Franz Peter Schubert (German: [ˈfʁant͡s ˈpeːtɐ ˈʃuːbɐt]; 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.
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 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).
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
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.
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.
In late 1817, Schubert's father gained a new position at a school in Rossau, not far from Lichtental. Schubert rejoined his father and reluctantly took up teaching duties there. In early 1818, he applied for membership in the prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, intending to gain admission as an accompanist, but also so that his music, especially the songs, could be performed in the evening concerts. He was rejected on the basis that he was "no amateur", although he had been employed as a schoolteacher at the time and there were professional musicians already among the society's membership.In late 1817, Schubert's father gained a new position at a school in Rossau, not far from Lichtental. Schubert rejoined his father and reluctantly took up teaching duties there. In early 1818, he applied for membership in the prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, intending to gain admission as an accompanist, but also so that his music, especially the songs, could be performed in the evening concerts. He was rejected on the basis that he was "no amateur", although he had been employed as a schoolteacher at the time and there were professional musicians already among the society's membership. However, he began to gain more notice in the press, and the first public performance of a secular work, an overture performed in February 1818, received praise from the press in Vienna and abroad.
Schubert spent the summer of 1818 as a music teacher to the family of Count Johann Karl Esterházy at their château in Zseliz (now Želiezovce, Slovakia). The pay was relatively good, and his duties teaching piano and singing to the two daughters were relatively light, allowing him to compose happily. Schubert may have written his Marche Militaire in D major (D. 733 no. 1) for Marie and Karoline, in addition to other piano duets. On his return from Zseliz, he took up residence with his friend Mayrhofer.
During the early 1820s, Schubert was part of a close-knit circle of artists and students who had social gatherings together that became known as Schubertiads. Many of them took place in Ignaz von Sonnleithner's large apartment in the Gundelhof (Brandstätte 5, Vienna). The tight circle of friends with which Schubert surrounded himself was dealt a blow in early 1820. Schubert and four of his friends were arrested by the Austrian police, who (in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars) were on their guard against revolutionary activities and suspicious of any gathering of youth or students. One of Schubert's friends, Johann Senn, was put on trial, imprisoned for over a year, and then permanently forbidden to enter Vienna. The other four, including Schubert, were "severely reprimanded", in part for "inveighing against [officials] with insulting and opprobrious language". While Schubert never saw Senn again, he did set some of his poems, Selige Welt (D. 743) and Schwanengesang (D 744), to music. The incident may have played a role in a falling-out with Mayrhofer, with whom he was living at the time.
Schubert, who was only a little more than five feet tall, was nicknamed "Schwammerl" by his friends, which Gibbs describes as translating to "Tubby" or "Little Mushroom". "Schwamm" is German (in the Austrian and Bavarian dialects) for mushroom; the ending "-erl" makes it a diminutive. Gibbs also claims he may have occasionally drunk to excess, noting that references to Schubert's heavy drinking "... come not only in later accounts, but also in documents dating from his lifetime."
The compositions of 1819 and 1820 show a marked advance in development and maturity of style. The unfinished oratorio Lazarus (D. 689) was begun in February; later followed, among some smaller works, by the hymn "Der 23. Psalm" (D. 706), the octet "Gesang der Geister über den Wassern" (D. 714), the Quartettsatz in C minor (D. 703), and the Wanderer Fantasy in C major for piano (D. 760). In 1820, two of Schubert's operas were staged: Die Zwillingsbrüder (D. 647) appeared at the Theater am Kärntnertor on 14 June, and Die Zauberharfe (D. 644) appeared at the Theater an der Wien on 21 August. Hitherto, his larger compositions (apart from his masses) had been restricted to the amateur orchestra at the Gundelhof (Brandstätte 5, Vienna), a society which grew out of the quartet-parties at his home. Now he began to assume a more prominent position, addressing a wider public. Publishers, however, remained distant, with Anton Diabelli hesitantly agreeing to print some of his works on commission. The first seven opus numbers (all songs) appeared on these terms; then the commission ceased, and he began to receive parsimonious royalties. The situation improved somewhat in March 1821 when Vogl performed the song "Der Erlkönig" (D. 328) at a concert that was extremely well received. That month, Schubert composed a Variation on a Waltz by Diabelli (D 718), being one of the fifty composers who contributed to the Vaterländischer Künstlerverein publication.
