatic symmetry necessary to their success. It was Schubert's greatest desire to be an operatic composer and the failure of his works for the stage to receive any recognition made him extremely low spirited. He found his only joy in work and kept feverishly at it, and it was in his moments of greatest gloom and depression that he poured forth his sweetest songs. He wrote about this time, 1824, a set of songs; sonatas; marches; and quartets. The only break in his quiet, monotonous life was an excursion with his friend, Vogl, the singer, to the Tyrol. In that lovely country he composed his Hymn to the Virgin, and seems to have gained some appreciation from the people whom he met. This trip was the one bright spot in the composer's sad, lonely life. From the Tyrol he went to Salzburg with Vogl, and this was the last journey he ever took. In 1826 Schubert was offered the post of conductor of the Karnthner Theatre in Vienna, but when asked to alter an aria he had written to suit the voice of the chief vocalist, he declined and left the theatre in a huff. His hardships grew worse, and although he wrote with great rapidity he received little or nothing for his compositions. He was in the habit of borrowing sums of money and leaving a manuscript as security with his creditor, and in this way many of his greatest works were undoubtedly lost. Some, it is said, were thought so little of that they were used by his creditors for lighting fires. He composed during the next few years his symphony in C; his mass in E; many of his loveliest songs and the piano impromptus. Shortly before the death of Beethoven, who was always his idol, and of whom he once said: "Who could hope to do anything after Beethoven?", Schubert having heard that the great master admired some of his songs, summoned courage to go to see him. The latter was then on his death-bed, but greeted Schubert with the utmost graciousness and kindness, and declared that his songs could have been written only by a genius. At Beethoven's funeral, shortly afterward, Schubert was one of the thirtyeight torch bearers who preceded the remains to  its last resting place, and the story is told that afterward at a tavern, where the party drank to the memory of the great man just gone, Schubert offered a toast to the " first of the assembled company who should follow." He was destined to be that one. Symptoms of typhoid fever made their appearance not long after. The long years of hardship and suffering that the composer had undergone, the lack of proper nourishment at a time when body and brain needed the greatest care had left their mark. His strength was overtaxed and he could not rally, and the disease carried him off, November, 1828, just nineteen months after the great Beethoven had been laid to rest. Only a few days before his death, he visited Sechter, a learned teacher of counterpoint, to arrange to take lessons from him, realizing his shortcomings in this particular. He died after a very short illness and his possessions at his death were inventoried at about $10. His coffin was covered with wreaths by his friends; a laurel wreath being placed upon his brow. The composer was buried in Wahring Cemetery in Vienna, close to the grave of Beethoven, whom he had so reverenced and loved from afar, and in the same plot with Mozart. A concert was given shortly after by his friends to raise the funds to pay for a monument over his grave. Grillparzer, the Gerr man poet, wrote of him and the words were carved on his tombstone : " Fate has buried here a rich possession, but yet greater promise."

Only a few realty recognized Schubert's great genius in his lifetime, and his name was not even known by the general public of his day. Many reasons for this have been advanced: One is that he lived during the reign of the operatic aria, at a time when art song was not so much appreciated or cultivated as it is at the present day; besides Schubert's artistic career lasted only about seven years. Had he lived long enough to study and accomplish what he had hoped to do, there is no knowing to what splendid heights he might have risen, in every form of composition. But Schubert was handicapped in many ways: Of all the really great geniuses of Germany, he had the least musical training. His brilliancy and natural ability dazed his teachers from the very beginning, even Salieri, and none of them ever gave him any regular or methodical instruction, and from beginning to end of his career he never studied counterpoint. Schubert was so miserably poor all his life and his manners were so unprepossessing that he failed to succeed where many less gifted persons would. He was most conscious of his physical shortcomings, and because of them avoided meeting strange people or coming in contact with the nobility and aristocratic people of Vienna, who might have aided him. In appearance he was short, being only five feet and one inch in height, and very stocky, with a broad, flat nose, a round and puffy face, and short curly hair; he wore glasses, and his general appearance was insignificant. Yet his nature was one of the sweetest and he was most modest, and absolutely without jealousy or envy. He was extremely simple in his tastes and lived apparently for his art alone.

He spoke, thought and lived in music. Schubert was fond of a convivial time and drank sometimes to excess, but was never a drunkard and had no vicious habits whatever. He was contented with little and that little was always at the service of his friends. Fetis declared that he was always unhappy and melancholy, but other biographers have said that his life was uneventful, and that there was nothing tragic in it except unrequited labor. It is a fact worthy of comment that of all the great musicians, whose residence in Vienna made that city famous as a musical center, Schubert is the only native son. Yet he was neglected by the Viennese, not more than one hundred of his songs being published before his death, and his larger works did not make their appearance till his fame as a song-writer was well established, and that was long after he had died.

 Years after, Schumann discovered his great C symphony, dusty and forgotten, in Vienna, and urged Ferdinand Schubert, the brother of the composer to send it to Mendelssohn at Leipsic and have it performed at the Gewandhaus. Since then many other musical treasures written by him have been taken out of old cupboards in that city. He was wretchedly paid for the songs that were accepted and for six years his ErlKing was rejected by the publishers, and his Winter Journey series of songs brought only the equivalent of twenty cents apiece. Schubert lived only thirty-one years, yet in these years, devoted to his art, he wrote more than eleven hundred compositions. Of these nearly six hundred are songs the most beautiful that have ever been written, and as fresh and vital as the day they emanated from the composer's brain. His music is of the most wonderful beauty, tenderness, sweetness and purity, blended with   strength, nobility and grandeur.   His greatest songs and perhaps his best known are The ErlKing, The Wanderer, Who is Sylvia, the Ave Maria, The Serenade, and the song-cycles, Miller's Fair Wife; songs from Ossian, and songs from The Lady of the Lake.

Schubert wrote nine symphonies, the greatest of them being, in the opinion of nearly all musicians, his symphony in C; sonatas; marches; waltzes and a large number of religious compositions including seven masses; two Stabat Maters; a Magnificat; a Hallelujah and many detached pieces. He left a large number of works in manuscript, including symphonies; masses; chamber-music; sonatas and many songs. Rubinstein did, perhaps, more than any other musician to establish Schubert's place in the history of music, although Schumann and Mendelssohn did much to secure the acceptance of his symphonies as master-works. Rubinstein included him in the list of those whom he considered the five greatest composers Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Glinka. Dvorak, the great Bohemian composer of modern times, said that Schubert was as versatile as Mozart, and wrote with quite as much facility, and declared that he had no hesitation in placing him next to Beethoven and far above Mendelssohn and Schumann. Schubert's genius was lyrical, not dramatic. His style was copied by many others, but he was a creator in the realm of song, in which field he has never been rivaled. Schubert's service to the history of music may be summed up in a few words: He may be said to have established the form of the German lied; he was the first really great song-writer, and has had only two successors who showed themselves fully worthy and able to follow where he led, these being Robert Schumann and Robert Franz; he created a new era of music, and all other song-writers have followed in his steps. The German song owes its highest development to him, and it is by his songs that he will be remembered, despite the excellent work he did in other branches of music. One critic has called Schubert, " very nearly the greatest of all composers," and declares that had he lived longer, been more carefully trained in his youth and received more appreciation during his lifetime, he might have become the greatest and most wonderful composer that ever lived.