Schubert, Franz Peter

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Schubert, Franz Peter

Franz Peter Schubert (fränts pā´tər shōō´bərt), 1797–1828, Austrian composer, one of the most gifted musicians of the 19th cent. His symphonic works represent the best legacy of the classical tradition, while his songs exemplify the height of romantic lyricism. Displaying remarkable talent in childhood, he was first taught to play the violin and piano by his father and his brother, and then studied the organ and singing at a local church. His beautiful voice gained him admittance in 1808 to the imperial chapel choir and the Royal Seminary, where he later studied composition with Salieri. Schubert wrote his first symphony in 1813, and in that year he left the Seminary. From 1814 to 1816 he taught at his father's elementary school, devoting his spare hours to composing lieder that give evidence of his inexhaustible melodic genius.

He wrote more than 600 songs, many to the lyrics of such German poets as Goethe, Schiller, and Heine. In addition to individual lyrics, such as the famous Erlkönig, set to a ballad by Goethe, Schubert wrote such song cycles as Die schöne Müllerin (1823) and Die Winterreise (1827), both to poems of Wilhelm Müller. Schubert's symphonies are the final extension of the classical sonata forms, and three of them—the Fifth, in B Flat (1816), the Eighth, in B Minor (the Unfinished, 1822), and the Ninth, in C Major (1828)—rank with the finest orchestral music. The Quartet in D Minor (Death and the Maiden, 1824) and the Quintet in A Major (The Trout, 1819) are the best known of his mature chamber works. He also composed music for the stage, overtures, choral music, masses, and piano music, including 21 sonatas and shorter waltzes, scherzos, and impromptus. Except for a circle of admirers who were among the leading artists of the period, he gained little recognition before his death. He held only one musical appointment, that of music teacher to the children of a Hungarian nobleman, and he lived in poverty.

See O. E. Deutsch, The Schubert Reader: A Life … in Letters and Documents (tr. 1947); biographies by M. J. E. Brown (1958, repr. 1977), A. Einstein (1951, repr. 1981), and C. H. Gibbs (2000); studies by M. J. E. Brown (1966, repr. 1978) and B. Newbould (1992, 1997); C. H. Gibbs, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Schubert (1997).

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