Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Schubert, c.1825

Franz Peter Schubert was one of the greatest composers of the 19th century. With over 600 compositions, Schubert pioneered the Lieder form and wrote many famous compositions, including "Ellens dritter Gesang" (Ave Maria), "Der Elkönig", and the eighth, "Unfinished", Symphony.

Schubert was born on 31 January 1797 in Vienna, and baptised the next day at the Lichtenthal Church. His father, Franz Theodor Schubert, was a teacher. Schubert was the second-youngest child of fourteen. Five siblings did not survive beyond childhood.

Schubert's family was very musical. His father and brother taught him the violin and piano. Schubert soon displayed a remarkable talent and had written many compositions by the age of ten. This talent took him to the Stadtkonvikt - the best school in Vienna. He was a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, and he was an excellent music student, although he did less well in academic subjects. It was in the Stadtkonvikt that he met his lifelong friend, Josef von Spaun. Schubert's success in music brought him to the attention of the director of the school, Antonio Salieri. Salieri took Schubert under his own wing, personally giving him music lessons.

Schubert's Birthplace
Schubert's Birthplace

In 1812, Schubert's voice broke, and as a result he no longer sang with the Vienna Boys Choir. He quit school and became a teacher at his father's school. He hated every minute of it. He let his classes run wild, uninterested in them. Ironically, this was one of the best years for Schubert's compositions, because he wrote music as an attempt to get away from his hated school job. He wrote the first of his Lieder, "Gretchen am Spinnrade", and also his first mass, "Mass in F-Sharp". It was also during this time that he composed his first masterwork: "Der Erlkönig".

Schubert had many close friends. They called themselves the "Schubertians", and they became Schubert's family. In 1816, Schubert, despite high qualifications, was not accepted as a music teacher at the school he replied to. As a result, he quit his job as teacher in his father's school. This estranged him from his family, and he moved in with Professor Heinrich Josef Watteroth.

Despite having composed 500 works, Schubert was not famous. He was still poor, but his friend Johann Michael Vogl was a great proponent of his. he became the teacher of the Esterházy family, but he only stayed for a year. Schubert decided he would rather be happy than rich. But in 1820, Schubert was crushed, when two of his operas were critically panned. This began a time of depression for Schubert that would last for three years.

In 1823 Schubert became a member of the Music Society of Graz. This was not a prestigious award by any means, but it made Schubert very happy. In response he composed his eighth, most famous symphony: the Unfinished Symphony. There are only three movements (not four as is traditional), and the third movement ends abruptly after a few measures. It is unknown why Schubert did not finish it.

Also in 1823 Schubert sought medical treatment for a chronic illness (generally believed to be syphilis). It became the first of many such treatments.

In 1825 Schubert composed his most famous song - "Ellens dritter Gesang" (Ellen's third song), more commonly known as the "Ave Maria". It comes from a story by Sir Walter Scott, "The Lady of the Lake". Schubert composed the song in German, and it was future generations who (somewhat clumsily) set it to the Latin text.

  • A MIDI of "Ave Maria"

    In 1827, Schubert's idol, Ludwig von Beethoven, was dying. Beethoven had heard some of Schubert's works and reportedly liked them, something that pleased Schubert no end. Schubert visited Beethoven at his deathbed and was a pallbearer for his funeral. After the funeral, Schubert announced that he would be buried next to Beethoven.

    On March 26, 1828, Schubert had his first taste of fame. He had a concert dedicated entirely to Schubert's compositions. It was a huge success, and Schubert was very happy.

    In 1828, Schubert grew sicker. He moved out to the country with his brother. He was making plans for the next year, but on November 19, 1828, Schubert died. He was buried next to Beethoven.

    Schubert's Grave
    Schubert's Grave

    Schubert was the first of the Lieder composers. His talent was his lyrics. He was a brilliant lyricist. He composed all his music not with a piano but simply in his head. Franz Schubert was one of the greatest composers of the 19th century.

  • Franz Peter Schubert and Adam Michael Gobeski: Separated at Birth?

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    Page created: 3 July 2002

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