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Franz Schubert

1797 - 1828

Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer. Schubert died before his 32nd birthday, but was extremely prolific during his lifetime. His output consists of over six hundred secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operasincidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music. Appreciation of his music while he was alive was limited to a relatively small circle of admirers in Vienna, but interest in his work increased significantly in the decades following his death. Felix MendelssohnRobert SchumannFranz LisztJohannes Brahms and other 19th-century composers discovered and championed his works. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the late Classical and early Romantic eras and is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early nineteenth century.

Of the great composers associated with Vienna — the others being Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven - Schubert was the only one born in the city, and the only one who failed to achieve international fame in his lifetime. His shyness and lack of instrumental virtuosity contributed to the hardships he endured, but he was responsible for a magnificent body of work that is still appraised and appreciated today.

Born in the suburb of Lichtental, he was the fourth son of a schoolmaster. From his family he learnt the piano and violin, soon outstripping everyone else in the household. At 11 his serious musical education began when he won a choral scholarship to the Konvikt, Vienna's Imperial College. Under Salieri's tutelage he wrote an opera and a series of quartets by the age of 15. He left the college in 1813 to train as a teacher before returning home to work in his father's school. Over the next five years alone, in an inexhaustible surge of creativity, he wrote five symphonies, six operas, and 300 songs (Lieder).

This is the radiant Schubert everybody thinks they know. Yet our notion of a fat, jolly amateur, leaving his coffeehouse only to dash off another carefree masterpiece, is myth. In reality Schubert died prematurely of a disfiguring disease, his mind poisoned by the idea of the fate that inevitably awaited him.

Schubert contracted syphilis in 1823. It transformed his entire outlook, and while many reasons are put forward for his failure to complete his Eighth symphony, begun the year before his illness, it may be that it marked a period in his life which came to repel him. Nevertheless, he returned to the symphonic form soon afterwards to compose the Symphony No. 9 in С (The Great), a work grander and more profound than any of Schubert's other symphonies.

Some of the stings for his first song-cycle, Die schone Mullerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill), were written while in hospital in 1823. The cycle depicts the ill-fated love of a young man for a miller's daughter. Although it contains much joyful music, its sad ending anticipates the tone of his tragic second cycle, Winterreise (Winter Journey), written in 1827 after four years of illness. In the latter cycle, where the hero has lost his love before the cycle's beginning, the songs create an unrelenting portrait of gloom set in the frozen landscape of death. Yet Schubert was still able to put his morbidity aside, albeit temporarily; 1827 is also the date of several lighter pieces for piano — the Impromptus and the Moments musicaux - which form the ideal introduction to his instrumental music and anticipate the Ballades of Chopin and Brahms, while revealing a greater emotional range than either.

Some of Schubert's finest compositions were written during the last year of his life, including his masterly trio of Piano sonatas in С minor, A major, and B flat.


At his death, little of Schubert's music had been published, except for a number of songs and some mature works. Its slow dissemination in the 19th century limited its influence, as harmonic turns - surprisingly advanced for the 1820s - appeared commonplace at their first hearing 40 years later.

"The King of Harmony has sent the King of Song a friendly bidding to the crossing".

Karl Holz on the music of Schubert

Key Works

Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 "Trout Quintet (Die Forelle)"

Quintet for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello & Double bass in A major ("Trout"), D. 667 (Op. posth. 114)

Schubert’s early masterpiece adds a double bass, rather than the more usual second violin, to the piano-quartet ensemble. With its unquestioned joy and natural simplicity, this piece has an irresistible appeal.

FIRST MOVEMENT (ALLEGRO VIVACE, 13:20) With the double bass providing a sonorous foundation, the piano doesn’t need to provide a bass line here, and so is frequently used as a purely melodic instrument.
SECOND MOVEMENT (ANDANTE, 7:00) A gentle dialogue between instruments which, threatening to come to an end in mid-movement, is immediately repeated in its entirety in a different key.
THIRD MOVEMENT (SCHERZO: PRESTO, 4:00) Brisk and vigorous, with a number of humorous silences as well as sudden 

changes of dynamic and register, the Scherzo third movement is tempered by a wistful Trio section.

The “extra” movement which gives the work its name is a set of variations on Schubert’s 1817 song “Die Forelle”. In increasingly inventive variations, each instrument gets the melody in turn, and the movement ends with a fully collaborative reprise of the opening.
FIFTH  MOVEMENT (ALLEGRO GIUST0, 9:30) Surprising juxtapositions of elegance and rustic vitality, and the odd false ending, gives the work a mercurial if slightly unsatisfying conclusion.

Symphony No 8 in B minor "Unfinished" 

The “Unfinished” Symphony, written in 1822, was not heard until the manuscript was rediscovered and performed in 1865. Sketches exist for a third movement, quashing theories that Schubert thought the work complete. It is actually the most complete of a number of unfinished symphonies by the composer.

