Franz Schubert

Born: January 31, 1797, Vienna
Died: November 19, 1828, Vienna

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In his own words....

"No one understands another's grief, no one understands another's joy....My music is the product of my talent and my misery. And that which I have written in my greatest distress is what the world seems to like best."

Austrian composer. Part of the so-called Viennese School, and important influence on both Mozart and Beethoven.

Schubert died at the age of thirty-one. One of his last wishes was to be buried near the composer he had most admired: Ludwig van Beethoven. The similarities of their lives are easy to see. Both struggled in many ways to create; both expressed in their music qualities that we identify with both the Classical and Romantic styles.

Schubert was the son of a middle-class schoolteacher who expected that his son would follow in his career. Franz's musical gift was recognized early and as a boy he sang in the Imperial Court. As a young man, however, he followed the wishes of his father and accepted a teaching post. His musical activities continued in his spare time and he surrounded himself with educated and like-minded members of the middle class. Here he found an immediate outlet for his music. By 1818, he resigned his teaching duties and turned to full-time composition. He continued to have the support of his friends, even while his success with publishers was limited. Before long, however, Schubert had another battle to fight—illness. As early as 1822 the debilitating effects of syphilis began to take their toll, and along with his health, his financial condition declined. Nonetheless, he continued to compose to the end, producing some of his most profoundly beautiful music in his final years.

Schubert is most clearly identified with his more than 600 songs. Such a large output is, in and of itself, remarkable. What is more remarkable is the quality of these works. Some are simple strophic pieces, almost like folk songs, while others are complex through-composed settings that create miniature dramas. All, however, aimed toward the Romantic ideal of poetic expression. Along with this, Schubert often allowed the accompaniment to take an equal role with the singer in setting a mood or evoking an image. His Erlkönig is a perfect example of this, with the thundering of the piano imitating the galloping of a horse. Schubert perfected these techniques and put them to use in more ambitious works, his song cycles. Here each song possesses its own identity, and yet they are dramatically and musically linked. His were some of the earliest song cycles, and still stand as some of the finest.

Schubert wrote more than songs, however, even if these pieces were not fully appreciated during his lifetime. His symphonies are relatively conservative in their approach to form, but Schubert infused them with a lyrical content that seemed to overflow these bounds. The same is true of his chamber music, especially his string quartets and the famous Trout quintet. One of his last works, the "Great" C major Symphony (so-called by Robert Schumann, who rescued it from oblivion), represents this side of Schubert. Schumann talked about its "heavenly length"—perhaps not so much a measure of time, but a description of the way Schubert's melody flows onward, sometimes with surprising harmonic twists.

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  • More than 600 Lieder, including Erlkönig ( Erlking , 1815) and 3 song cycles, among them Die schöne Müllerin ( The Lovely Maid of the Mill , 1823) and Winterreise ( Winter's Journey , 1827)
  • 9 symphonies, including the Unfinished (No. 8, 1822)
  • Chamber music, including 15 string quartets; 1 string quintet; 2 piano trios and the Trout Quintet; one octet; various sonatas
  • Piano sonatas, dances, and character pieces
  • Choral music, including 7 Masses, other liturgical pieces, and part songs
  • Operas and incidental music for dramas
    Schubert, like Mozart, composed a huge number of works in his short life. In concert programs and recordings his works are often identified by a number preceded by the letter "D." This stands for Otto Erich Deutsch, who cataloged them in chronological order (so that a low "D number" indicates an early work).

    View a complete listing. Here, you will also find a list of recommended recordings for many of Schubert's works.
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Musical Examples

Download MP3 [6.39 MB]
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Listening Guide [pdf file - 368 KB]
Die Forelle
Listening Guide [pdf file - 581 KB]
Piano Quintet in A major (Trout), IV
Listening Guide [pdf file - 581 KB]
Heidenroslein, D. 257 01:58
Standchen, D. 889 03:04
Schwanengesang, D. 957 - Der Atlas (Heine) 02:24
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D. 46 - Adagio - Allegro con moto 08:36
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D. 46 - Andante con moto 04:19
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D. 46 - Menuetto: Allegro 04:44
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D. 46 - Allegro 04:57
No. 8 in B minor - Allegro moderato 15:10
Symphony No. 8 in B minor - Andante con moto 11:35
Symphony No. 9 in C major - Andante - Andante ma non troppo 12:59
Symphony No. 9 in C major - Andante con moto 13:56
Symphony No. 9 in C major - Scherzo: Allegro Vivace 09:30
Symphony No. 9 in C major - Finale: Allegro vivace 11:49
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  • A Brief Biography
    From the Classical Music Pages, this site features a biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music , along with a listing of Schubert's symphonies with audio clips, a picture gallery, and a biography for further research.
  • The Schubert Institute Research Center
    This British site has a wide variety of materials on Schubert ranging from the expected biographical sketches and works lists to quotations by and about the composer and electronic versions of turn-of-the-century biographies of the composer. You can also find CD and book reviews and even an exhibit of antique Schubert postcards for sale.
  • Works and Recommended Recordings
    The Classical Insites page provides a brief biography and reviews of selected recordings of major pieces, along with audio clips.
  • Recognizing Genius
    The transcript of an interesting discussion of Schubert's life as an "unrecognized genius." This is from a report presented on the PBS News Hour in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.
  • A Bicentennial Tribute
    In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Schubert's birth, Minnesota Public Radio compiled this entertaining tribute to the composer. You can read what other composers have said about Schubert's music (Copland loved it, Debussy didn't) and play "name that tune" with Schubert's melodies.
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