Franz Schubert

(31 January 1797, Himmelpfortgrund - 19 November 1828, Vienna)


Franz Schubert was an extremely prolific Austrian composer who bridged the worlds of Classical and Romantic music. Although not a musician, his father, a well-known teacher, passed on certain musical basics to his son. He began receiving regular music lessons from his father by the age of 6 and a year later was enrolled at his father's school, his formal musical education started around the same time. He also received some musical training from his brother Ignaz and from the parish church organist (Michael Holzer) in organ playing and musical theory.

The family was musical and cultivated string quartet playing in the home, the boy Franz playing the viola. Franz wrote his earliest string quartets for this ensemble. In 1808, having won a scholarship, he was admitted at Stadtkonvikt boarding school (Vienna) where he earned a place in the imperial court chapel choir and education. Here he studied under Wenzel Ruzicka (the imperial court organist), and later, the composer Antonio Salieri, who revealed to Franz the style of Italian opera music.

His music horizon broadened after the audition of Gluck, Spontini and Mozart's works which alternated between comic opera, opera buffa and German Singspiel. His exposure to these and other symphonic works by Mozart and Joseph Haydn (such as symphonies and overtures), laid the foundation for a broader musical education. Schubert was occasionally permitted to lead the Stadtkonvikt's orchestra, and  Salieri decided tot start training him privately in music theory and even in composition. 

At the age of 16 (1813), Schubert left the Stadtkonvikt, and after 10 months, he became teacher at the school in Lichtenthal, alongside his father where he taught writing and reading for the next 5 years. His best lieder works date from this period. The numerous compositions he wrote between 1813 and 1815 are remarkable for their variety and intrinsic worth. They are the products of young genius, still short of maturity but displaying style, originality, and imagination. One of Schubert's most prolific years was 1815. He composed over 20,000 bars of music, more than half of which was for orchestra, including nine church works (despite being agnostic), a symphony, and about 140 Lieder.

Following his brief tenure as a music teacher in 1818 at the court of Count Johann Karl Esterházy in Zseliz, he got acquainted with the popular Hungarian songs of the time and the music of Hungarian fiddlers. In the last 10 years of his life, he toured with Johann Michael Vogl (baritone) in 1819, 1823 and 1825, crossing through different cities of Austria, where they held public and private concerts. His many works are a testament of the richness of his imagination and ease with which he could lay out his thoughts on paper.

The many unfinished fragments and sketches of songs left by Schubert provide some insight into the working of his creative mind. Clearly, the primary stimulus was melodic. 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, amid a number of 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 Fantasy in C major for piano Wanderer Fantasy (D 760). Of most notable interest is the staging in 1820 of two of Schubert's operas: "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.

Although his operas remained unperformed, there were frequent public performances of his songs and part-songs in Vienna during these and the following years. Publication proceeded rapidly, and his financial position, though still strained, was at any rate eased. This was the period of the Lady of the Lake songs, including the once popular but later neglected ”Ave Maria”. He also composed two piano sonatas and sketched a symphony during the summer holiday (in all probability the beginnings of the Symphony in C major, completed in 1828).

In 1824, following the resignation of Salieri as imperial Kapellmeister (musical director), Josef Eybler (deputy Kapellmeister at that time) was promoted. In 1826 Schubert applied for the vacant post of deputy musical director at the Stadtkonvikt but was rejected, in spite of strong support from several influential people. A succession of masterpieces marks the last year of his life. Early in the year he composed the greatest of his piano duets, the Fantasy in F Minor. The Great Symphony was concluded in March, as was also the cantata Miriams Siegesgesang (Miriam’s Victory Song). In June he worked at his sixth mass—in E-flat Major.

The only public concert Schubert gave took place on March 26, 1828. It was both artistically and financially a success, and the impecunious composer was at last able to buy himself a piano. At the end of August he moved into lodgings with his brother Ferdinand. Schubert’s health, broken by the illness of 1823, had deteriorated, and his ceaseless work had exhausted him.

Franz Schubert manifested itself in a wide variety of forms and genres, including opera, liturgical music, chamber and solo piano music, and symphonic works. Clearly influenced by the classical sonata forms of Beethoven and Mozart, his formal structures and his developments tend to give the impression more of melodic development than of harmonic drama. His legacy consists of over 600 secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music.

Although his music was rather limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, decades after his death, the interest in his work increased significantly especially after Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, 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 the late Classical era and early Romantic era and is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early nineteenth century.

Here  you can find a complete list of Franz Schubert's works.