Friday, January 31, 8797

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) - Lieder

Franz Peter Schubert (January 31, 1797, Vienna, Austria - November 19, 1828) wrote some 600 lieder, nine symphonies, liturgical music, operas, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music.

While Schubert had a close circle of friends and associates who admired his work (including his teacher Antonio Salieri, and the prominent singer Johann Michael Vogl), wider appreciation of his music during his lifetime was limited at best. He was never able to secure adequate permanent employment, and for most of his career he relied on the support of friends and family. Interest in Schubert's work increased dramatically in the decades following his death.

[The house in which Schubert was born, today Nussdorfer Strasse 54, in the 9th district of Vienna]

Schubert's father, Franz Theodor Schubert, the son of a Moravian peasant, was a well-known parish schoolmaster; his mother, Elizabeth Vietz was the daughter of a Silesian master locksmith, and had also been a housemaid for a Viennese family prior to her marriage. Of the Schuberts' 16 children (one illegitimate child was born in 1783), 11 died in infancy; five survived.

At the age of five, Schubert began receiving regular instruction from his father and a year later was enrolled at the Himmelpfortgrund school. His formal musical education also began around the same time. His father continued to teach him the basics of the violin. At seven, Schubert was placed under the instruction of Michael Holzer. Holzer's lessons seem to have mainly consisted of conversations and expressions of admiration and the boy gained more from his acquaintance with a friendly joiner's apprentice who used to take him to a neighboring pianoforte warehouse where he was given the opportunity to practice on better instruments. The unsatisfactory nature of Schubert's early training was even more pronounced during his time given that composers could expect little chance of success unless they were also able to appeal to the public as performers. To this end, Schubert's meager musical education was never entirely sufficient.

In October 1808, he was received as a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt (Imperial religious boarding school) through a choir scholarship. It was at the Stadtkonvikt that Schubert was introduced to the overtures and symphonies of Mozart. His exposure to these pieces as well as various lighter compositions combined with his occasional visits to the opera set the foundation for his greater musical knowledge.

Meanwhile, his talent was already beginning to show itself in his compositions. Antonio Salieri became aware of the talented young man and decided to train him in musical composition and music theory. Schubert's early essay in chamber music is noticeable, since we learn that at the time a regular quartet-party was established at his home "on Sundays and holidays," in which his two brothers played the violin, his father the cello and Franz himself the viola. It was the first germ of that amateur orchestra for which, in later years, many of his compositions were written. During the remainder of his stay at the Stadtkonvikt he wrote a good deal more chamber music, several songs, some miscellaneous pieces for the pianoforte and, among his more ambitious efforts, a Kyrie (D.31) and Salve Regina (D.27), an octet for wind instruments (D.72/72a) - said to memorialize the death of his mother, which took place in 1812 - a cantata (D.110), words and music, for his father's name-day in 1813, and the closing work of his school-life, his first symphony (D.82).

At the end of 1813 he left the Stadtkonvikt, and entered his father's school as teacher of the lowest class. In the meantime, his father remarried, this time to Anna Kleyenboeck, the daughter of a silk dealer from the suburb Gumpendorf. For over two years the young man endured the employment, which he performed with very indifferent success. There were, however, other interests to compensate. He received private lessons in composition from Salieri, who did more for Schubert’s training than any of his other teachers.


The Erl-King (1815)

Der Erlkönig
(often called just Erlkönig) sets the poem by

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It depicts the death of a child assailed by a supernatural being, the "Erlkönig" (or "erlking," roughly translated as "evil spirit" or "elf king." The poem was originally written as part of a 1782 ballad opera entitled Die Fischerin.

Beethoven attempted to set the words to music but abandoned the effort; his sketch however was complete enough to be published in a completion by Reinhold Becker (1897). A few other 19th-century versions are those by Václav Jan Tomášek (1815), Carl Löwe (1818) and Ludwig Spohr (1856, with obligato violin).

