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Schubert, Franz
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Rondo in A major for Violin and Strings, D. 438 (1816)

  • Composer: Schubert, Franz
  • Conductor: Zukerman, Pinchas
  • Performance Date: 2001-07-13
Portrait of composer Schubert, Franz

Schubert, Franz

Jan 31, 1797 - Nov 19, 1828


This unpretentious little piece for violin and strings is built from a tune that has Schubert written all over it – fresh, ardently lyrical, totally lovable.   Learn more


Born in Vienna, January 31, 1797;
died in Vienna, November 19, 1828

Austrian composer Franz Peter Schubert is considered to be the last great composer from the Viennese Classical school of music and is one of the earliest innovators of Romantic music. Even though he lived only 31 years, he was able to write over six hundred romantic songs, "lieder," as well as several symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, operas and many other musical works. Schubert's work is classified by its lyricism and melodic exploration.

Born on January 31, 1797 in a small suburb of Vienna, Schubert came from a family that valued education. His father was a parish schoolmaster and his mother had been a cook in a Viennese family also responsible for education of the children. The Schuberts had fifteen children, ten of which died in infancy. Schubert's father was well-respected within the community and his school was well-attended. He was also had musical talent and encouraged his children, including Franz Schubert to explore their natural abilities in that area.
At age five, Schubert began to take regular music lessons from his father. At six, he entered his father's school, the Himmelpfortgrund School where he excelled in all subjects. His father taught him rudimentary violin technique, and his brother Ignaz taught him piano lessons. By age 7, young Schubert had already excelled beyond the abilities of his teachers, and he began to study with the Kapellmeister of the local church. Because these lessons mainly revolved around praise of the boy's talents rather than true technical development, Schubert took up with a local apprentice, who took him along with him when he would visit the local piano warehouse, giving Schubert a chance to practice on superior instruments. Because his early training was so sparse and insufficient, Schubert could not at this point begin to perform publicly, which was at the time the only way for him to gain renown as a respectable musician and classical music composer.
In October 1808 he finally got his chance to develop his technical expertise when he was accepted as a scholar at the Convict, which was run by Mozart's rival Antonio Salieri and had become the main music school in Vienna. It offered a special office of training for choristers of the Court Chapel. Schubert remained at this school until he was seventeen, but did not gain much from direct instruction, receiving much more valuable learning experience from the school orchestra and his fellow students, who helped the financially-strapped young musician afford supplies such as music paper. At the Convict, he also began to learn about the compositional styles of Mozart and other classical music composers, and began to visit the opera often to learn about other compositional techniques.
During his time at the Convict, he was already exhibiting a flair for composition. A piano duet and some vocal pieces along with string quartets and other piano works composed during one month in 1810 showed Salieri and others that he was ripe to be formally trained in musical composition and music theory. A regular quartet party was formed at his home with family members and friends in order to explore performances of his early compositions, and it was this first amateur orchestra that informed many of his later compositions.
Schubert left the Convict in 1813 and became a teacher at his father's school in order to avoid having to enter the military and continue to explore his musical career. It was at this school that Schubert endured mostly drudge-work and was not very good at his job. Still, he was able to continue to take private lessons from Salieri, who helped him grow most as a composer and pianist. Because Salieri was so active in writing and performing sacred, church music, many of Schubert's early sacred works were influenced by his teacher's, and Schubert's early prolific lieder compositions can be attributed to Salieri's lessons as well.
Schubert wrote his first opera and mass in 1814, along with three string quartets, many instrumental pieces, the first movement of a symphony and seventeen lider, including masterworks such as Der Taucher, Gretchen am Spinnrade and others. But he exceeded this output the following year, when despite his job and the work associated with Salieri, he was able to produce compose two more symphonies, two masses and five operas, along with a string quartet, four sonatas and several small compositions for piano. He also finished 146 lieder during this year, of which 15 longer were written in a matter of only four days.
In December of 1814, Schubert met the famous poet Johann Mayrhofer and the two became close friends, despite their vastly different temperaments; Schubert was animated and prone to fits of extreme high spirits coupled with depressive episodes and Mayrhofer was generally dour and pessimistic. The friendship inspired many of Schubert's poetic lieder, and Mayrhofer helped introduce Schubert's works to the public by providing excellent musicians to perform his pieces.
In 1816, Schubert experienced a change in fortune, and the rest of his life was a struggle. While prolific during this time, the classical music composer relied a great deal on his family and friends to support him, as he was never able to secure permanent employment. During the later years of his life, Schubert produced many of his greatest works, including his first song cycle, Die schone Mullerin created based on poems by Wilhelm Muller. This work, combined with the later Winterreise is considered to be the best example of his lieder and of the lied genre in general.
In 1824, he wrote Octet in F, "A Sketch for Grand Symphony," and explored the musical cultures of different countries, including Hungary, writing romantic pieces such as the String Quartet in A minor. The later years of his life were also marked by many miscellaneous works, including perhaps his most famous orchestral work the Unfinished Symphony, which he began in 1822.
Schubert's death came in the midst of his most creative years. His health was declining, as he had battled syphilis since 1822, which weakened him when he contracted what historical reports declare was either typhoid or mercury poisoning. He spent his final days reading, having developed earlier a passion for writer James Fenimore Cooper. He passed away at age 31 on November 19, 1828 in Vienna and was buried next to Ludwig van Beethoven at his own request. Both were moved to the Zentralfriedhof in 1888 where they lie next to Johann Strauss I and Johannes Brahms. When he died, over 100 of his compositions had already appeared in print.

