Dinner Topics for Friday
Each life needs its own quiet place.
YouTube Music: Classic Schubert Serenade
Don’t miss this video of Schubert’s lovely “Serenade”, and displaying beautiful photos.
Franz Peter Schubert 31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer.
In a short lifespan of less than 32 years, Schubert was a prolific composer, writing some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies (including the famous “Unfinished Symphony“), liturgical music, operas, some incidental music and a large body of chamber and solo piano music. Appreciation of Schubert’s music during his lifetime was limited, but interest in his work increased significantly in the decades following his death. Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn, among others, discovered and championed his works in the 19th century. Today, Schubert is seen as one of the leading exponents of the early Romantic era in music and he remains one of the most frequently performed composers.
Early life and education
Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund (now a part of Alsergrund), Vienna, on 31 January 1797. His father, Franz Theodor Schubert, the son of a Moravian peasant, was a parish schoolmaster; his mother, Elisabeth (Vietz), was the daughter of a Silesian master locksmith, and had also been a housemaid for a Viennese family prior to her marriage. Of Franz Theodor’s fourteen children (one illegitimate child was born in 1783), nine died in infancy; five survived. Their father was a well-known teacher, and his school in Lichtental, a part of Vienna’s 9th district, was well attended. He was not a musician of fame or with formal training, but he taught his son some elements of music.
At the age of five, Schubert began receiving regular instruction from his father and a year later was enrolled at his father’s school. His formal musical education also started around the same time. His father continued to teach him the basics of the violin, and his brother Ignaz gave him piano lessons. At the age of seven, Schubert began receiving lessons from Michael Holzer, the local church organist and choirmaster. Holzer’s lessons seem to have mainly consisted of conversations and expressions of admiration and the boy gained more from his acquaintance with a friendly joiner‘s apprentice who used to take him to a neighboring pianoforte warehouse where he had the opportunity to practice on better instruments. He also played the viola in the family string quartet, with brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violin and his father on the cello. Schubert wrote many of his early string quartets for this ensemble.
Schubert first came to the attention of Antonio Salieri, then Vienna’s leading musical authority, in 1804, when his vocal talent was recognized. In October 1808, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt (Imperial seminary) through a choir scholarship. At the Stadtkonvikt, Schubert was introduced to the overtures and symphonies of Mozart. His exposure to these pieces and various lighter compositions, combined with his occasional visits to the opera set the foundation for his greater musical knowledge. One important musical influence came from the songs of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, who was an important Lied composer of the time, which, his friend Joseph von Spaun reported, he “wanted to modernize”. Schubert’s friendship with Spaun began at the Stadtkonvikt and endured through his lifetime. In those early days, the more well-to-do Spaun furnished the impoverished Schubert with manuscript paper.
Meanwhile, his genius began to show in his compositions. Schubert was occasionally permitted to lead the Stadtkonvikt’s orchestra, and Salieri decided to begin training him privately in musical composition and theory in these years. It was the first germ of that amateur orchestra for which, in later years, many of his compositions were written. During the remainder of his stay at the Stadtkonvikt he wrote a good deal of chamber music, several songs, some miscellaneous pieces for the pianoforte and, among his more ambitious efforts, a Kyrie (D. 31) and Salve Regina (D. 27), an octet for wind instruments (D. 72/72a, said to commemorate the 1812 death of his mother), a cantata for guitar and male voices (D. 110, in honor of his father’s birthday in 1813), and his first symphony (D. 82).
The setbacks of previous years were compensated for 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 his “Songs from Sir Walter Scott“. This cycle contains Ellens dritter Gesang (D. 839), a setting of Adam Storck‘s German translation of Scott‘s hymn from The Lady of the Lake, which is widely, though mistakenly, referred to as “Schubert’s Ave Maria“. It opens with the greeting Ave Maria, which recurs in the refrain; the entire Scott/Storck text in Schubert’s song is frequently substituted with the complete Latin text of the traditional Ave Maria prayer. In 1825, Schubert also wrote the Piano Sonata in A minor (Op. 42, D. 845), and began the “Great” C major Symphony (Symphony No. 9, D. 944), which was completed the following year.
Last years and masterworks
Despite his preoccupation with the stage, and later with his official duties, Schubert found time during these years for a significant amount of composition. He completed the Mass in A flat (fr) (D. 678) and, in 1822, embarked suddenly on a work which more decisively than almost any other in those years showed his maturing personal vision, the “Unfinished Symphony” in B minor. The reason he left it unfinished after two movements and sketches some way into a third remains an enigma, 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. The event has been debated endlessly without resolution.