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Category: Musician or composer


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, writing over 1,500 works in his short career. 

The largest number of his compositions are songs for solo voice and piano (over 600). He also composed a considerable number of secular works for two or more voices, namely part songs, choruses and cantatas. He completed eight orchestral overtures and seven complete symphonies, in addition to fragments of six others.

While he composed no concertos, he did write three concertante works for violin and orchestra. There is a large body of music for solo piano, including fourteen complete sonatas, numerous miscellaneous works and many short dances. There is also a relatively large set of works for piano duet. There are over fifty chamber works, including some fragmentary works. His sacred output includes seven masses, one oratorio and one requiem, among other mass movements and numerous smaller compositions. He completed only eleven of his twenty-stage works.

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 Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Johannes 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.


Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund (now a part of Alsergrund), Vienna, Archduchy of Austria on 31 January 1797. His father, Franz Theodor Schubert, the son of a Moravian peasant, was a parish schoolmaster; his mother, Elisabeth (Vietz), was the daughter of a Silesian master locksmith and had been a housemaid for a Viennese family before marriage. Of Franz Theodor's fourteen children (one of them illegitimate, born in 1783), nine died in infancy.

The art of making friends, and of keeping them, was no secret to Schubert. Several
friendships lasted throughout his life. Schubert's circle of friends, bound together by
a desire for self-improvement and a passion for poetry and music, include some of
the finest artists of the 19th century.

Schubert’s father was a well-known teacher, and his school in Lichtental (in Vienna's ninth district) had numerous students in attendance. Though he was not recognized or even formally trained as a musician, he passed on certain musical basics to his gifted son.

At age six, Franz began to receive regular instruction from his father, and a year later was enrolled at his father's school. His formal musical education started around the same time. His father taught him basic violin technique, and his brother Ignaz gave him piano lessons. At age seven, he was given his first lessons outside the family by Michael Holzer, organist and choirmaster of the local parish church in Lichtental.


Although Wikipedia says “The boy seemed to gain more from an acquaintance with a friendly joiner's apprentice who took him to a neighbouring pianoforte warehouse where Franz could practice on better instruments”. He also played viola in the family string quartet, with brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on first and second violin and his father on the violoncello. Franz wrote his earliest string quartets for this ensemble.

Although he had a period of musical training at the Stadtkonvikt, at the end of 1813, he left the Stadtkonvikt and returned home for teacher training at the Normalhauptschule. In 1814, he entered his father's school as teacher of the youngest pupils. For over two years young Schubert simply taught in his father’s school in order to earn his living.  But throughout this period, he continued to take private lessons in composition from Salieri, his mentor at the Stadtkonvikt, who gave Schubert more actual technical training than any of his other teachers, before they parted ways in 1817.

Gerasch Stadtkonvikt Wien

Through most of his brief life, Schubert was supported helped and encouraged by his friends.  Although, as we shall see, much of his inspiration came as a by-product of hardship of various sorts, his friends made it possible for him to express his feelings through music by providing him with paper and somewhere to live.

Schubert’s music is both very melodic and extremely emotional.  The poverty, the heartbreak, the illnesses he suffered were all transformed into music – not depressing, morbid, turgid music, but music that makes your heart soar.  In effect within hell, Schubert reached out for heaven.  And he was helped to do this by his friends.

In 1816, for example, when Schubert was just 19, Schober, a student and of good family and some means, invited Schubert to room with him at his mother's house. The proposal was particularly opportune, for Schubert had just made the unsuccessful application for the post of kapellmeister at Laibach, and he had also decided not to resume teaching duties at his father's school. By the end of the year, he became a guest in Schober's lodgings. For a time, he attempted to increase the household resources by giving music lessons, but they were soon abandoned, and he devoted himself to composition. "I compose every morning, and when one piece is done, I begin another." Much of this work was unpublished, but manuscripts and copies circulated among friends and admirers.

Milder, Pauline Anna (1785–1838). Viennese opera singer, and
the first Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio (1805). Schubert’s
enthusiasm for her as an artist was first kindled by her
performance in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, while he was still
at school. Schubert wrote his second Suleika song and Der Hirt
auf dem Felsen for her

In early 1817, Schober introduced Schubert to Johann Michael Vogl, a prominent baritone twenty years Schubert's senior. Vogl, for whom Schubert went on to write a great many songs, became one of Schubert's main proponents in Viennese musical circles. He also met Joseph Hüttenbrenner (brother to Anselm), who also played a role in promoting Schubert's music. These, and an increasing circle of friends and musicians, became responsible for promoting, collecting, and, after his death, preserving his work.  Thus he survived through the love and friendship of others.

