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: Piano Sonatas in A Major & A Minor,
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Dux Records  
Catalog: 930   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Winterreise / Gerald Finley, Julius Drake
Release Date: 03/11/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 68034   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert / Bertrand Chamayou
Release Date: 02/25/2014   Label: Erato  
Catalog: 2564637078   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Der Wanderer / Florian Boesch
Release Date: 02/11/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 68010   Number of Discs: 1
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Schubert: Works For Solo Piano, Vol. 1 / Barry Douglas
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Chandos  
Catalog: 10807   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Schwanengesang: Ständchen (Serenade)

 

About This Work
There was a time when this Ständchen (Serenade) was the most famous serenade in the world. Of course, that time was after Schubert had been popularized (and sanitized) by the film Lilac Time, a film in which Richard Tauber played the composer as Read more a jovial fat man whose most salient characteristic was his infinite sentimentality and in which Ständchen became the theme song and leitmotif of the film. After Lilac Time, Ständchen showed up everywhere in all sorts of arrangements: as background music, as a popular song and, perhaps most memorably, in a klezmer version.

Nevertheless Ständchen is still the most famous serenade in the world. However, its fame has all but cost the song its identity. In far too many contemporary interpretations of the song, Ständchen becomes a tear-jerking piece of sentimental puffery, a lonely swain singing of his love into the night breezes, rather than the altogether more sublte piece of sweet melancholy it is. Rescuing the song from its interpreters requires seeing the song for what it really is and not what decades of sentimentality have turned it into.

To start with, of course, there is the melody. Like most of Schubert's greatest melodies, it only seems sublime in its apparent simplicity. But there are so many subtleties to it: the opening line's arching rise and aching fall through the tonic minor chord, the central phrase's yearning leaps to the minor sixth of the dominant, the closing line's supple turns around the tonic. And then there is the heartbreaking harmonies' movements to the relative major and then the tonic major which relapse into the tonic minor which mirror the melody's sweet melancholy. And then there is the song's structure of two strophically set verses followed by a climactic third verse in which the singer entreats his sweetheart to join him and "make me happy" set to music which rises to the heights of submediant minor passion only to sink back to tonic minor melancholy. But, still, the singer has his hopes and, in a final stroke of genius, Schubert ends the song in the tonic major.

For all the infinite sentimental abuse to which Ständchen has been treated, the heart of the piece -- its hope even in the face of the hopeless -- remains pure and strong.

-- James Leonard Read less

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