Franz Schubert


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
Soprano's Schubertiade / Sampson, Middleton
Release Date: 05/11/2018   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 2343   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Death And The Maiden, Etc / The Lydian Quartet
Release Date: 03/17/1995   Label: Centaur Records  
Catalog: 2186   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Piano Trio Op 100, Etc / Kungsbacka Piano Trio
Release Date: 08/29/2006   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8555700   Number of Discs: 1
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Mozart: Divertimento K 563; Schubert: String Trio / Trio Zimmermann
Release Date: 12/21/2010   Label: Bis  
Catalog: 1817   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: 3 Sonatas for Violin & Piano / Chung, Lee
Release Date: 06/10/2016   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8573579   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Der Erlkönig, D 328


About This Work
Page after page has been written about Franz Schubert's Erlkönig -- it is easily the most familiar single piece from the German song repertory; yet each hearing of the work seems somehow to conjure up the same spark of desperate passion in the Read more listener that it must have conjured from those Viennese music-lovers who first encountered the song when it was published in 1821--six years after being composed--as Schubert's Opus 1.

Erlkönig the poem is a dramatic ballad, part of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 1782 singspiel Der Fischerin. It tells, in strict meter and regular four-line stanzas, the tale of a father riding through the woods late at night with his son. The evil Erl-king (the origin of the words "Erlkönig" and "Erlenkönig," both of which forms appear in Goethe's ballad, is complicated and even confused; some say they are a translation, or mistranslation, into German of the Danish word for "Elf King"), visible to the young boy, but not to his father, calls out to the lad, tempting him with thoughts of games and dances. Many times the boy cries out to his father to help him, but the father cannot see the Erl-king or his minions and writes his son's horror off as one natural phenomenon or another. Only when the boy is physically wounded does the father recognize that desperate measures are called for; though he rides with all his strength and skill, however, his boy expires before he reaches safety.

Schubert's setting of Goethe's ballad dates from sometime during Fall of 1815 -- a fabulously productive year during which he penned nearly 145 lieder, and countless instrumental works, while still working as a schoolteacher. The song's immense fame during the nineteenth century gave rise to many fanciful stories of its composition; some have claimed that it was composed in just a few minutes, in one fell swoop of passion, while a friend looked on, but such a genesis seems unlikely. Schubert revised his setting three times, mostly tinkering with the piano accompaniment but also altering dynamics in striking ways and inserting/deleting measures to slightly better the pacing.

And it is pacing, or motion, in a truly physical sense, that fuels both Goethe's frantic poem and Schubert's lied. There is a continuous background of repeated, triplet octaves in the piano part (very difficult and physically tiring -- in one of the revisions Schubert simplified the figuration, asking for duplets instead of triplets), against which the three characters of the ballad sing their simple lines. Each persona is given his own unique tone: the child frantic and impassioned, the father noble and self-assured, Erlkönig himself relaxed and attractive as he seeks to trick the child. The result is an almost demonic fury, and as the drama unfolds and the child becomes more and more terrified and sings in a higher and higher register, the harsh dissonances of his cries, "Mein Vater, mein Vater!" become ever more bone-chilling. The racing triplets cease only at the very end of the song, as the narrator proclaims in a bit of taut recitative that "the child was dead in his [the father's] arms."

-- Blair Johnston Read less

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