Despite his operatic failures, Schubert's reputation was growing steadily on other fronts. In 1821, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde finally accepted him as a performing member, and the number of performances of his music grew remarkably. These performances helped Schubert's reputation grow rapidly among the members of the Gesellschaft and establish his name among the citizenry. Some of the members of the Gesellschaft, most notably Ignaz von Sonnleithner and his son Leopold von Sonnleithner, had a sizeable influence on the affairs of the society, and as a result of t
Despite his operatic failures, Schubert's reputation was growing steadily on other fronts. In 1821, the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde finally accepted him as a performing member, and the number of performances of his music grew remarkably. These performances helped Schubert's reputation grow rapidly among the members of the Gesellschaft and establish his name among the citizenry. Some of the members of the Gesellschaft, most notably Ignaz von Sonnleithner and his son Leopold von Sonnleithner, had a sizeable influence on the affairs of the society, and as a result of that, and Schubert's growing reputation, his works were included in three major concerts of the Gesellschaft in 1821. In April, one of his male-voice quartets was performed, and in November, his Overture in E minor (D. 648) received its first public performance; on a different concert of the same day as the premiere of the Overture, his song Der Wanderer (D. 489) was performed.
In 1822, Schubert made the acquaintance of both Weber and Beethoven, but little came of it in either case: however, Beethoven is said to have acknowledged the younger man's gifts on a few occasions. On his deathbed, Beethoven is said to have looked into some of the younger man's works and exclaimed: "Truly, the spark of divine genius resides in this Schubert!" Beethoven also reportedly predicted that Schubert "would make a great sensation in the world," and regretted that he had not been more familiar with him earlier; he wished to see his operas and works for piano, but his severe illness prevented him from doing so.
Despite his preoccupation with the stage, and later with his official duties, Schubert wrote much music during these years. He completed the Mass in A-flat major, (D. 678) in 1822, and later that year embarked suddenly on a work which more decisively than almost any other in those years showed his maturing personal vision, the Symphony in B minor, known as the Unfinished Symphony (D. 759). The reason he left it unfinished – after writing two movements and sketches some way into a third – continues to be discussed and written about, and it is also remarkable that he did not mention it to any of his friends, even though, as Brian Newbould notes, he must have felt thrilled by what he was achieving. In 1823, Schubert wrote his first large-scale song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (D. 795), setting poems by Wilhelm Müller. This series, together with the later cycle Winterreise (D. 911, also setting texts of Müller in 1827) is widely considered one of the pinnacles of Lieder. He also composed the song Du bist die Ruh' (You are rest and peace, D. 776) during this year. Also in that year, symptoms of syphilis first appeared.
In 1824, he wrote the Variations in E minor for flute and piano Trockne Blumen, a song from the cycle Die schöne Müllerin, and several string quartets. He also wrote the Sonata in A minor for arpeggione and piano (D. 821) at the time when there was a minor craze over that instrument. In the spring of that year, he wrote the Octet in F major (D. 803), a sketch for a 'Grand Symphony'; and in the summer went back to Zseliz. There he became attracted to Hungarian musical idiom, and wrote the Divertissement à la hongroise in G minor for piano duet (D. 818) and the String Quartet in A minor Rosamunde (D. 804). It has been said that he held a hopeless passion for his pupil, the Countess Die schöne Müllerin, and several string quartets. He also wrote the Sonata in A minor for arpeggione and piano (D. 821) at the time when there was a minor craze over that instrument. In the spring of that year, he wrote the Octet in F major (D. 803), a sketch for a 'Grand Symphony'; and in the summer went back to Zseliz. There he became attracted to Hungarian musical idiom, and wrote the Divertissement à la hongroise in G minor for piano duet (D. 818) and the String Quartet in A minor Rosamunde (D. 804). It has been said that he held a hopeless passion for his pupil, the Countess Caroline Esterházy, but the only work he dedicated to her was his Fantasia in F minor for piano duet (D. 940). His friend Eduard von Bauernfeld penned the following verse, which appears to reference Schubert's unrequited sentiments:
In love with a Countess of youthful grace,
—A pupil of Galt's; in desperate case
Young Schubert surrenders himself to another,
And fain would avoid such affectionate pother
The setbacks of previous years were compensated by the prosperity and happiness of 1825. Publication had been moving more rapidly, the stress of poverty was for a time lightened, and in the summer he had a pleasant holiday in Upper Austria where he was welcomed with enthusiasm. It was during this tour that he produced the seven-song cycle Fräulein am See, based on Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake, and including "Ellens Gesang III" ("Hymn to the Virgin") (D. 839, Op. 52, No. 6); the lyrics of Adam Storck's German translation of the Scott poem are now frequently replaced by the full text of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer Hail Mary (Ave Maria in Latin), but for which the Schubert melody is not an original setting. The original only opens with the greeting "Ave Maria", which also recurs only in the refrain. In 1825, Schubert also wrote the Piano Sonata in A minor (D 845, first published as op. 42), and began the Symphony in C major (Great C major, D. 944), which was completed the following year.
