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Introduction * Schubert the Composer * Schubert's Times * Schubert's Vienna

Schubert the Composer

Franz Peter was born into a middle class family, in Vienna (Austria), in the year 1797. His father was a schoolteacher with a small but sufficient income to support a large family. The family lived in a cramped, three-room apartment. The address was 54 Nussdorferstrasse, a long German word that means "Walnut-village Street". You can still visit Schubert's first home. It is a museum called The Schubert Geburtshaus.

Schubert's father and older brother taught him the violin and piano but it took only a few months before the boy showed that he knew more than his teachers. When he was eleven, Franz was admitted to one of the best boarding schools in Vienna, the Stadtkonvikt At a time when sons usually followed fathers in a choice of profession, Schubert's father naturally thought Franz too would become a teacher like him. Franz went along with his father's wishes, but only for a short time. He hated teaching. He wanted only to write music. "I have come into the world for no purpose but to compose," he told one of his friends.

Franz did not have a flashy personality, and he cared little about becoming famous or making a fortune. Schubert was casual and easy-going. He had many friends, some of them musicians like himself, some of them artists, writers and teachers. Most of his friends were simple, ordinary people, but they were true friends. They helped him out with cash, food, music paper, concert tickets, a place to stay - whatever he needed. It's not that Schubert made a habit of "sponging" off people; he was just plain negligent, forgetful and unconcerned about money or finding a good-paying job for himself. He wanted nothing more than to stay at home and compose.

Schubert's Death

Of all the great composers, Schubert died the youngest, a few weeks before his 32nd birthday in the year 1828. We are not sure exactly why he died. Various doctors have claimed typhus, typhoid, mercury poisoning and syphilis. Schubert lies buried in a special spot in Vienna's Central Cemetery, near Beethoven. The words inscribed on the monument are by Schubert's friend, the author Franz Grillparzer: "The art of music here entombed a rich possession, but even fairer hopes." Schubert's gravesite is definitely worth a visit, if you are ever in Vienna. Check it out in the Interactive Map of Vienna

The Music

Schubert worked like a demon. In just seventeen years, between the ages of fourteen and 31, he wrote more than six hundred songs, thirteen symphonies (complete or otherwise), fifteen string quartets, six masses, nine operas, over twenty piano sonatas, dozens and dozens of short dance pieces ... the list goes on and on. You have to wonder where he found the time to eat or sleep. Someone once asked him how he did it all. "When I finish one piece I begin another" was his simple answer. "Everything he touched turned to song" (Franz Liszt) If you remember just one thing about Schubert, it should be that he was a songwriter like no other. In his short life he wrote more than 600 songs (in addition to all that other great music), half of them before he was even twenty! Schubert was a fantastic melody writer, and many of his song themes are immortal. Do you know "Ave Maria"? That's by Schubert. Schubert's songs were special. They are "art songs," or Lied (rhymes with seed) in German; Lieder is the plural. A Lied is a union of three elements: voice, piano and words. Unlike most folksongs, Lieder use fine poetry for their texts (they'd be called "lyrics" in today's song-world). Favorite subjects in Schubert's Lieder are love, loss, human unhappiness and nature scenes. One song in particular is a great favorite, a perfect creation called "Die Forelle" (The Trout). You can almost see the fish merrily splashing about in the sparkling water. The piano part, as in all fine Lieder, is far more than just an accompaniment. It participates equally with the voice to provide a total musical picture of great charm and appeal.

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