Franz Schubert – Misjudged Pioneer of the Romantic Music

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828), Watercolor by Wilhelm August Rieder (1825)

On January 31, 1797, the Austrian composer Franz Schubert was born. Even though his many symphonies, operas and piano pieces were not highly appreciated during his lifetime, he was posthumously praised as one of the most important composers of the Romantic era in music.

Franz Schubert was the 13th of 16 children to Franz Theodor and Elisabeth Schubert and began his musical studies at the age of 5. His father taught him how to play the violin and the local chapel master taught him the organ. His talents as a singer were also early detected, wherefore he began his career at the orchestra of Vienna. His musical education increased during these years in the fields of singing and playing various instruments, to his influences belonged the music of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or Antonio Salieri.[6] He even began composing his first works at young age. When ending his official schooling and returning back to his family’s home, the curious musician composed numerous works including the opera ‘Des Teufels Lustschloß‘, but found no publishers. However, his social status grew and many friends of Schubert appreciated his works and talents, organizing musical events to his honor and financing his life since he had no regular income. ‘Die Forelle‘ depicts an important lied of this period.

In the following years, Schubert was occupied with a few minor jobs, but basically broke after his return to Vienna. Also, the number of his musical accomplishments decreased even though he was able to develop his own style more and more. A little series of success set in, when his operas were being publicly performed and depicted a little break through for Schubert. Due to their success, he was able to publish further works, but when trying to compose further stage pieces, he failed. Also his health situation slowly began to worsen, he was known for his alcoholic excesses and later suffered from syphilis. Still, he managed to finish several works, like the famous song cycle ‘Die schöne Müllerin‘ from 1823. In 1827, Schubert wrote the song cycle Winterreise (D. 911), a colossal peak in art song. The works of his last two years reveal a composer increasingly meditating on the darker side of the human psyche and human relationships, and with a deeper sense of spiritual awareness and conception of the ‘beyond’. He reaches extraordinary depths in several chillingly dark songs of this period, especially in the larger cycles.Schubert spent the last years of his life writing and playing music with only modest success and passed away on November 19, 1828 at his brother’s home. In the midst of this creative activity, his health had deteriorated. 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 in the genre of the Lied, however, that Schubert made his most indelible mark. Prior to Schubert’s influence, Lieder tended toward a strophic, syllabic treatment of text, evoking the folksong qualities engendered by the stirrings of Romantic nationalism. Among Schubert’s treatments of the poetry of Goethe, his settings of “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (D. 118) and “Der Erlkönig” (D. 328) are particularly striking for their dramatic content, forward-looking uses of harmony, and their use of eloquent pictorial keyboard figurations, such as the depiction of the spinning wheel and treadle in the piano in “Gretchen” and the furious and ceaseless gallop in “Erlkönig“.

Franz Schubert is often seen as one of the most misjudged musical geniuses, but also one of the most important of his period. Most of his works were written independently from his success or public appearance. Concerning public performances, Schubert counted as rather shy in contrast to Mozart or Beethoven. He produced a large amount of musical works, from which only a little part was actually published. Posthumously, many further pieces were published and depicted a great success, like his Symphony No. 9, performed by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in Leipzig.[3] Schubert counts as one of the founders of the romantic music, wherefore he was honored multiple times by the city of Vienna through monuments, streets, and plazas.

A feeling of regret for the loss of potential masterpieces caused by his early death at age 31 was expressed in the epitaph on his large tombstone written by his friend the poet Franz Grillparzer: “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.

At yovisto academic video search you may enjoy a video lecture on Vienna, Franz Schubert and his accomplishments by Professor Christopher Hogwood including a demonstration of the Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 for piano duet played by Florian Mitrea and Alexandra Vaduva.

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