The son of a schoolmaster who had settled in Vienna, Franz Schubert was educated as a chorister of the imperial court chapel and later qualified as a schoolteacher, briefly and thereafter intermittently joining his father in the classroom. He spent his life largely in
Vienna, enjoying the company of friends, but never holding any position in the musical establishment or attracting the kind of patronage that Beethoven had twenty years earlier. His final years were clouded by illness, as the result of a syphilitic infection, and he died in 1828,
leaving much unfinished. His gifts had been most notably expressed in song, his talent for melody always evident in his other compositions. Schubert's compositions are generally numbered according to the Deutsch catalogue, with the letter D.
Schubert wrote operas, German operas or Singspiel and incidental music for the theatre. His best known compositions of this kind include the music for the unsuccessful play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus), mounted at the Theater an der Wien in
December 1823. The ballet music and entracte from Rosamunde are particularly well known.
Among the various works Schubert wrote for church use particular mention may be made of the second of his six settings of the Mass.
Choral and Vocal Music
Schubert wrote for mixed voices, male voices and female voices, but by far the most famous of his vocal compositions are the five hundred or so songs, settings of verses ranging from Shakespeare to his friends and contemporaries. His song cycles, published in his lifetime are Die
schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill) and Die Winterreise (The Winter Journey), while Schwanengesang (Swan-Song) was compiled by a publisher after the composer's early death. Many of these songs by Schubert are very familiar, including Der Erlkönig, the Mignon songs from Goethe
and the Songs of Norma from Sir Walter Scott.
The Unfinished Symphony of Schubert was written in 1822, but no addition was made to the two movements of the work. Other symphonies of the eight more or less completed include the Great C major Symphony and the charming and classical Fifth Symphony. His various Overtures include
two in the Italian style.
Of Schubert's various string quartets the Quartet in A minor, with its variations on the well known Rosamunde theme and the Quartet in D minor, Death and the Maiden, with variations on the song of that name, are the most familiar. The Piano Quintet Die Forelle (The Trout)
includes a movement of variations on that song, while the great C major String Quintet of 1828 is of unsurpassable beauty. The two Piano Trios and the single movement Notturno date from the same year. Schubert's Octet, for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and double
bass was written early in 1824. To the violin sonatas (sonatinas) of 1816 may be added the more ambitious Duo for violin and piano, D. 574, of the following year, and the Fantasy, D. 934, published in 1828, the year of Schubert's death. The Arpeggione Sonata was written for a newly
devised and soon obselete stringed instrument, the Arpeggione. It now provides additional repertoire for the cello or viola.
Schubert's compositions for piano include a number of sonatas as well as the Wanderer Fantasia and two sets of Impromptus, D. 899 and D. 935. He also wrote a number of dances for piano, waltzes, Ländler and German dances. His music for piano duet includes a Divertissement à
l'hongroise, marches and polonaises.
Biography selected from Naxos, the World's Leading Classical Music Label.
©HNH International Ltd. 2000. In Kunst der Fuge / On Classical by permission. All rights reserved.