Music – Franz Schubert

Born 1797 ; died 1828. Schubert, as will be noted, was a younger contemporary of Beethoven ; he was born twenty-seven years later than Beethoven and died one year later than he. He was born, lived, and died in Vienna, which, as has now surely been noticed by every reader; was Europe’s greatest center of musical culture in the period of the development of the Sonata-Symphony style. (Note that Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert all lived in and about that city. And note the personal connections —Mozart and Haydn in more or less close touch with one another; Beethoven Schubert. in touch with Mozart and actually taking lessons from Haydn ; Schubert living in the same city as Beethoven ; for years reverencing him at a distance, and at last visiting him, upon his death-bed, to be greeted by him as his successor—’ Franz has my soul’. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert constitute the ‘ big four’ of the Viennese School.)

Schubert’s father was a schoolmaster and a keen amateur musician, the family String Quartet parties being famous in the neighbourhood; later the Quartet was enlarged into an Orchestra by the addition of musical neighbours, and Franz played the Viola in it. At the age of eleven he underwent in brilliant style the tests for admission into the Royal Chapel Choir School, and here took a very full part in the very varied and abundant musical activities of the boys. Underfed and underwarmed, he had a hard time of it, and one may guess that his resistance to disease in after-life was weakened by the almost Dotheboys Hall conditions, but those were days when almost all schools ‘ did the boys’.

Composition began early ; Church Music, String Quartets, Songs, Piano Pieces poured out, and were rehearsed and performed as soon as finished by Franz and his schoolfellows.

The word `finished’, however, is, in one sense, out of place. It suggests labour and careful thought, such as Beethoven found necessary, whereas Schubert ` lisped in numbers, for the numbers came’. He achieved ` finish’, when he did achieve it, by the perfection of his inspiration and the reliability of his constructive instinct, not by the sweat of his brow or the burning of midnight oil. Much of what he wrote, all through his life, never was `finished’, since it lacked the close logic and coherence of thoughtfully designed and thoroughly considered work. Smaller things were often perfect; larger ones sometimes suffered by undue length and disproportion. Schubert is, indeed, the very type of the spontaneous musician. He sang as the lark sings, with the same abandon and exuberance. It is even on record that a week or two after composing a song he could fail to recognize it as his own when it was put before him.

On leaving the Choir School, Schubert, for a time, helped in his father’s school. Then he made friends who helped him, and was able to give up the school tasks, never, however, obtaining a position of financial independence.

He wrote Songs, Songs, Songs—poured them out by ` mass production ‘. During his whole life he wrote more than 600, to good words, indifferent words, and poor ones. His special gifts were melody and `characterization’. At first these Songs were unacceptable to the publishers. They offered him absurd prices of a few shillings when they offered anything at all. A group of his intimates and admirers therefore formed a sort of Schubert Song Society ; they would print a song, hold a concert, have the song sung, sell copies of it to the audience, and so raise money to print another.

Schubert’s Piano Music was much of it lyrical in form, and all of it (indeed all his music) was lyrical in impulse. He wrote a good deal of Chamber Music, eight Symphonies (of which but two can to-day usually be heard), a number of unsuccessful Operas, some Masses, a good many Part Songs for Male Voices, and a quantity of Piano Duets. Of course he over-produced, but the best of his work will always charm by its melody, its refined harmony, and its easy, happy spirit, or, if more serious, by its not too deep yet sincere expression of more sober feeling.

Schubert carried a torch at Beethoven’s funeral, and a few months later the friends who had accompanied him carried torches at his. On his death-bed he read all the novels of Fenimore Cooper that he could borrow, and studied Handel’s scores, which determined him to work hard at counterpoint and make up for lost time ! His last thoughts were of Beethoven, and he was buried near him, as he desired. The property he left (including his clothes and hundreds of unpublished compositions) was valued at sixty-three florins, or about £2 10. But he had been rich in friendships and in the affection of an elder brother who throughout life was his warmest admirer and strongest supporter.

FURTHER READING. A fine fifty-page article by Grove in his Dictionary is the best thing in English upon the subject. There are also a handy little book by Antcliffe (Bell, 2s.), and a rather bigger book by Edmonstoune Duncan (Dent, 4s. 6d.).

PRINTED MUSIC. Editions abound of the Songs, the Piano Sonatas, Impromptus, Moments Musicaux, &c. ; and the Symphonies in C and B minor ( `Unfinished’) can be got either for two hands or four hands. The Miniature Scores of these last two works are also available, and that of the `Unfinished’ can be conveniently studied with the Gramophone record.

PLAYER-PIANO ROLLS. A number of the Sonatas, Impromptus, and Moments Musicaux are obtainable for both 65 and 68 note instruments.

So are the Unfinished Symphony and the Overture and Ballet Music to `Rosamunde’. And there are also many oddments.

GRAMOPHONE RECORDS. SONGS. Who is Sylvia f (Hubert Eisdell, C.) ; Hark, hark, the Lark (Alma Gluck, H. M. V.) ; The En King (Radford, H. M. V.). STRING QUARTETS. Ist movement of No. 12 (London String Quartet ; Scherzo from Tchaikovsky in D, Op. 11 on back, C.) ; Minuet from Quartet in A minor (Elman Quartet, H. M. V.) ; Death and the Maiden Variations, from Quartet in D minor (Léner Quartet, C.) ORCHESTRAL WORKS. Unfinished Symphony (Sir Henry Wood’s Orchestra, z records, C.; also Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, H. M. V.) ; Marche Militaire (Royal Albert Hall Orchestra; with Berlioz’ Marche Hongroise on back ; H. M. V.) ; Overture to Rosamunde (C.).