His childhood
Franz Peter Schubert was born into a musical family in Vienna on 31 January 1797, and was duly baptized as a Catholic. As a child, he was described as stock and short-sighted, but intellectually inclined. His father, a well-known teacher, did all he could to interest his children in music.  Schubert received his early musical education from both his father and his brother Ignaz. He studied at his father’s school from around 1803, when he was around six years old.

Soon after, Schubert began writing compositions for the family. He played the viola in the family string quartet, with his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violin and his father on the cello. Schubert wrote many of his early string quartets for this ensemble.

By the age of ten, he was the leading singer in the local church choir and was writing music for the choir performances. In 1804, Schubert came to the attention of Antonio Salieri, then Vienna's leading musical authority, when his vocal talent was recognized. In 1808, he was admitted to the Court Chapel choir at the Imperial and Royal School. There, Schubert was exposed to the overtures and symphonies of Mozart.

Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, a new friend Schubert had made, who was then an important Lied composer, had greatly influenced Schubert musically.

Schubert’s talent as a composer began to emerge. He was later taken on by Antonio Salieri as his special pupil in harmony and counterpoint and they got on well. Schubert was always proud to call himself ‘a pupil of salieri’.

In 1813, Schubert joined the family school as a junior master. His family was overjoyed, but Schubert loathed the work, and he was rather poorly paid. However, his three years as a teacher proved to be a very fruitful one, in terms of his compositional outputs. During this period, he wrote around 400 compositions. That includes his first three symphonies, some of his early operas, many string quartets, masses and some 350. It was also during this period that he had achieved his first success with his song composition and that his true style had gradually developed.

In 1814, Schubert fell in love with Therese Grob, the daughter of a local silk manufacturer. Schubert would have married her had he not been so poor as Therese’s parents insisted she married a wealthy baker. Several of his songs were composed for her voice, and she also performed in the premiere of his first Mass in October 1814.

Schubert later wrote for a vacant post of Music Director in Laibach, citing Salieri as his reference. However, he was turned down due to Salieri’s betrayal as he recommended another of his pupils.

                                       Schubert's Signature  
His friends
Friends occupy an important place in Schubert’s life and history. In 1816, Franz von Schober, a medical student, whose rich Viennese family were keen patrons of the arts, had invited Schubert to move into the family home and tried to help him in every way. Schubert devoted hiself to composition every morning, one piece after another.

Schober introduced Schubert to the prominent singer, Johann Michael Vogl who was greatly impressed with Schubert’s compositions. He soon became the foremost interpreter of Schubert’s songs. His performances of the songs had, in a great way, helped Schubert gained popularity in Vienna.

Schubert also met Joseph Hüttenbrenner, also played a role in promoting Schubert’s music. This increasing circle of friends and musicians forms an important part in Schubert’s life. Their happy drinking sessions is proudly known to be as Schubertiads. They talked, drank and made music. It was this tight circle of friends and musicians, who became responsible for promoting, collecting, and, after his death, preserving, his work.

By 1817, Schubert had written some of his most attractive songs such as ‘The Trout’ and ‘To Music’. They were so essentially melodic and dramatic. He also worked on his 4th Symphony which carries a definite flavour and style of Beethoven. Afterwhich, he composed the carefree 5th Symphony, which is infused with the spirit of Mozart.

Schubert was offered an employment  in the summer of 1818 as a music tutor to the two young daughters of Count Esterhazy, which he considered a good getaway from the endless socialising in Vienna.

On the summer of 1819, Schubert went for a trip into the Austrian country side with Michael Vogl. It was one fo the happiest trip, while staying with an old friend Albert Stadler, he wrote a sparkling piano quintet for the local musical society with a variation movement.

In early 1820, Schubert and his tight circle of friends was involved in an unpleasant brush with the authorities, the Autrian secret police, who were suspicious of any type of student gatherings.
One of Schubert’s friend, Johann Senn was imprisioned a year and then permanently banned from Vienna, while the inoffensive Schubert and his other four friends was allowed to go free.

The composition of 1819 and 1820 show a marked advance in development and maturity of style of Schubert. And by 1821, he was becoming reasonably well-known as a composer and was given a job at the Court Theatre. However, his lack of cooperation and unpunctuality soon put an end to this employment. By this stage, Schubert’s work was still not published, so some of his friends got together and persuaded the publisher Diabelli to put some of Schubert’s best songs on a sale or return basis. This worked well, and it finally brought him a small but regular income from his music.
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His illness
1822 was a depressing year for Schubert. Possibly after one of those customary drunken evenings, he was persuaded by some of his drinking friends to visit a brothel. Schubert was the only one to suffer from a serious dose of syphilis which was to bear tragic consequences.

Also, for a variety of reasons, two of his operas were unsuccessful and some compositions of his were censored or withdrawn.

Towards the end of 1822, Schubert was suddenly spurred and determined to work on a composition that was said to have shown his maturing personal vision, the ‘Unfinished Symphony’ in B minor. The reason he left it unfinished after just two movements and sketches has been debated endlessly without resolution and it remains an enigma. It is also highly unusual that he did not mention this composition to any of his friends. This Unfinished Symphony, was said to be born from the depth of his own personal tragedy.

By this time, the happy world of the Schubertiads was beginning to disintergrate. Since then, his life seemed to be alternating between occasional hope and happiness and deep depression.

He described himself as “wretched and unhappy” and that he often hoped he did not have to wake up again as “each morning brings back yesterday’s grief”. He was constantly depressed that is health “would never be right again”.

Despite his doubtful health and gloomy mood, Schubert continued to compose vastly and was constantly wrapped in his work.

                                                     Schubert's Signature
His last years
1825 was a much better year as publications had been moving more rapidly and his financial situation was thus improved, though not greatl. During that summer, he made a plesaurable trip to Hungary with Vogl and had repeated their happy memories on their first trip together.

In 1826, he loyal friends again made various efforts to get him an official post but none was successful.

In the darkest of moods, Schubert sat down and wrote his song-cycle ‘Winterreise’. All his friends were very shaken by bitterness and sense of despair in the songs, even the optimistic Schober feel gloomy.

Amidst his grief, Schubert had written some of his most beautiful and profound music, music of a deeper sense of human awareness. The songs of this period revealed the composers’  extraordinary depth and the awareness of the darker side of human relationships.

Schubert started to study Handel’s music in 1828, and had made lesson to further develop his knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. However, before he could do that, his health deteriorated and he fell seriously ill. The syphilis he had contracted in 1822 was taking its toll,

And he then moved to his brother Ferdinand’s house so as to receive some attentions and comfort. 

In October 1828, Schubert went for a short holiday to Eisenstadt. There, he brooded long over the grave of Haydn. His sickness got worse upon returning to Vienna. On the 16th November,  he suddenly deteriorated and a nervous fever was diagnosed. He died on the 19th November.

Accompanied by many of his heart-broken friends, he was buried in a grave next to Beethoven’s. 


~ Written By Boon Sin Ler

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