Tuesday, 31 January 2017

TRIVIA AND HUMOR: THE BIRTH OF SCHUBERT (AND THE COMPOSER’S MANY SIMILARITIES TO MOZART)

On this January day some 220 years ago, a bouncing baby boy would be welcomed into the awaiting arms of the Schuberts.

The father of the future young prodigy, a violinist and teacher, no doubt anxious to pass on his musical acuity unto his son. Should this new bundle of joy survive into adulthood, the couple could consider themselves dually blessed: this special delivery, after all, would arrive during medicine's primitive era, wherein the only inoculation to prevent against disease was the newly introduced smallpox vaccine, developed only one year earlier by an Englishman in 1796 – the combating of disease, much like the Schubert’s newly born son, still in it’s infancy stage. The father Schubert knew the risks of early infant mortality all to well – of the couple’s 14 children – one of them illegitimate – only five would survive past infancy. Luckily enough for the couple -  and for posterity - their newborn son would live into the relative mid-stages of adulthood. The beaming parents named the child Franz, after the child’s father, of course.

The world outside of young Franz’ inner circle – that is, those outside of his own kin – would come to know the young Austrian as the prodigy: the musically gifted instrumentalist and young composer Franz Schubert. Posterity would remember him as simply “Schubert” – one of the great icons and leading influential musicians of the classical era – and yet another gifted export of that ever-so-musical Mecca known as Austria; the same country that churned out such pre-eminent and enigmatic composers as Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, and the Strauss dynasty just to name a few…and of course the unparalleled maestro of Western Classical Music himself: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – the one time wunderkind who had famously mesmerized Europe’s Royal elite almost since his birth some 41 years prior to Schubert’s own entry into the world.

It is this last mentioned composer in whom Schubert would share an uncanny likeness, in both personal and professional aspects. Unraveling Musical Myths explores the many similarities between these two highly captivating figures in the comparison below:

BIRTHDAYS:

Both composers were born at the end of January – Mozart on the 27th, and Schubert on the 31st. Coincidentally, both composers were also born in the 18th century (Mozart in 1756, and Schubert in 1797) – they were also both born in Austria.

MUSICALLY INCLINED FAMILY:

Both Mozart and Schubert would receive lessons from their fathers, both of whom were violinists, and both of whom would teach their sons the instrument. Both young prodigies would be assisted in lessons on the piano by a sibling – for Mozart, it was his sister “Nannerl,” and for Schubert, it was his brother, Ignaz.

A young Mozart plays the harpsichord, flanked by father Leopold and sister
Maria Anna (Nannerl) in this family portrait

SPEAKING OF FAMILY…

Schubert had yet another thing in common with Mozart: both composers would be "miracle children” – the surviving minority of a large family of siblings. Of the Mozart family’s seven offspring, only two would survive past infancy. As for the Schubert’s fourteen children (one illegitimate), only nine would survive past this stage (which, if you are doing the math, means a total of five sibling deaths for the Mozart kin, and  five sibling deaths for the Schubert kin).

BOTH SHARED A CONNECTION TO ANTONIO SALIERI:

Mozart knew Salieri as a contemporary ‘rival’ and musical collaborator at the Habsburg court, while Schubert knew the composer as a teacher of composition and music theory.


BOTH COMPOSERS SHARED AN AFFINITY FOR THE WORKS OF HAYDN:

In fact, both Mozart and Schubert not only revered the composer Haydn – they would both also credit the works of the composer as having been a source of influence in creating their own compositions.


SWEET SIXTEEN, SWEET VIENNA:

Both musicians would create a stir at the tender age of sixteen: Mozart would arrive in Vienna as a keyboard prodigy at this age. It would be a fortuitous visit for the young musician - during which the composer is believed to have met with Haydn, and following this meeting, would further hone his skills as a composer - eventually establishing for himself a name that would exceed the rather secluded confines of a master pianist. Within 7 months of his return to the Austrian capital in 1782 (when Mozart was then 10 years older) the man formerly known as the “finest keyboard player in all of Vienna” would establish himself in the city and across Europe as a composer, after his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail ("The Abduction from the Seraglio") opened to rave reviews. It is probably safe to assume that the 26 year old Mozart had absorbed much influence from his pubescent visit to Vienna and his meeting with Herr Haydn in 1772.
 
Cristina Deutekom performs the stunning aria "Martern Aller Arten" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail:



Schubert, on the other hand, could also claim his sixteenth year as having been a pivitol moment in his career, and the city of Vienna as the backdrop in which he too, would establish himself* as a composer – it would be here that the pubescent composer would launch his first Symphony (no. I in D major, D. 82):






BOTH BELONGED TO THE CLASSICAL ERA OF WESTERN CLASSICAL MUSIC

Schubert, a late-classical era composer, can also lay claim to the early romantic era.


