Franz Schubert: A Biography

Franz Schubert: A Biography

Franz Schubert: A Biography

Franz Schubert: A Biography

Synopsis

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was born in Vienna of immigrant parents. During his short life he produced an astonishing amount of music. Symphonies, chamber music, opera, church music, and songs (more than 600 of them) poured forth in profusion. His 'Trout' Quintet, his 'Unfinished' Symphony, the three last piano sonatas, and above all his song cycles Die Sch¿ne M¿llerin and Winterreise have come to be universally regarded as belonging to the very greatest works of music. Who was the man who composed this amazing succesion of masterpieces, so many of which were either entirely ignored or regarded as failures during his lifetime? In her new biography, Elizabeth Norman McKay paints a vivid portrait of Schubert and his world. She explores his family background, his education and musical upbringing, his friendships, and his brushes and flirtations with the repressive authorities of Church and State. She discusses his experience of the arts, literature and theatre, and his relations with the professional and amateur musical world of his day. Schubert's manic-depressive temperament became of increasing significance in his life, and McKay shows how it was partly responsible for his social inadequacies, professional ineptitude, and idiosyncracies in his music. She examines Schubert's uneven physical decline after he contracted syphilis, traces its affect on his music, his hedonism, and sensuality, and investigates the cause and circumstances of his death at the age of thirty-one.

Excerpt

Until the early autumn of 1992 the idea of writing a biography of Schubert had crossed my mind only fleetingly, and always in an entirely negative way. However, the invitation at this time to consider such a project made me reconsider. In the last twenty or so years there have been many new developments and advances in research into Schubert and his music, particularly in Germany, Austria, and the United States. Much of this has failed to become general knowledge in Britain. With this in mind, I began writing the biography at the beginning of 1993.

I began the book, as I had been requested, as a 'straight biography', to be read through without interruptions by too much detail or too many references to sources in footnotes. I also agreed to limit information about the music to a minimum, and concentrate on the man. In 1994 Oxford University Press took over publication of the book and, at the request of my new editor Bruce Phillips and according to my own inclination, the requirements changed. The result is a book of greater length, with more emphasis on Schubert's life as a composer and the importance of his music in his life. While these changes have involved a more scholarly presentation than originally intended, I have endeavoured to present the material in a form acceptable to the interested general reader. I hope, however, that it will also prove acceptable to more informed and specialist readers.

In the writing of any biography there are built-in difficulties and hazards, on account of both the source material available and the biographer's personal reaction to this material and to the subject of the biography. In Schubert's case, surviving examples of his own writings are somewhat sparse. There are just eleven--mostly short--entries in a diary and a notebook, written over very brief periods in the years 1816 and 1824, four short poems reflecting his personal thoughts or philosophies written between 1813 and 1824, several other occasional poems or verses, an allegorical tale in prose ('Mein Traum'), a fair number of letters to publishers between spring 1822 and the month before his death in 1828, other professional communications, and a few applications for professional positions. Of his private letters to family and friends, excluding a few brief notes with practical information, some two dozen have survived. There are of course dangers in attempting to evaluate the contents of all these written . . .

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