Franz Peter Schubert - Life and Music

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Franz Schubert - The middle years

Biography


Among Schubert's other musical friends at this time were the two brothers Hüttenbrenner, the elder of whom was a composer, and a public employee named Gahy who excelled on the pianoforte. One of the brothers Hüttenbrenner was such an enthusiastic admirer of Schubert's genius that he was proud of being repulsed. Someone relates that Schubert was nicknamed "tyrannus", from the cruelty with which he repelled this indiscreet worshipper. He would say, ironically, "that fellow likes everything of mine". But he was glad of his services in arranging his symphonies for the piano, in attending to his works being engraved, and in corresponding with foreign publishers; and the letters of Schubert to Hüttenbrenner, which are carefully preserved by the latter, are more those of a friend than of a tyrant. Schubert wrote a beautiful set of variations on a theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, known as the "Hüttenbrenner variations" (D. 567).

Gahy was selected by Schubert to play compositions for four hands with him on the piano, his own works and the symphonies of Beethoven. The purity and expressiveness of Gahy's play, and the quickness with which he read music at sight, were the points which especially commended him to the composer. Schubert was not a wtuoso in the modern sense of the word, but he accompanied his own songs admirably, and his short thick fingers were not beaten by any of the difficulties of his most difficult sonatas. On the other hand a musician before whom Schubert played one of his sonatas, exclaimed in delight, "Schubert, I admire your playing on the piano more than your compositions!".

Anselm Hüttenbrenner

Gahy bore witness to the pure and ready play, the mixture of tenderness and fire which distinguished his short bespectacled friend. Not only did he learn much from Schubert, but he found Schubert's sociality so much increased in the course of playing that he was a most delightful companion. The year 1817 is chiefly marked by the composition of the two "overtures in the Italian style". Rossini's operas were then causing a furore in Vienna and Schubert was one of their many admirers. Himself a master of melody, he could not fail to wonder at the facility with which Rossini poured forth such an exulting and abounding stream, though he was not unconscious of the faults which attended it. But he was often at the theatre, and one night returning with some friends from a representation of "Tancredi", he found their praise of Rossini's overtures was pitched too high. He declared it would be easy for him to write similar overtures with equal speed, and his friends took him at his word. The result was that he composed two, which were often given at concerts during his life-time, and earned great applause. One of them was played in 1818, and the Wiener Theater-Zeitung of the time characterised it as "wonderfully delicious". Though the motive was singularly simple, he developed from it a store of the most astonishing and most attractive ideas, worked out with skill and force".

Schubert and Caroline Esterhazy


No less than five sonatas, as well as numberless songs, were composed the same year. In the following one Schubert consented to take a step which he had always viewed with the greatest dislike — to give lessons in music. This dislike was fully shared by Mozart and Beethoven; by the latter to such an extent that he only twice overcame his reluctance. The bitterness with which Mozart alludes to the necessity of earning his bread by teaching is familiar to the readers of his letters, yet it was the only way by which bread could be earned by a musician.

Strangely enough, Schubert consented to teach stupid children of the lowest class their letters, and condemned himself for three years to this extreme boredom, rather than teach his favourite pursuit to a more intelligent class of learners. Perhaps he thought it a prostitution of his art to turn it into drudgery, and preferred a task which was utterly soulless and mechanical to one in which his soul was really engaged.

The year 1825 was marked by a journey over ground which is now familiiar to many summer tourists — the beautiful Salzkammergut. Unfortunately we have few records of the tour, and but few of the tourist's impressions. It is perhaps significant that his songs from Scott's "Lady of the Lake", date from his visit to the lakes of Upper Austria, and that his grand sonata for the pianoforte in A minor (D. 845) was completed at Gastein. Robert Schumann characterises this sonata as glorious; and says of it: "The first movement is so quiet and dreamy as almost to bring the tears into one's eyes; while the two subjects of which it is constructed are put together with such ease and simplicity that one cannot but wonder at the magic which has succeeded so happily in combining and contrasting them". Schubert applied in the year 1826 for the place of vice chapel-master. The death of Salieri in 1825 had led to the promotion of Eybler, the former vice, to be full chapel-master, and the lower grade was still vacant. There were eight competitors named in the report of Count Harrach, who was then charged with the superintendence of the court music. Of Schubert the report says: — "Schubert bases his claim on his services as court singer, confirmed by a certificate from Salieri who taught him composition; and declares that he has already composed five masses which have been produced in various churches". The place for which Schubert competed was given to Weigl, the composer of the popular ''Swiss Family". The salary attaching to the place was twelve hundred florins, and would have enabled Schubert to live in comfort. But when he heard the name of his successful competitor, he said, "I should have been very glad of this appointment, but as it has fallen to one so worthy of it as Weigl, I must well be contented".

A few years earlier, at the beginning of 1821, the director of music to the court, Count Dietrichstein, sent Schubert a testimonial endorsed by himself and signed by Weigl, director of the opera, Salieri, court chapel-master, and others of equal rank in office, as a means of procuring him some appointment. The count himself spoke of Schubert as a young, vigorous, and extremely promising composer. He considered it his duty, as it was a pleasure to him, to declare publicly that Schubert had given the strongest proofs of native genius, severe study, and of the union of taste and feeling; and he hoped that an opportunity would be given him of developing these excellences to the benefit of art and dramatic music. Weigl and Salieri said much the same. All of them dwelt on Schubert's eminent services to the opera, his merits in composition, his mastery of theoretical and practical harmony.

The successful "Erl King" appeared as Schubert's Op. 1, and was dedicated to this Count Dietrichstein in reward of his kindness and protection. Schubert felt both these very warmly, but they had not sufficient effect on him to make him write the dedication himself. He was too purely a son of the muses to descend to such details; his friends had to manage them for him. It was the same spirit that made him absent himself from the rehearsals of his works. But dedications were not to be neglected. Each of them brought in something handsome; money. Schubert himself writes at another time, "My dedications have done their duty, the Patriarch forked out twelve and Count Friess twenty ducats, which pleases me very much". To the publishers it became clear, Schubert was evidently not a man to be neglected, but a very good man to be exploited. He accepted 800 florins from Diabelli for twelve songs, by one of which alone ('The Wanderer') the publisher made 36,000 florins during the years that they have held the copyright. One of Schubert's friends, the poet Mayrhofer, attributes this mistake to ignorance of the world in part, and in part to love of enjoyment heightened by long privations.

Erl King

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