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have quite understood it as it was meant. It was true, as Schumann said
of him, "He has done enough, and praised be he who, like Schubert, has
striven and accomplished." Nevertheless it was equally true that he was
cut off while his powers were rapidly expanding, and at a moment when even
greater achievement, though difficult to imagine, would have been no more
than a logical consequence of what had gone before.

[Illustration: SCHUBERT'S TOMB IN VIENNA. - From a photograph.

Erected to his memory by the Vienna Manner Gesangs-Verein (Male Chorus).]

Schubert's personal appearance was not attractive. He was short and
round-shouldered, and in his homely face there was nothing to betray the
sacred fire within him save the brightness of the eyes. His character was
almost without a flaw. Simplicity, modesty, kindness, truthfulness, and
fidelity were his marked attributes. He was utterly free from envy or
malice, and not a trace of selfishness appears in anything he ever said or
did. His life was devoted, with entire disinterestedness, to the pursuit
of the noblest aims of art.

* * * * *

Concerning his position in the history of music there is but little
question, and the subject admits of a brief statement. The man who died
in his thirty-second year, leaving behind him at least eleven hundred and
thirty-one _such_ compositions, must surely be called the most prolific of
composers, even after allowing for the fact that more than six hundred of
these works were songs, and therefore brief. We may safely say, too, that
for creative spontaneity such a man can never have been surpassed, perhaps
scarcely ever have been equalled. This spontaneous genius found its first
and most characteristic expression in vocal song, and it is commonly if
not universally agreed that Schubert was the greatest composer of songs
that ever lived. In this department of music he marks an era. In him the
German Lied reached a plane of development to which it had not attained
before him.

The German Lied (i.e. Lay) was originally a Volkslied (i.e. Folk's-lay)
or popular melody. The merit of popular melody lies largely in its
spontaneity. In German popular melody, from the oldest times, the
merit of beauty has been added to that of spontaneity, inasmuch as the
Germans, like the Slavs, are naturally musical in a sense in which
English-speaking people are not. No German-speaking people would tolerate
for a national air such a tune as Yankee Doodle. In the plainest German
folk-song may be found spontaneous simplicity without vulgarity. Hence
the Volkslied has been available as a source of melodic suggestiveness
to German composers. It is one such chief source, the Gregorian chant
being the other. To the presence of this folk-song element we may largely
ascribe the far higher poetic quality of German classical music as
compared with the more prosaic musical declamation of the modern French
and Italians.

But as the earlier German composers subjected the Volkslied to elaborate
contrapuntal treatment, while on the one hand they added to its range and
depth of expression, on the other hand they deprived it to some extent
of its indescribable charm. Artistic music began to be divorced from the
Volkslied, and with the advance of musical education the latter seemed to
be falling into decay. But with the revival of German literature which
dates from Lessing, there began a new development of national spirit among
Germans, of which we have seen the culmination in our own time. One of
the early symptoms was the introduction of the Volkslied element into
poetry by Herder and Goethe. About the same time we find the same element
appearing in the thematic treatment of symphonies, sonatas, and string
quartets by Haydn and Mozart, especially in the adagios. In Mozart's songs
there is a great development in dramatic treatment, as for example, in
"Unglückliche Liebe." The nearest approach made by Mozart to the kind of
song afterward developed by Schubert was probably in "Das Veilchen," the
only one of his songs set to Goethe's words. As Mozart was pre-eminently
a musical dramatist, so was Beethoven first and foremost a symphonist;
and in his songs the most noticeable new feature is the enrichment of the
harmonies and the profound increase of significance in the instrumental
accompaniments. We see this in the magnificent "Adelaide," which,
however, resembles an aria rather than a genuine Lied. In some parts of
Beethoven's exquisite cycle, "An die ferne Geliebte," he comes nearer to
the Schubertian form of song.

Now in Schubert all the elements of intensity, power, and poetical depth
in song are found united as never before in such perfection or on such
a scale. The breadth and vigor of dramatic treatment, the profound and
subtle harmonic changes, the accumulation of effect by the rhythm and
sometimes by the independent melodic themes of the accompaniment, are all
to be found in his songs; and at the same time the perfect spontaneity and
the indescribable poetical fragrance of the Volkslied are fully preserved.
Utterances that spring from the depth of the human soul are clothed in
the highest forms of art without losing their naiveté. We must thus rank
Schubert among the most consummate masters of expression the world has
ever seen. His songs represent the high-water mark of human achievement
in one direction, as Beethoven's symphonies represent it in another.
All subsequent composers, beginning with Mendelssohn and Schumann, have
been pupils of Schubert in song-writing, but no one has yet equalled the
master. Mendelssohn's songs, while perfect in form and bewitching for
grace, are far inferior to Schubert's in intensity of passion. On the
other hand Schumann has written some songs - such as "Frühlingsnacht," "Ich
grolle nicht," the "Frauenliebe" cycle, and others - which for concentrated
fire, as well as for original and magnificent harmonies - almost surpass
those of Schubert; but in wealth of imagination, in spontaneity and
variety, he remains distinctly inferior to his master.