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.
"Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?"
"Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?"
"Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif."
"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;
Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand."
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?"
"Sei ruhig, bleib ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind."
"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein."
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?"
"Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau."
"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt."
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!"
Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Who rides so late through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the little one well in the arm
He holds him secure, he holds him warm.
"My son, why hide your face in fear?"
"See you not, Father, the Elf king?
The Elf king with crown and flowing cloak?"
"My son, it is a wisp of fog."
"You sweet child, come along with me!
Such wonderful games I'll play with you;
Many lovely flowers are at the shore,
My mother has many golden garments."
"My father, my father, and do you not hear,
What the Elf king quietly promises to me?"
"Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling the dry leaves."
"Won't you come along with me, my fine boy?
My daughters shall attend to you so nicely;
My daughters do their nightly dance,
And they will rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep."
"My father, my father, do you not see there,
Elf king's daughters in that dreary place?"
"My son, my son, I see it clearly:
It is the willow trees looking so grey."
"I love you; I'm charmed by your beautiful shape;
And if you are not willing, then I will use force."
"My father, my father, now he has taken hold of me!
Elf king has hurt me!"
The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
He holds in arm the groaning child,
He reaches the farmhouse with effort and urgency;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Franz Schubert composed his Lied Erlkönig in 1815 for solo voice and piano, with text from the Goethe poem. Schubert revised the setting three times before publishing a fourth version, in 1821, as his Opus 1. Subsequent to his death, the compositions was cataloged as D.328, using the system devised by Otto Erich Deutsch. The piece was first performed in concert on December 1, 1820, at a private gathering in Vienna, and received its public premiere on March 7, 1821, at Vienna's Theater am Kärntnertor.

Four characters -- narrator, father, son, and the Elrking -- are all sung by one vocalist normally, but the work has been performed by four separate singers on occasion. Schubert has placed each character in largely a different vocal range and each has his own rhythmic nuances; in addition, most vocalists endeavor to use a different vocal color for each one.

The Narrator lies in the middle range and is in minor mode.

The Father lies in the low range and sings both in minor mode and major mode.

The Son lies in a high range, also in minor mode, representing the fright of the child.

The Elrking's vocal line undulates up and down to arpeggiated accompaniment resulting in striking contrast and is in the major mode. The Elrking lines are typically sung pianissimo, portraying a sneaky persuasiveness.

A fifth character, the horse, is implied in rapid triplet figures played by the pianist throughout the work, mimicking hoof beats.

Erlkönig starts with the piano rapidly playing octaves to create a horror theme and triplets of a repeated note to simulate the horse's galloping; this motif continues throughout. Each of the son's pleas grows louder and higher pitched than the previous ones. Near the very end of the piece the music quickens (as the father desperately tries to spur his horse to go faster), slows down (as he arrives), and the piano stops before the final line, "In seinen Armen das Kind war tot" (In his arms the child was dead). The piece then ends with a dramatic perfect cadence.

The piece is regarded as extremely challenging to perform due to the vocal characterization required of the vocalist as well as its difficult accompaniment, involving the playing of rapidly repeated chords and octaves to create the drama and urgency in the poetry.

The music has been orchestrated twice -- respectively by Hector Berlioz and by Franz Liszt.


Symphony No. 3 (1815)

The Trout (1817)

Piano Quintet in A Major ("Trout") (1819): IV

Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") (1822): I

Schubert's first song cycle, Die schöne Müllerin (1823, D.795), after poems by Wilhelm Müller and the later cycle Winterreise (D.911; also to texts of Müller) are widely considered landmarks of lieder (German art song).

Rosamunde (1823)

String Octet ("Death and the Maiden")(1824)

After the spring 1824 Octet in F (D.803), Schubert that summer went back to Želiezovce, when he became attracted by Hungarian music, and wrote the Divertissement a l'Hongroise (D.818) and the String Quartet in A minor (D.804). It has been said that he held a hopeless passion for his pupil Countess Karoline Eszterházy; if this is the case, the details are unknown.

Symphony No. 9 ("The Great") (1826): IV

German Dance No. 1 in C Major

Piano Trio in Eb

From 1826 to 1828 Schubert resided continuously in Vienna, except for a brief visit to Graz in 1827. The history of his life during these three years is little more than a record of his compositions. In the spring of 1828 he gave, for the first and only time in his career, a public concert of his own works which was very well received. But the compositions themselves are a sufficient biography.

In the last weeks of his life he began to sketch three movements for a new Symphony in D (D.936A).

In the midst of this creative activity, his health deteriorated, no doubt due to the continuing effects of syphilis, acquired in 1822.

The final illness may have been typhoid fever, though other causes have been proposed; some of his final symptoms match those of mercury poisoning (mercury was a common treatment for syphilis in the early 19th century). At any rate, insufficient evidence remains to make a definitive diagnosis. His solace in his final illness was reading, and he had become a passionate fan of the writings of James Fenimore Cooper. He died at 31 on Wednesday November 19, 1828 at the apartment of his brother Ferdinand in Vienna. At 3 p.m. "someone observed that he had ceased to breathe." By his own request, he was buried next to Beethoven, whom he had adored all his life, in the village cemetery of Währing. In 1888, both Schubert's and Beethoven's graves were moved to the Zentralfriedhof, where they can now be found next to those of Johann Strauss II and Johannes Brahms. Quite a club.

[8800 Mopti Kondalawe / 8797 Schubert / 8792 Rossini]