It has been suggested that the dark turmoil of this movement mirrors Schubert’s state of mind when he found out that he had contracted syphilis. Unlike the “Wanderer” Fantasy of the same period, this is introverted music, with each of the principal themes being introduced as quietly as possible. The movement is marked by passages of gentle lyricism interrupted by fierce outbursts.

The music of the second movement repeatedly tends towards agitation. Until the last few moments of the ethereal coda, it never quite recaptures the serenity of the opening. Even the beautiful clarinet melody is usurped by its syncopated string accompaniment

Symphony No 5 in B-flat major, D 485

Andante con moto
Menuetto. Allegro molto
Allegro vivace

Symphony no. 9 in C Major D. 944 - "The Great"

Visiting Schubert’s brother in 1828, Schumann discovered this symphony, and sent it to Mendelssohn, who premiered it the following year.
Nicknamed the “Great” for its size (Schumann wrote of its “heavenly length”), its Classical form and proportions encompass a Romantic Visiting Schubert’s brother in 1828, orchestral colour that bridge the gap between Beethoven and Bruckner.

1. Andante-Allegro ma non troppo
2.Andante con moto
3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace
4. Allegro vivace

Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, D. 797 - Incidental Music

- Overture
- Entr'acte No. 3 in B flat major
- Ballet no. 3 in G major

Octet For Strings And Winds In F Major D. 803

Octet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and double-bass, D. 803
Adagio – Allegro – Più allegro 00:00
Adagio 14:20
Allegro vivace – Trio – Allegro vivace 25:05
Andante – variations. Un poco più mosso – Più lento 31:01
Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio – Menuetto – Coda 42:52
Andante molto – Allegro – Andante molto – Allegro molto 49:25

 String Quintet in C major, D. 956

Quintet for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major, D. 956 
00:00 - I. Allegro ma non troppo
15:42 - II. Adagio
29:11 - III. Scherzo. Presto
31:45   Trio. Andante sostenuto
36:14   Scherzo
38:43 - IV. Allegretto

String Quartet No 12 D 703 C minor Quartettsatz Unfinished

String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor "Death and The Maiden"

Schubert’s earlier macabre song - where Death appears to a maiden disguised as her lover - gave this quartet both its title and the theme for its second movement. Written after the composer became aware of his ruined health, this sombre drama mirrors Schubert’s despair.
I. Allegro 0:15
II. Andante con moto 12:05
III. Scherzo Allegro molto 27:02
IV. Presto 31:40

String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887

I. Allegro molto moderato: 00:02
II. Andante un poco moto: 15:14
III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Trio: Allegretto: 27:23
IV. Allegro assai: 34:08

Trio No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 99

I. Allegro moderato
II. Andante un poco mosso (11:51)
III. Scherzo: Allegro (22:24)
IV. Rondo: Allegro vivace (28:48)

Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 100

Trio No. 2 in E-flat major for piano, violin and cello, Op. 100
I. Allegro
II. Andante con moto
III. Scherzando
IV. Allegro moderato

Piano quintet in A major "Die Forelle", Op. 114, D. 667

I. Allegro vivace [00:00]
II. Andante [13:27]
III. Scherzo [20:40]
IV. Andantino (Theme & variations) [25:12]
V. Allegro giusto [32:59]

Sonata Arpeggione for cello and piano

Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845

Piano Sonata No 19 in C minor, D. 958

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Menuetto Allegro
4. Allegro

Franz Schubert 
(Portrait by Gabor Melegh, 1825)

It was through song that Schubert's genius was first recognized. In 1814 he discovered Goethe's Faust, which led to his first masterpiece, Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel). Erlkonig, depicting a terrorized child whose soul is swept away during a ride through a stormy night, followed the next year. The sensibility Goethe had awakened swiftly led Schubert to explore all the great poets of his time and unleashed what has been called "a Shakespearean canvas of characters." His sense of melody and movement, his unique awareness of changing key and the interplay possible between singer and pianist, his master storyteller's sense of timing and shifting nuance: all these gave the Lied a power that nobody had imagined. "There's not one of Schubert's songs", wrote Brahms, "from which you cannot learn something."

Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder (1825)​

Schubert was fortunate to be born into a Vienna alive with cultural activity and debate. His music seized upon the image of the Romantic hero promulgated in literature and painting. Schubert's artistic world was the land of night and dreams — of Sehnsucht, a longing for the mystic world of the spirit, with the visible everyday world as a mere mirage. The hero, discovering incandescent love before bitter rejection, wanders alone through nature and there finds his solace and strength. These Romantic ideals underlie much of Schubert's work, such as the song Auf dem Waisser zu singen, whose fluttering juxtaposition of major and minor captures a mood of fervour and serenity; or the poetry Schubert prefaced to his symphonies, sonatas, and chamber music.

