Happy Belated Birthday, Franz Schubert! January 31, 1792 –

By S. Stasov

File:Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder 1875.jpg
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Franz Schubert died at the pitiable age of 31, moneyless and nearly anonymous. He was not famous at all, but he was the center of a circle of admiring artist friends who gathered around him. They were called Schubertians for the sociable evenings that centered around his music. His death was attributed to syphilis, said to be courtesy of his closest companion, bad boy Franz Schober, a charming slacker who was no good influence, at least according to some of the Schubertians. These two Franzes were so tight they fused their names into ‘Schobert’.

Schubert was born in a one room apartment in poor, crowded conditions near Vienna. His father was a school teacher of high education and low social status. Death occurred frequently in his family. His mother had a lot of babies that died. She joined them when he was just 15. These sad circumstances may have contributed to the melancholy that pervades Schubert’s music, although there is much that is jolly in his compositions, too.

After Schubert died, friends and family began sorting out his work. One astonishing masterpiece after another emerged from drawers and closets. During his lifetime, Schubert had heard almost none of his own compositions, yet he continued to churn them out, without even a piano. He was similar to Mozart in that he had the ability to produce works of melodious and structural brilliance one after the other, all composed in his head. To 19th century minds, these two composers wrote in trancelike states – they were channeling. Their unimpressive personalities caused observers to believe that they were vessels, not really responsible for the content of their work. Like Mozart, Schubert’s music was quickly and neatly written out, with barely any corrections, unlike Beethoven’s ink splotches. Schubert’s school master father had forbidden him to compose, but that didn’t stop him or slow him down. At the time of his death, he had produced almost 1,000.

As a child Schubert sang in what became known as the Vienna Boys Choir. His musical gifts appeared early. He composed his first masterpiece, the song Gretchen am Spinnrade, at age 17. Gretchen am Spinnrade, with lyrics by Goethe, is one of the first of the great lieder, or songs, Schubert would compose. He produced over 600 of them in his lifetime, and is considered to be the inventor of the German art song.

Gretchen am Spinnrade (Schubert/Goethe)

Ljuba Welitsch, Paul Ulanowsky

Meine Ruh’ ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

Wo ich ihn nicht hab

Ist mir das Grab,

Die ganze Welt

Ist mir vergällt.

Mein armer Kopf

Ist mir verrückt,

Mein armer Sinn

Ist mir zerstückt.

Meine Ruh’ ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

Nach ihm nur schau ich

Zum Fenster hinaus,

Nach ihm nur geh ich

Aus dem Haus.

Sein hoher Gang,

Sein’ edle Gestalt,

Seine Mundes Lächeln,

Seiner Augen Gewalt,

Und seiner Rede

Zauberfluß,

Sein Händedruck,

Und ach, sein Kuß!

Meine Ruh’ ist hin,

Mein Herz ist schwer,

Ich finde sie nimmer

Und nimmermehr.

Mein Busen drängt sich

Nach ihm hin.

[Ach]1 dürft ich fassen

Und halten ihn,

Und küssen ihn,

So wie ich wollt,

An seinen Küssen

Vergehen sollt!

My peace is gone,

My heart is heavy,

I will find it never

and never more.

Where I do not have him,

That is the grave,

The whole world

Is bitter to me.

My poor head

Is crazy to me,

My poor mind

Is torn apart.

My peace is gone,

My heart is heavy,

I will find it never

and never more.

For him only, I look

Out the window

Only for him do I go

Out of the house.

His tall walk,

His noble figure,

His mouth’s smile,

His eyes’ power,

And his mouth’s

Magic flow,

His handclasp,

and ah! his kiss!

My peace is gone,

My heart is heavy,

I will find it never

and never more.

My bosom urges itself

toward him.

Ah, might I grasp

And hold him!

And kiss him,

As I would wish,

At his kisses

I should die!

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