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Happy Birthday Franz Schubert!

Happy Birthday Schubert!

The Austrian composer Franz Peter Schubert was born on this day in 1797. His works spread across the late Classical and early Romantic eras of music.

He was born in a suburb of Vienna as the twelfth child of his parents, Franz and Maria. Rather unusually, he showed a gift for music from a very early age. At the age of 5 his father gave him his first Violin Lessons. His brother Ignaz also taught him Piano. These lessons didn’t last long, however, as Schubert quickly exceeded his teachers’ abilities. He befriended a local joiner who took him to a nearby pianoforte warehouse. Here, Schubert was able to practise on high-quality instruments. He also played the Viola in the family string quartet. Schubert’s earliest string quartet compositions were written for this family ensemble.

In 1808 at the age of 11 Schubert became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school. Here, he became aquainted with the orchestral works of Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart.

In 1813 he left school and continued studying to become a schoolteacher. He joined his father’s school, teaching just the youngest students. Alongside his studies, Schubert continued to compose. He met a young Soprano named Therese Grob and wrote several liturgical works for her. Schubert wanted to marry Grob, but was stopped from doing so by a law at the time which required bridegrooms to prove they had the means to support a family.

1815 has been recognised as being Schubert’s most prolific year. During this year, he composed an astonishing 20,000 bars of music while living at home with his father. He continued to teach and earned just enough to cover his basic needs. During this time Schubert showed signs of depression.

During the early 1820s Schubert was part of a close-knit circle of artists and students. They would gather together socially in the apartment of one of the members. In early 1820 Schubert and four of his friends were arrested. In the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, the Austrian police were very wary of any possible revolutionary activities and were suspicious of gatherings of young students. One of Schubert’s friends was imprisoned for over a year and put on trial, resulting in him being forbidden to enter Vienna ever again.

In 1821 his musical style began to develop and mature. He was admitted to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde as a performing member. The number of performances of his works grew considerably, which helped to increase his reputation and establish his name. He came to the attention of Ludwig van Beethoven, who reportedly predicted that Schubert “would make a great sensation in the world”. The death of Beethoven affected Schubert deeply.

In 1822 he began writing a work which would become possibly his most well-known composition: the Symphony in B minor is better-known as the Unfinished Symphony. The reason it was left unfinished continues to be debated among music historians.

On 26th March 1828 (the anniversary of Beethoven’s death) Schubert gave – for the only time in his career – a public concert entirely of his own works. This was extremely well-received.

By the late 1820s his health was failing. Some of his symptoms seem to match with those of mercury-poisoning (which was a common treatment for syphilis). Schubert died in Vienna on 19th November 1828 at the age of just 31. The official cause of his death was given as typhoid fever.

At his own request, Schubert was buried close to the grave of his idol, Beethoven. Just a year earlier he had served as a torchbearer at Beethoven’s funeral.

In 1888 both Beethoven and Schubert’s graves were moved to the Zentralfriedhof where they can now be found along with the graves of Johannes Brahms and Johann Strauss II. His original resting place was converted into a park in 1925, called the Schubert Park.

Schubert was extremely prolific during his short life, writing over 1500 works. While he was alive, interest in Schubert’s music was limited to a fairly small circle of admirers in Vienna. But after his death, interest grew considerably. His music was championed by several other major composers, including Franz Liszt, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

Today Schubert is ranked among the greatest of western composers.

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