A contemporary of Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert spent his entire life simply and modestly in Vienna. His father had destined him for a career as a schoolteacher but his musical gifts overshadowed everything else as Schubert composed his first works aged twelve and his first masterpiece at seventeen, Gretchen am Spinnrade. From 1815 onwards, the composer entirely devoted himself to his music and left an immense work comprising more than six hundred Lieder, fifteen operas, nine symphonies and numerous sonatas and chamber music.
Leading a bohemian life, staying with friends and penniless, Franz Schubert worked relentlessly. A perfectionist, he left several works incomplete, some of which are now considered masterpieces. Little concerned about having his music performed in concerts, he preferred spending time with his friends, the “Schubertiades”, and singing them his Lieder while accompanying himself on the piano. Drained by bad health, he died a year after the other great master of Vienna, Beethoven. Schubert’s life was to be as short as Mozart’s.
Haunted by themes of death, by the Wanderer, (the Romantic traveller) or impossible love, Franz Schubert’s work conceals real modernity within its very classical purity. His last sonatas, like his Lieder cycles, (Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise) open up the path for the Romantics by both their size and obsessions. Robert Schumann would see his music as “divinely drawn out”, Felix Mendelssohn was to be the posthumous creator of the Ninth Symphony and Franz Liszt would transcribe his most beautiful Lieder for the piano. Venerated by the Romantics, the music Schubert left is timeless.
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