In thus carrying the Lied to the highest point of development it has yet
reached, Schubert became one of the chief sources of inspiration for
modern music in all its departments. The influence of his conception of
the Lied is to be seen in all his most highly developed and characteristic
writing for piano, for orchestra, and for chorus. In his earlier
symphonies, quartets, and sonatas he was strongly influenced by his study
of Mozart, and his own individuality is by no means so distinctly asserted
as in his songs. If the sonata form of expression were as easily caught
as the simple song form, this need not have been the case. After Schubert
had mastered the sonata form so that it became for him as easy a vehicle
of spontaneous expression as the Lied, his sonatas and symphonies became
strongly characteristic and replete with originality. This is exemplified
in his eighth and tenth symphonies, in his piano sonatas, Op. 42 and Op.
78, and in his later chamber music. In such compositions he simply worked
within the forms perfected by Beethoven and did nothing to extend them.
But his musical individuality, saturated with the Lied, impressed upon
these noble works features that have influenced all later instrumental
music, imparting to it a more romantic character. As Mr. Paine observes,
"we are constantly surprised by the sudden and abrupt modulations,
rhythmical effects of melody and accompaniment which we call Schubert's
that give variety and life to his movements. The Unfinished Symphony in B
minor is perhaps the most noteworthy in these respects; it is the epitome
of his genius, and well typifies his own unfinished but perfect life."

In similar wise, in his smaller works for piano - his impromptus, "moments
musicals," dances, marches, variations, etc. - we see the marked influence
of the Lied. The impromptu in G major, Op. 90, for example, is a "song
without words." In piano music not only Mendelssohn and Schumann, but also
Chopin, drew copious inspiration from Schubert, who thus stands as one of
the principal founders of the modern imaginative and romantic schools.

We have seen that the Erl King was at first coldly received. It marked
a new departure in the dramatic treatment of musical themes; the ears
of the listeners were not taught to expect such treatment; they were
disturbed by the intensity of passion and bewildered by the boldness
of the harmonies. In particular at the superb discord where the child
cries that the Erl King is seizing him - where the G flat of the voice
comes against the rushing triplets on F natural in octaves resting upon
E flat in the bass - much doubt was expressed, and the worthy Ruzicka's
ingenuity was somewhat taxed to explain and justify such a combination.
But indeed since the beginning of this century the modern ear has received
a remarkable education in appreciating the use and beauty of dissonances.
Schubert's treatment of the Erl King ballad was at first disapproved
by Goethe himself; as he said, "it did not agree with his view of the
subject." But Goethe's opinions on musical matters were of small value;
the range of his appreciativeness was in this direction narrowly limited.
He was fond of the worthy old Zelter, who set to music more than a hundred
of his songs. Of these Goethe said "he could scarcely have believed music
capable of producing such delicious tones." Zelter's music was certainly
not without merit, and his setting of the "König im Thule" is still sung
and deservedly admired; but to go from Zelter to Schubert required a
sorcery more potent than that which brought Helen of Troy to become the
bride of mediæval Faust. At any rate Goethe found it so. Toward the end of
his life, when he heard the Erl King sung with its full dramatic effect by
Madame Schröder-Devrient, he acknowledged its power, but it was probably
the superb woman and her style of singing that moved him rather than the
music. At one time the modest Schubert, at the instigation of some friend,
ventured to send to the great poet some of the settings of his songs
accompanied by a letter tremulous with awe. But Goethe never answered the
letter, and apparently took no notice of the music. "Neither in Goethe's
works," says Kreissle, "nor in his correspondence with Zelter, nor in his
conversations with Eckermann, do we find a syllable in connection with
Schubert's name." Little did either the poet or the musician realize that
throughout all future time their names were to be inseparably associated.
It was the poems of Goethe that inspired Schubert with some of his most
beautiful and sublime conceptions. He set sixty-seven of them to music,
and of the whole number there is perhaps not one in which we do not feel
that the song of the greatest of German poets has been invested with a
higher spiritual life by the music of the most poetical composer the world
has seen. How full of the most delicate fragrance of poetry are the lines
"Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh," etc.! but when one has once associated them
with Schubert's music, one feels that to break this association (were it
possible) and return to the verses pure and simple would be a far greater
descent than from poetry to prose.

