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Franz Schubert

Biography

Born: Jan 31, 1797; Austria   Died: Nov 19, 1828; Austria   Period: Romantic
Franz Peter Schubert was among the first of the Romantics, and the composer who, more than any other, brought the art song (lied) to artistic maturity. During his short but prolific career, he produced masterpieces in nearly every genre, all characterized by rich harmonies, an expansive treatment of classical forms, and a seemingly endless gift for melody. Schubert began his earliest musical training studying with his father and brothers. Having Read more passed an audition, Schubert enrolled at the Convict school that trained young vocalists to eventually sing at the chapel of The Imperial Court. Schubert began to explore composition and wrote a song that came to the attention of the institution's director, Antonio Salieri, who along with the school's professor of harmony, hailed young Schubert as a genius. In 1813, after Schubert's voice broke, he returned to live with his father, who directed him to follow in his footsteps and become a schoolteacher. Schubert begrudgingly complied and worked miserably in that capacity by day, while composing prolifically by night. He had written more than 100 songs as well as numerous symphonic, operatic, and chamber music scores, before he reached the age of 20.
Schubert finally left his teaching position to dedicate himself completely to musical pursuits. During the summer of 1818, the young composer worked as a private music teacher to the aristocratic Esterházy family. When he left that post in the fall, Schubert lived a somewhat bohemian lifestyle, composing and spending time with a group of friends that acted as his personal support system. In 1820, Schubert was commissioned by two opera houses, the Karthnerthor Theatre and Theatre-an-der-Wein, to compose a pair of operas. He wrote Zwillingsbruden, and Zauberharfe, both of which were unenthusiastically received. Schubert failed to secure a contract with a publisher, as none were willing to take a chance on a relatively unknown composer who wrote (harmonically) untraditional music. Schubert, along with the support of his artistic friends, published his own work for a collection of roughly 100 subscribers. These efforts, however, were financially unrewarding, and Schubert struggled to sustain himself. His work garnered little attention and contemporary composers dismissed his music as presumptuous and immature.
In 1823, Schubert was elected to the Musikverein of Graz, as an honorary member. Though this brought no financial reward and was an inconsequential appointment, Schubert relished its slight recognition, and to show his gratitude, composed his famous Unfinished Symphony. Five years later, Schubert's music was featured at a concert at Vienna's Musikverein. His work was received quite enthusiastically, and to much critical acclaim. This marked the only time during the composer's life that he enjoyed such success. This seemed to provide Schubert with a renewed sense of optimism, and despite illness, the composer continued to produce at an incredible rate. He began to organize a scheme to increase his artistic popularity, by continuing to evaluate his work and progress as a musician, perhaps even planning to study harmony privately. Schubert's health did not improve, and he soon found himself at death's door. During the composer's last moments, he instructed his brother Ferdinand to ensure that he would be buried alongside Ludwig van Beethoven's grave. Schubert revered the legendary composer, and was grateful to him, as Beethoven had praised his work after hearing a selection of songs. Schubert also highly regarded the work of both Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Franz Schubert died of syphilis.
Despite his short life, Schubert produced a wealth of symphonies, operas, masses, chamber music pieces, and piano sonatas, most of which are considered standard repertoire. He is known primarily for composing hundreds of songs including Gretchen am Spinnrade, and Erlkonig. He pioneered the song cycle with such works as Die Schöne Müllerin, and Die Winterreise, and greatly affected the vocal writing of both Robert Schumann and Gustav Mahler. Read less
Schubert: Winterreise / Goerne, Eschenbach
Release Date: 11/11/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902107   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: The Late Piano Sonatas / Paul Lewis
Release Date: 05/13/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902165   Number of Discs: 2
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Schubert: Die Schone Mullerin / Fischer-Dieskau, Schiff
Release Date: 10/30/2012   Label: Arthaus Musik  
Catalog: 107269   Number of Discs: 1
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Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica Play Schubert
Release Date: 02/24/2009   Label: Euroarts  
Catalog: 3072238   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert Edition
Release Date: 10/28/2014   Label: Brilliant Classics  
Catalog: 94870   Number of Discs: 69
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Work: Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960

 

About This Work
Many of Schubert's greatest works belong to his last year, a veritable Annus Mirabilis which saw the creation of the "Great" C major Symphony, the String Quintet, D. 956, the piano trios D. 929 and D. 898, the Mass in E flat, D. 950, and Read more the Fantasy in F minor for piano duet, D. 940. On September 26, 1828, Schubert's Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960, his last instrumental work, was finished. The composer's last three sonatas debate limitation and leavetaking; Alfred Brendel suggests that they "lead us into romantic regions of wonderment, terror and awe." Perhaps the B flat sonata probes human mortality even more deeply than its fellows.

As Claudio Arrau once remarked, "this is a work written in the proximity of death...one feels it from the very first theme...the breaking off, and the silence after a long, mysterious trill in the bass." What Tovey described as "a sublime theme of utmost calmness and breadth" ends mysteriously with the same distant trill, returning intermittently to impart deeper anguish to music of sinister beauty. The exposition contains two other subsidiary themes, both in remote keys, and what follows also includes a remarkable self-quotation -- the links between the B flat sonata's first-movement development and an insistent six-note theme taken from a setting of the cathedral scene from Goethe's Faust, composed in December 1814, are often overlooked. However, as John Reed suggests in Schubert: The Final Years, "many a recognisable variation strays much farther from its theme!"

The C sharp minor Andante sostenuto ranks alongside Schubert's finest slow movements. Sustained gravitas and sublimity of expression take us to the brink of the abyss: that remote, solitary place which T.S. Eliot knew as "the still point of the turning world." The music is dominated by a recurring figure in the accompaniment, spanning four octaves and enclosing a melody of effusive beauty. The distinctive rhythmic accompaniment recalls an Austrian folk song whose silent second beat would have enabled hammer-wielding artisans to synchronize their sledgehammer blows to maximum effect. Popular tradition maintains that Schubert observed a gang of laborers and noted down several of their work songs while on holiday at Gmunden during the summer months of 1815. The characteristic dotted-rhythm figure was used later in the Notturno in E flat for Piano Trio (D. 897).

A mercurial B flat major Scherzo follows, to be played "con delicatezza." But tension and incident are never absent from an overcast trio and an uneasy return to the Scherzo material via an improbable, albeit adjacent, A major. This trilogy of sonatas ends much as it began; Beethoven's influence emerges in a rondo finale whose main idea bears comparison with that of the movement written to replace the so-called Grosse Fuge, the original finale of Beethoven's Quartet in B flat, Op. 130. The rondo theme begins repeatedly in the false tonality of C minor, an ambiguity resolved as the theme appears for the last time, when, following extensive debate and development, the octave G which precedes it descends into the dominant key of F, in preparation for a brilliant final coda. "Thus Schubert ends both gaily and cheerfully," wrote Robert Schumann, "as though fully able to face another day's work." But history records otherwise: Schubert played his last three sonatas at a party held by Dr. Ignaz Menz on Saturday September 27, 1828, having finished the B flat work only the previous day. He died less than two months afterwards.

-- Michael Jameson Read less

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