BOTH WERE EXTREMELY PROLIFIC, WIDE-RANGING COMPOSERS:

According to modern accounts (the Köchel catalogue), Mozart boasts an excess of 600 works, his oeuvre consisting of symphonic, concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. 


Mozart's gorgeous aria "Dove Sono i Momenti" from opera Le Nozze di Figaro, Gundula Janowitz performs:



Schubert also boasts an excess of 600 secular vocal works (lieder), in addition to several symphonic, chamber, operatic, sacred, incidental and piano music. 

One of the many gorgeous lieder of Schubert - Barbara Hendricks sings "Du Bist Die Ruh":


 

BOTH COMPOSERS WOULD MEET THEIR DEATH BEFORE THE AGE OF 40, BOTH IN VIENNA, BOTH IN "EARLY WINTER," BOTH BY STILL-DISPUTED MYSTERIOUS ILLNESSES, BOTH PENNILESS:

Mozart would perish December 5th in Vienna in 1791, at the relatively young age (from a modern perspective) of 35 years, by what was believed at the time to have been the acute stages of miliary fever. Schubert would perish at just 31 years in November of 1828, also in Vienna, believed to have been taken from the world by yet another fever-related malady – not miliary, but rather allegedly by typhoid fever.

(and both shared the same STD)...


Both ‘causes of death’ were hotly contested by the public at the time of both musician’s departures from the musical sphere, a trend that persists to this day. One theory that still makes the rounds is a premature death for both Mozart and Schubert by the tertiary (late) stages of Syphilis and/or it’s treatment. Both composers were known to have been afflicted by the very same sexually transmitted disease.

Like Mozart, who was so financially poor toward the end of his life that his widow Constanze could scarcely afford to bury him (the funeral would end up being funded by one of Mozart's former patrons, the
Baron Gottfried van Swieten), Schubert, too, would die penniless.

 

LEGACY:

Both Mozart and Schubert are undisputedly two of the most instantly recognizable names in Western Classical Music. While both boasted undeniable, seemingly unearthly talents, both composers owe a large portion of their persisting infamy to the high praise and championship of some pretty heavy hitters in classical music history.



While there is undoubtedly a discrepancy between both composers in terms of performance history – Mozart having toured extensively and performed before Emperors, kings and other members of nobility in addition to the greater public; whilst Schubert held many private, invitee performances in his private salon (musical meetups he called "Schubertiade")* before an intimate circle of contemporary musicians, both composers were widely esteemed, praised, and viewed as a source of invaluable influence for some of Western Classical Music (and Eastern Europe's) most famous names: Mozart counted among his admirers Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Haydn, Richard Wagner,  Frédéric Chopin, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gioachino Rossini, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss  - even Schubert himself.




Some of Schubert’s famous championers throughout posterity have been Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Franz Liszt,  Robert Schumann,  Hector Berlioz, Anton Bruckner, Anton Webern, Benjamin Britten and Richard Strauss.

For both Mozart and Schubert, the above lists of admirers are far from exhaustive. Both composers continue to bewilder, astonish, and inspire composers and musicians living in the 21st century – and, it is due to our exalted privilege of listening to masterfully rendered recreations of the music of these maestri – their scores having been tediously and meticulously preserved thought many centuries - that we have come to share the same conclusion of unrivalled excellence in these two enigmatic and ingenious composers as have our more musically inclined ancestors.

-Rose.

4 comments:

  1. classical_music_fan4 February 2017 at 01:34

    Oh Rose!! You have SUCH exquisite taste in music and choice of artists! How do you choose which aria/music to attach to each post? (Just curious :) everytime I read your posts and listen to the videos I feel like I am melting..

    I have always been a fan of both mozart and schubert from the first time I heard them but I never knew they had so much in common! Reincarnation perhaps? :)

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    1. Hello classical_music_fan,

      that is quite the compliment! Thank you kindly. As far as music/artist selection is concerned, 99 percent of the time I am choosing pieces that are personal favorites - arias/lieder/music that moves me, and voices which intoxicate, and render my skin goosefleshed.

      It simply is just a matter of personal preference. Usually, when discussing (or attempting to introduce) classical music to a non-listener, the number one response I receive from those willing to take the glorious dive is that he or she finds the music incomprehensible - yet relaxing.

      Certainly, as any fan of classical music is aware, just as western music has many sub-genres, so too does classical and opera. These is so much more to this music than just relaxing adagios, arias and lieder. There is music that makes the blood race, the body move - or even cower under the sheets. I try to include these where I can (such as the Hallowe'en/ Friday 13th specials) - but, as the relaxing segments of this most glorious music seem to be among the most favored of both fans and novices of classical music alike, I tend to give them preference. It helps that I enjoy the "relaxing" stuff too.

      Thanks for the question and compliment, I am pleased you enjoy my content!

      -Rose.

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  2. classical_music_fan7 February 2017 at 20:58

    You're welcome, Rose!
    I can understand the "relaxing" comment, I hear that quite a bit! I love it too :) as I said, you have impeccable taste!

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