Concert Program Notes

Franz Peter Schubert : Born in Vienna, January 31, 1797; died in Vienna, November 19, 1828

We never cease to be amazed at the enormous fecundity of a Bach, a Mozart, a Saint-Saëns or a Schubert. In the latter case, the wonder is intensified with the knowledge that about a dozen symphonies (begun or completed), a similar number of stage works (operas, operettas, incidental music), more than three dozen chamber works, over six hundred songs, plus numerous choral works and a huge body of music for solo keyboard were all composed before Schubert died at the tragically young age of thirty-one. Yet nowhere in his vast output is there a single concerto. That he wrote none for piano is perhaps not surprising, for in his day piano concertos were written to be performed by the composers themselves, and the genre implied an element of virtuosity. Schubert, though proficient at the keyboard, was no virtuoso. Nor is there a concerto for violin, viola (also instruments Schubert played), flute or any other instrument. In fact, in Schubert's entire catalogue, there are just two short pieces for solo instrument and orchestra, both for violin: the Konzertstück in D major (D. 345) and a Polonaise (D. 580).

Schubert learned to play violin from his father at an early age. As a teenager he regularly took part in reading sessions of chamber and orchestral music. We can well imagine that many of the instrumental pieces he wrote during these early years received their first “performances” in these private reading sessions, at which anywhere from four to perhaps twenty musicians might be present. Hence, it was probably as modest vehicles for himself or for his brother Ferdinand that he wrote in 1816 three sonatas for violin and piano as well as the Konzertstück and the Rondo for solo violin and string quartet. The Rondo dates from June of that year. The sonatas found a publisher in Antonio Diabelli (of Beethoven Variations fame) but the Rondo languished until the first “complete” Schubert edition appeared in 1897. The string quartet serves as a true accompaniment, and no disfigurement is created by increasing the number of players at will.

The Rondo itself is preceded by a slow introduction, in which some listeners find echoes of Mozart. The Allegro giusto rondo is very much in the style of its time, with a tune that might pass for one by Paganini or Vieuxtemps, but it bears an unmistakably Schubertian stamp in its verve, freshness and ardently singing quality. Though this short work will never command the adulation lavished on the Unfinished Symphony, the Mass in E-flat or the Wanderer Fantasy, we can cherish this little Rondo for its unpretentious charm and heed these works of critic Harold Schoenberg: “Wherever one looks in Schubert's music there is something to love. Always the music is intensely, even piercingly melodic, the melodies often tinged with a kind of melancholy that can only be described as - well, Schubertian.”

Robert Markow

This Year in History: 1816

History, Politics and Social Affairs

  • Land was offered to civilians from Great Britain and Ireland, with free passage to Canada and the offer of 100 acres of land. Their sons were also given 100 acres upon reaching the age of 21. Food rations were also provided for the first few months in Canada.
  • After several years of harassment by agents of the North West Company, Métis and Indians under Cuthbert Grant kill Robert Semple, governor of the Red River settlement, and twenty others at the Battle of Seven Oaks.
  • Fire nearly destroys the city of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
  • A steamboat is first used on Lake Ontario.
  • Argentina gains independence from Spain.
  • Ireland's potato crop fails in August; excessive rain is blamed and many go hungry.

Nature, Science and Technology

  • René Laennec invents the stethoscope.
  • Johann Maelzel, a friend of Beethoven’s, patents the metronome two years after it was invented by the Dutchman Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel.

The Arts, Literature and Entertainment

  • Gioacchino Rossini's opera Barber of Seville is premiered in Rome.
  • Charlotte Bronte, English novelist, author of Jane Eyre, is born in Thornton, England.
  • The British Museum purchases the Elgin Marbles, a collection of classical Greek marble structures removed from the Parthenon by Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, with the controversial permission of the Ottoman authorities.