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Early life

Of all the great composers, Schubert is the one most often associated with Vienna. Yet he was only a first generation Viennese. His parents came from the provinces of Moravia and Silesia, from those parts of the vast Habsburg empire which are now in the Czech Republic. As the music of Dvořák, Smetana, and Janáćek reminds us, the people of these lands show a deep native feeling for the joy and sadness of life; and the poetry of Schubert's music, its love of dance rhythms and emotional ambiguity, owes more to the home of his forefathers than it does to Vienna. His paternal grandfather was a successful peasant farmer from Neudorf in Moravia, and his father, Franz Theodor Schubert, was a schoolmaster who moved to Vienna about the year 1783 to become an assistant at the Carmelite School in the suburb of Leopoldstadt, where his brother Karl was headmaster. The Schuberts were able and conscientious, a little rigid perhaps in their principles, but loyal and united in their family life.

Soon after arriving in Vienna, Franz Theodor met Elisabeth Vietz, a young woman in domestic service living nearby, and they were married in January 1785. Elisabeth was also an immigrant, from Zuckmantel in Silesia. Her father was a locksmith and local official, who had got into financial difficulties and was put in prison. On being released he decided to try his luck in Vienna rather than face further legal proceedings. His family followed him to the capital, and when he died were left to fend for themselves. The Vietz family were more artistic than the Schuberts, with musicians and artists among their number. Elisabeth's first child, Ignaz, was born two months after the wedding, no unusual circumstance in those days.

Of the fourteen children of the marriage, only five survived to adulthood, the composer Franz Peter Schubert being the fourth. The infant mortality figures in the Schubert family, by the way, show clearly enough that in those days a child had only a one in three chance of reaching maturity, a fact which has to be taken into account when we consider the preoccupation with death which so absorbed many of the writers whose work Schubert set.

The composer was born on 31 January 1797 at the house called 'The

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