Here are the facts about the great composer – Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828).
Facts About Franz Schubert:
- The 2010 Deutsche Grammophon recording of all of Franz Schubert’s songs (Lieder) by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (deemed to be the greatest ‘Schubertian’ of our time) and Gerald Moore, fills 21 CDs. Over 500 beautiful songs were written by a man who lived for only 31 years.
- Franz Schubert was only a small man; five foot, one inch and a little overweight; one of the nicknames used by his friends was ‘Schwammerl” (little mushroom); the other was ‘Kanevas’ – apparently he always asked of new acquaintances, ‘Kann er was?’ (What can he do?). He also suffered from a stammer and walked with a shuffle.
- Infant mortality was high in Vienna (in fact, almost everywhere in the late eighteenth century); Schubert’s father, Peter had first married when he was 19 to Elisabeth Vietz who was three years older than him. She bore him 14 children of whom only five survived – the youngest of them was Franz; when his wife died, Peter married again and his second wife gave him five more children.
- Franz Schubert, not unlike many other famous composers, liked a drink and was a famously cantankerous drunk. He never moved from his native Vienna and spent his time, after a brief teaching career, with a tight-knit group of artists, poets and writers who called themselves ‘Schubertians’ or Schubertiads’. Apparently, he was neither articulate nor graceful; nor he was not known to have any close relationships; he died of a combination of typhoid and syphilis. It is quite likely that he contracted the disease from a prostitute – there were 10,000 of them in Vienna in the 1820’s.
- There are two famous song versions of the Roman Catholic prayer, Ave Maria; the first by Charles Gounod whereby he wrote a setting for the words over the first Prelude for keyboard by J S Bach – Charles was introduced to the music of J S Bach by Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny. The second is the Schubert version. However, his setting was originally written as a setting of a song from Walter Scott’s epic poem, The Lady of the Lake – a long wandering poem set in the highlands with caves, warriors, harps and rebellions. It is thought that the opening words of the refrain – Ave Maria – could have been the inspiration for adapting Schubert’s melody to the Ave Maria prayer. It is now the only version we ever hear.
- In March 1827, Schubert, about whom, Beethoven had said, ‘Truly in Schubert there is a divine spark’, was a torch-bearer at the great man’s funeral. There were, in fact, 39 other torch-bearers, including the composers, Hummel and Czerny; this probably says more about Schubert’s position in the Vienna social hierarchy than his relationship with Beethoven. There is little said about the two ever meeting.
- When Schubert died he was buried, at his own request, close to Beethoven who had died only a year previously; but it was a much quieter affair as Schubert’s fame had not reached the heights of Beethoven’s – it was only later that his true genius was recognised. Both graves were moved in 1888 to the Zentralfriedhof (the Central Graveyard of Vienna) where they can now be seen close to those of Johann Stauss II and Johannes Brahms.
- Schubert’s popular song, The Trout (Die Forelle), written in 1817 to words by Austrian poet, Christian Schubart, was later used for the fourth movement of his Piano Quintet in A major (D. 667). The Trout Quintet (as it is now known) was written for a wealthy music patron who played the cello – the variations which make up the fourth movement (for which the piece is probably most famous), were suggested by the patron himself, Sylvester Paumgartner. Thank you, sir!
- Schubert’s lack of recognition after his early prominence as child prodigy – for his composing ability, not his playing, didn’t apparently faze him – a lot of his work was simply too demanding for the amateur singers who the publishers were pandering to – but his compositional output continued to grow at an amazing pace – right up until he died. He composed all the time; ‘I work every morning, when I have finished one new piece I begin another.’
- Schubert’s understanding of the piano belied his own ability to play it. His most famous song (at the time), the Erl King, which sold an unheard of 800 copies, was technically beyond him and, instead of playing the triplets for which the song is known, he could only play them as double notes.
- Being turned down by a publisher has long been the misery for the unknown artist; Schubert wasn’t immune either; ‘I only want works by masters already recognized by the public’ were what Peters said after Schubert’s friend, Huttenbrenner, had tried to get some of his works published.
- Peter Schubert, Franz’s father, a teacher by profession, was an amateur cellist and had taught his son the rudiments of music. However, the youngster proved a bit more of a talent than his father and was soon taken to the Imperial Seminary by Salieri (of Mozart fame) where he sung in the choir, played the violin and was taught theory. He did, however, eventually work as a teacher – he managed it for 3 years – like his father; it was what his father wanted.
- The final verse of the poem, Die Forelle, was omitted by Schubert in his song – it was effectively a moral warning to young women to guard against young men with their ‘rods’; the poem was deemed by some critics as being overly sentimental and feeble and was, in effect, a sexual parable. The omission of the final line, ‘Girls, see seducers with their tackle! Or else, too late, you’ll bleed’, was probably the reason why the song became so famous – we all thought it was about something else.