The works of his last two years reveal a composer entering a new professional and compositional stage. Although parts of Schubert's personality were influenced by his friends, he nurtured an intensely personal dimension in solitude; it was out of this dimension that he wrote his greatest music. The death of Beethoven affected Schubert deeply, and may have motivated Schubert to reach new artistic peaks. In 1827, Schubert wrote the song cycle Winterreise (D. 911), the Fantasy in C major for violin and piano (D. 934, first published as
The works of his last two years reveal a composer entering a new professional and compositional stage. Although parts of Schubert's personality were influenced by his friends, he nurtured an intensely personal dimension in solitude; it was out of this dimension that he wrote his greatest music. The death of Beethoven affected Schubert deeply, and may have motivated Schubert to reach new artistic peaks. In 1827, Schubert wrote the song cycle Winterreise (D. 911), the Fantasy in C major for violin and piano (D. 934, first published as op. post. 159), the Impromptus for piano, and the two piano trios (the first in B-flat major (D. 898), and the second in E-flat major, (D. 929); in 1828 the cantata Mirjams Siegesgesang (Victory Song of Miriam, D 942) on a text by Franz Grillparzer, the Mass in E-flat major (D. 950), the Tantum Ergo (D. 962) in the same key, the String Quintet in C major (D. 956), the second "Benedictus" to the Mass in C major (D. 961), the three final piano sonatas (D. 958, D. 959, and D. 960), and the collection 13 Lieder nach Gedichten von Rellstab und Heine for voice and piano, also known as Schwanengesang (Swan-song, D. 957). (This collection – which includes settings of words by Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Rellstab, and Johann Gabriel Seidl – is not a true song cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise.) The Great C major symphony is dated 1828, but Schubert scholars believe that this symphony was largely written in 1825–1826 (being referred to while he was on holiday at Gastein in 1825—that work, once considered lost, is now generally seen as an early stage of his C major symphony) and was revised for prospective performance in 1828. The orchestra of the Gesellschaft reportedly read through the symphony at a rehearsal, but never scheduled a public performance of it. The reasons continue to be unknown, although the difficulty of the symphony is the possible explanation. In the last weeks of his life, he began to sketch three movements for a new Symphony in D major (D 936A); In this work, he anticipates Mahler's use of folksong-like harmonics and bare soundscapes. Schubert expressed the wish, were he to survive his final illness, to further develop his knowledge of harmony and counterpoint, and had actually made appointments for lessons with the counterpoint master Simon Sechter.
On 26 March 1828, the anniversary of Beethoven's death, Schubert gave, for the only time in his career, a public concert of his own works. The concert was a success popularly and financially, even though it would be overshadowed by Niccolò Paganini's first appearances in Vienna shortly after.
In the midst of this creative activity, his health deteriorated. By the late 1820s, Schubert's health was failing and he confided to some friends that he feared that he was near death. In the late summer of 1828, he saw the physician Ernst Rinna, who may have confirmed Schubert's suspicions that he was ill beyond cure and likely to die soon. Some of his symptoms matched those of mercury poisoning (mercury was then a common treatment for syphilis, again suggesting that Schubert suffered from it). At the beginning of November, he again fell ill, experiencing headaches, fever, swollen joints, and vomiting. He was generally unable to retain solid food and his condition worsened. Five days before Schubert's death, his friend, violinist Karl Holz, and his string quartet visited him to play for him. The last musical work he had wished to hear was Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131; Holz commented: "The King of Harmony has sent the King of Song a friendly bidding to the crossing".
Schubert died in Vienna, aged 31, on 19 November 1828, at the apartment of his brother Ferdinand. The cause of his death was officially diagnosed as typhoid fever, though other theories have been proposed, including the tertiary stage of syphilis. It was near Beethoven, whom he had admired all his life, that Schubert was buried by his own request, in the village cemetery of Währing, Vienna. He had served as a torchbearer at Beethoven's funeral a year before his own death.
In 1872, a memorial to Franz Schubert was erected in Vienna's Stadtpark. In 1888, both Schubert's and Beethoven's graves were moved to the Zentralfriedhof where they can now be found next to those of Johann Strauss II and Johannes Brahms. Anton Bruckner was present at both exhumations, and he reached into both coffins and held the revered skulls in his hands. The cemetery in Währing was converted into a park in 1925, called the Schubert Park, and his former grave site was marked by a bust. His epitaph, written by his friend, the poet Franz Grillparzer, reads: Die Tonkunst begrub hier einen reichen Besitz, aber noch viel schönere Hoffnungen (“The art of music has here interred a precious treasure, but yet far fairer hopes”).