By 1816 the drudgery of the schoolroom had become unbearable. Schubert abandoned teaching to live in Vienna with Franz von Schober, a friend who worked to spread the composer's reputation and open his eyes to cultural trends. A meeting with leading baritone J.M. Vogl was crucial. He championed many of Schubert's songs, and a visit in 1819 to Vogl's birthplace in the mountains at Steyr liberated in the composer a powerful, happy impulse. There he began the Trout quintet, marking his coming of age in instrumental music. Scored for violin, viola, cello, double-bass, an piano, the quintet takes its name from his earlier song Die Forelle (The Trout), which is the basis of a set of variations in the fourth movement of the quintet.

Portrait of Franz Schubert by 
Franz Eybl (1827)

But the fullest portrait of Schubert's musical personality is the great String quintet in С. Its opening movement is one of the great masterpieces of classical organization; the slow movement alternates between a theme of sublime calmness in E major and a furiously anguished section in F minor; the scherzo (a generally jaunty movement which may take the place of the minuet in a sonata or symphony) has little in common with those of Haydn orBeethoven, but pits a boisterous hunting theme against an apparition as chillingly remote as anything from Winterreise; and the finale ends ambiguously m neither major nor minor. As always in mature Schubert, the sunshine is more intense for being inseparable from an awareness of the dark. Soon after completing the Quintet Schubert entered the final phase of his illness, and in December 1828 died at the age of 31.

The site of Schubert's first tomb at Währing

Piano Sonata No 20 in A major, D. 959

1.Allegro 0:00
2.Andantino 12:44
3.Scherzo (Allegro vivace) 21:18
4.Rondo 26:15

Wander Fantasy in C major, D. 760

The most outwardly virtuosic of Schubert’s piano works, this one- movement fantasy consists of four distinct but dovetailed sections. Drawing on the theme of his own song “Der Wanderer”, the outer sections explore its rhythm, while the melody inspires a series of variations in the second movement.

Fantasy in F minor for Piano Four Hands, D. 940

Impromptus, D. 899, Op. 90 (two volumes of four each)

00:00 - No. 1 in C minor, Allegro molto moderato
11:05 - No. 2 in E-flat major, Allegro
15:50 - No. 3 in G-flat major, Andante
21:40 - No. 4 in A-flat major, Allegretto

"Die schöne Müllerin"

Setting words by Wilhelm Muller, this song cycle tells the story of an apprentice miller who falls in love and, racked with infatuation and jealousy, drowns himself. The graphic depiction of his emotions is reflected by the flowing mill stream, which sings him

a lullaby at the end of the work.

Das Wandern
Danksagung An Den Bach
Am Feierabend
Der Neugierige
Des Müllers Blumen
Mit Dem Grünen Lautenbande
Der Jäger
Eifersucht Und Stolz
Die Liebe Farbe
Die Böse Farbe
Trockne Blumen
Der Müller Und Der Bach

"Die Winterreise"

Winterreise was written as Beethoven lay dying in Vienna. After he had been given nearly 60 of Schubert’s songs to look over, Beethoven insisted on meeting the young composer. They met one week before his death, and Schubert subsequently became a torch- bearer at the great composer’s funeral.

As with Die Schiine Mullerin, this song cycle is set to poetry by Wilhelm Muller, this time his Posthumous Papers of a Travelling
Horn Player
, where a traveller journeys out of town, dwelling
on memories of an unfaithful lover. Poetically, the songs explore, the psychological journey as much, as the actual one, charting the loneliness of the protagonist through desolate winter scenery.

Musically, the hypnotic rhythms of the sparse accompaniments form a desolate background to the subdued melancholy of the vocals. Schubert’s genius lay in providing infinite variety within this unity of mood 24 vivid shades of grey.

Winterreise drew ambivalent responses at first. Schubert’s friends recalled that “We were quite dumbfounded by the sombre mood of the songs. Schubert replied merely with the words T like these songs more than any, and they will come
to please you too’; he was right, and we were soon thrilled by the impact of these melancholy songs.”

1. Gute Nacht | Good Night
2. Die Wetterfahne | The Weather Vane
3. Gefror'ne Tränen | Frozen Tears
4. Erstarrung | Numbness
5. Der Lindenbaum | The Linden Tree
6. Wasserflut | Flood Water
7. Auf dem Flusse | On the River
8. Ruckblick | Backward Glance
9. Irrlicht | Will-o'-the-Wisp
10. Rast | Rest
11. Frühlingstraum | Dream of Spring
12. Einsamkeit | Solitude
13. Die Post | The Post
14. Der greise Kopf | The Grey Head
15. Die Krähe | The Crow
16. Letzte Hoffnung | Last Hope
17. Im Dorfe | In the Village
18. Der stürmische Morgen | The Stormy Morning
19. Täuschung | Delusion 
20. Der Wegweiser | The Sign Post
21. Das Wirtshaus | The Inn
22. Mut | Courage
23. Die Nebensonnen | The False Suns
24. Der Leiermann | The Organ-Grinder 

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