Saturday, 30 January 2016

THIS WEEKEND IN BIRTHDAYS: FRANZ SCHUBERT

January 31 1797 – November 19 1828 

This Austrian composer and 'father' of the art form of lieder was an especially important influential and innovative figure in Western Classical Music History.

The music contained within Schubert’s extremely prolific oeuvre and the composer himself would come to personify the end of the Classical era and usher into Europe a new, unique sound from Germany, solidifying it’s rightful placehold in the Classical genre well into the dawn of new era: the Romantic period.

Of course, there had been practitioners of lieder before Schubert – Mozart, and, most notably Ludwig van Beethoven (a contemporary, muse, and objet d’inspiration of Schubert), who had composed the Song Cycle "An Die Ferne Geliebte" in 1816 – but it had been through Schubert's innovative use of tonality and harmonies that seemed to contrast, underscore and highlight carefully selected dramatic texts that seemed to bring piano accompanied vocal storytelling to life.

A musical gathering of peers at "Schubertiade", with Schubert at the piano.
It would not be until the generation following Schubert’s untimely passing (he died at the tender age of 31 in 1828, following a six-year long battle with Syphilis, which he had contracted in 1822) that solo public recitals featuring the belated composer's work came into being (and, even then, the public recital was still a relatively new innovation: it would be in a solo keyboard performance by Johann Christian Bach (son of Johann Sebastian) in early June of 1768 that would bring public recitals to the forefront of western contemporary performance art. During his short lifetime, private listenings would be held amongst a small group of contemporaries and friends of the composer in exclusively intimate concert performances dubbed “Schubertiade.” It is highly likely that the composers' extensive library of German song found not only their first – but only performances in this setting during Schubert's lifetime. There would exist with Schubert, much like many of his operatic and classical predecessors, and unfortunate wane in the popular accreditation due such a gifted musician – one that would see an astronomical rise only after the advent of the modern recording industry, most notably with the tidal wave of public clamor and it’s salivation over the first ever complete recording of Schubert’s song cycle “Der Winterreise” (widely considered to be his best compositions) in 1928, by Viennese baritone Hans Duhan, whose ground-breaking recording projected the cycle and it’s composer into the stratospheric realm of musical infinity. That is not to say the prolific composer did not experience some modicum of popularity in the age of Romantics:

In the decades following his early demise, composers who had ‘discovered’ the vast Schubert repertoire would credit the composer as a major source of inspiration: his influence was felt by many a prolific artist who would use the innovations made famous by the father of the German Lied, from early pianists and champions of the late composer living in the mid to late nineteenth century (Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt to name a few), to fellow nineteenth century classical and operatic giants Antonín Dvořák, Hector Berlioz, and Anton Bruckner. Schubert’s notable impact didn’t end there. His influence continued to be felt even well into the twentieth century, by such icons as Anton Webern and Richard Strauss.

An 1825 Watercolor of Schubert, noted by contemporaries of the Composer to
be his best likeness.
Today, the music of Franz Schubert is amongst the most widely recognized and beloved of both the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Hard pressed is the modern melophile to find any adult, minor or child who has not learnt, or at least heard – one of the many piano or vocal compositions made famous by this giant of Classical Music History.

To hear the famous Winterreise Song Cycle that helped usher in Schubert's lasting fame, visit this external youtube link).


In honor of Schubert’s 219th birthday this weekend, I present below not a Schubert composition, but rather, one of Ludwig van Beethoven, considered the focal point of influence and admiration for the young Franz Peter. It was Schubert’s dying wish to see performed Beethoven’s 131st Opus, the String Quartet no. XIV in C# minor – a wish that came to fruition just five days before his demise on November 19, 1828.

 Amidst all of the physical and mental suffering experienced by the disease-ridden Schubert as he slowly starved to death from the violent and painful tertiary stages of syphilis and mercury poisoning, it is comforting for admirers of the iconic composer to know that Franz Schubert did indeed enjoy great beauty before his departure from this world. Upon hearing the performance in full, for the first – and last - time, Schubert is said to have declared of his musical hero Beethoven and his quartet: "After this, what is left for us to write?"

For your classical and operatic successors who revered you, dear Schubert..it seems there was plenty. 


Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!



-Rose.

No comments:

Post a Comment