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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: 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: Winterreise / Goerne, Eschenbach
Release Date: 11/11/2014   Label: Harmonia Mundi  
Catalog: 902107   Number of Discs: 1
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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: Winterreise, D 911/Op. 89

 

About This Work
The breadth of scholarly approaches to Franz Schubert's song cycle Die Winterreise testifies to the structural and dramatic complexity of the work; assessments range from complicated graphs, complete with interlocking axes and cryptic semantic Read more labels, to outright sighs of resignation over the work's intractability. Perhaps this intrigue is what attracts performers and academics alike to the work; singer and scholar Michael Besack traces the ambiguous dramatic trajectory of Schubert's cycle back to antiquity. "Epic poetry and the tragic theater never produced a story with a moral," he pointed out.

A central question concerning the cycle is whether it really is one. The two dozen poems by Wilhelm Müller that Schubert took as his texts appeared piecemeal in three separate publications between 1822 and the completion of Schubert's setting in 1827; Müller's third publication, finally bearing the title Schubert would adopt, featured the newest poems along with the ones previously published (though the latter were reordered). The chronology of Schubert's setting also calls the idea of a continuous cyclical narrative into question: he set Müller's initial 12 songs early in 1827, then completed the other dozen later that year. Still, while some of the individual songs are frequently performed alone, one can easily read a composite story into the cycle. Literary scholar Cecilia Baumann describes the work as "a simple story of a rejected lover who leaves the town where his love resides and sets out in winter on an aimless journey." Schubert biographer Jacques Chailley reads a different kind of journey: "not simply that of a scorned lover -- he is only a phantom -- but an image behind which one can discern at each moment the journey of man toward the tomb: Die Winterreise is the sinister voyage of life." Such existential ideas gain support from the bleakness of Auf dem Flusse (At the River), in which the lover's description of the frozen stream seems to shade into one of a physical corpse, and of the melancholy hurdy-gurdy-man's lament that ends the cycle.

The songs ruminate on, rather than depict, events that have befallen the rejected lover; as the first two lines of the first song indicate ("A stranger I came hither, a stranger hence I go"), the journey has already taken place: the famous fifth song, Der Lindenbaum, likewise centers on symbols of remembrance. Schubert's introduction establishes a tranquil major mode with an airy, fluttering accompaniment; it becomes apparent that this figure represents the rustling of the eponymous lime tree. "Upon its bark when musing, fond words of love I made," the wanderer tells listeners, "and joy alike and sorrow still drew me to its shade." Only briefly do the mode and mood of the music change to minor, in direct correlation to the image of passing the tree in darkness. These pictorial elements lie only on the surface, however. Certain musical elements create a sense of geographical and chronological remove: the rustling figure is constantly interrupted by a leap up to a quaint stepwise descent; the echo of a "hunting horn" figure suggests distance -- spatial and temporal; the wind blows off the wanderer's hat, but he trudges forward without even turning around. The cold wind listeners that it is winter; the presence of leaves is unlikely. The rustling sound is not a real, but an imagined, phenomenon: "Now many leagues I'm far from/The dear old linden tree/[But still] I ever hear it murmur/'Peace thou wouldst find with me.'" Schubert's song does not evoke images; it evokes the act of remembering images.

-- Jeremy Grimshaw Read less

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