In early 1818, he was rejected for membership in the prestigious Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, something that might have furthered his musical career. However, he began to gain more notice in the press, and the first public performance of a secular work, an overture performed in February 1818, received praise from the press in Vienna and abroad.

But despite his early successes his middle years were plagued with rejection, insecurity, poverty and difficulties.  More details are given with each observation on the background to each work we have chosen for the site.

Sources of Inspiration

Grob, Therese (1798–1875). Schubert’s first love, she later married
a baker but died childless.

Much of the inspiration that Schubert benefited from in his early years was occasioned by unrequited love.  His poverty and lack of steady income resulted in his rejection by at least two young ladies with whom he was passionately in love.  

In 1814, [aged 17], Schubert met a young soprano named Therese Grob, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a "Salve Regina" and a "Tantum Ergo") for her; she also was a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her, but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family. In November 1816, after failing to gain a musical post in Laibach (now Ljubljana, Slovenia). Schubert sent Grob's brother Heinrich a collection of songs as a reminder of her place in his heart, and he abandoned the pursuit.  The music was retained by the family into the twentieth century.

To Anselm Hüttenbrenner's question if he had ever fallen in love, Schubert replied
'I loved someone very dearly and she returned my love. She was a schoolmaster’s daughter, somewhat younger than myself, and she sang most beautifully and with great feeling. She was not exactly pretty ....; but she had a heart, a heart of gold. For three years she hoped I would marry her; but I could find no position which would have provided for us both. She then later married someone else, which hurt me very much. I love her still, and no one since has ever appealed to me so much. But it seems she was not meant for me

possibly Maria Esterhazy, Karoline's sister

He also held a hopeless passion for his pupil, the Countess Karoline Eszterházy, but the only work he specifically dedicated to her was his Fantasy in F minor for piano duet (D. 940). His friend Eduard von Bauernfeld penned the following verse, which appears to reference Schubert's unrequited sentiments:

In love with a Countess of youthful grace,
—A pupil of Galt's; in desperate case
Young Schubert surrenders himself to another,
And fain would avoid such affectionate pother

One of Schubert's most prolific years was 1815. He composed over 20,000 bars of music, more than half of which was for orchestra, including nine church works, a symphony, and about 140 Lieder.

Countess Karoline Esterhazy
After a lost water-colour by
Josef Teltscher

We do not know what Schubert died from. All we do know is that in the midst of this creative activity, his health deteriorated rapidly and although the cause of his death was officially diagnosed as typhoid fever, the deterioration took place over several years, not weeks.   It could have been lead poisoning – very common in Austria and Germany because of its extensive use as a sweetener in white wine, its use in plates and tankards and the extensive network of lead pipes to bring water.

There are suggestions he had syphilis and some of his symptoms matched those of mercury poisoning, mercury was then a common treatment for syphilis, but there again heavy metal poisoning – mercury or lead produces the same symptoms.  Heavy metal poisoning looks the most likely candidate.  But this agonising death produced some extraordinary music.

The works of his last two years reveal a composer increasingly meditating on the darker side of the human psyche and human relationships, and with a deeper sense of spiritual awareness and conception of the 'beyond'.

He reaches extraordinary depths in several chillingly dark songs of this period, especially in the larger cycles. For example, the song "Der Doppelgänger" (D 957, No. 13, "The double") reaching an extraordinary climax, conveying madness at the realization of rejection and imminent death – a stark and visionary picture in sound and words that had been prefigured a year before by "Der Leiermann" (D 911, No. 24, "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man") at the end of Winterreise – and yet the composer is able to touch repose and communion with the infinite in the almost timeless ebb and flow of the string quintet and his last three piano sonatas, moving between joyful, vibrant poetry and remote introspection.


Even by the late 1820s, Schubert's health was failing.  In the late summer of 1828, the composer saw court physician Ernst Rinna, who may have confirmed Schubert's suspicions that he was ill beyond cure and likely to die soon. 

At the beginning of November, he again fell ill, experiencing headaches, fever, swollen joints, and vomiting. He was generally unable to retain solid food and his condition worsened. 

Schubert died in Vienna, at age 31, on 19 November 1828, at the apartment of his brother Ferdinand.

Anton Holzapfel (1792–1868) was a successful Viennese lawyer and a fellow student of Schubert’s at the Seminary. He was a fine tenor singer and an excellent cellist, who afterwards took up law for his living. His memoirs give a vivid picture of the teenage Schubert:

'He was one of those deep, quiet natures who, from the standpoint of superficial book-learning, often seem to have little talent. But even in those days his intellectual development was far in advance of his years; I remember particularly a long poem of his, written in the manner of Klopstock’s odes (a style hardly understood by us pupils). And its theme?

‘God’s omnipotence in the creation!’



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