In spite of the startling originality already evinced in the Erl King,
we find a decided conservatism alleged for some of Schubert's musical
judgments at this youthful period. It was a time when Beethoven was still
by many people regarded with suspicion as a reckless innovator upon the
orthodox forms and methods. Since the middle of the century, indeed, one
has often heard some of the magnificent works of Beethoven's third period,
including his four latest piano sonatas and some of his quartets, set
down as eccentric vagaries instead of being comprehended in their true
light as the ripe fruits of his most consummate artistic maturity. At the
beginning of the century more or less opposition was excited even by the
earlier works of Beethoven which transgressed the limits of expression
within which Haydn and Mozart had been confined. Schubert was at that time
a friend and to some extent a pupil of the Venetian composer, Antonio
Salieri, conductor of the choir in the Emperor's chapel. Salieri gave
Schubert more or less instruction in thorough-bass and used to correct
and criticise his compositions. He advised him not to waste his time
over ballads and lyrics by Goethe and Schiller, but to set to music by
preference the old and formal Italian stanzas. Another piece of advice, as
applied to the inexhaustible Schubert, is deliciously grotesque; Salieri
thought he had better "husband his resources of melody." There is a point
of view, as we shall presently see, from which a grain of sound sense can
be descried in such counsel; but these incidents sufficiently indicate
Salieri's conservatism of temperament. He wrote about forty operas, a
dozen oratorios and cantatas, and a quantity of miscellaneous vocal and
and instrumental works, not without merit, all of which have virtually
sunk into oblivion. In June 1816 there was a jubilee festival to celebrate
Salieri's residence of fifty years in Vienna, and many compositions of
his pupils, written especially for the occasion, were produced. The music
ended with a chorus from Salieri's oratorio, "Christ in Hades," in
which the composer had caught some of his inspiration from Gluck. After
returning from the performance, Schubert wrote that same evening in his
diary as follows: - "It must be pleasant and invigorating to the artist to
see his pupils gathered about him, every one striving to do his best for
his master's jubilee feast; to hear in all their compositions a simple
and natural expression, free from all that _bizarrerie_ which prevails
with the majority of composers of our time, and for which we are in the
main indebted to one of our greatest German artists; free, I say, from
that _bizarrerie_ which links the tragic with the comic, the agreeable
with the repulsive, the heroic with the whimpering, the most sacred themes
with buffoonery, - and all without discrimination; so that the hearers are
goaded to frenzy instead of dissolving in love, and tickled into senseless
laughter rather than raised toward heaven. The fact that this miserable
_bizarrerie_ has been proscribed and exiled from the circle of his pupils,
so that their eyes may rest on pure, holy Nature, must be a source of
lively satisfaction to the artist who, with a Gluck for a pioneer,
has learned to know Nature, and has clung to her in spite of the most
unnatural influences of our day."

[Illustration: Fac-simile letter from Schubert, to committee of Austrian
Musical Society which accompanied his score of the C-minor symphony.
Original in possession of the "Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde" in Vienna.]

Now the person here mentioned as "one of our greatest German artists"
can hardly be any other than Beethoven, and the following clauses, in
which the _bizarrerie_ ascribed to him is defined, give expression to
the stock objections that were urged in those days, by an unintelligent
public and by musicians of narrow vision, against his music. Did the
youthful Schubert mean to echo and approve these shallow criticisms? Sir
George Grove seems to think so, and quotes from the same diary a passage,
dated three days earlier, in which most intense love and admiration is
expressed for Mozart's music; from which it is inferred that there can
be no doubt to which of the two great masters Schubert was most strongly
attached at that time. Kreissle, on the other hand, without offering any
explanation of the passage above quoted, simply comments on it as a series
of "somewhat misty and confused remarks."

In those days there was nothing strange in a young musician, even
if endowed with vast powers of comprehension, finding Mozart always
satisfactory and Beethoven sometimes unintelligible. That was one of the
musical limitations of that particular moment in the history of music.
If the entry in Schubert's diary is to be taken seriously, it is only
one among many illustrations of the difficulty which one creative genius
often finds in comprehending the methods and results of another creative
genius. But in Schubert's case there is some improbability in such a view.
His early symphonies and string quartets, indeed, show that the influence
of Haydn and Mozart was at that time quite masterful with him, while the
influence of Beethoven was comparatively slight. But he had already spoken
of Beethoven in terms of most enthusiastic and reverent admiration; and
it is not easy to believe that at the age of nineteen the composer of the
Erl King could have seriously repeated the crude stock objections that
were urged against the composer of the C-minor symphony by old fossils
like Salieri. The entry in Schubert's diary is redolent of irony, and
was probably intended as a harmless vent for his satirical amusement at
the foibles of the kindly old master who tried to repress his youthful
exuberance and advised him not to meddle with German ballads. This kind of
humor without bitterness was eminently characteristic of Schubert.

Schubert's one fault was one to which allusion has already been made. As
is so often the case, it was closely connected with his chief attribute
of strength. His unrivalled spontaneity often led him into diffuseness.
Melodies tumbled forth in such lavish profusion as to interfere with the
conciseness of his works and mar their artistic form. This is chiefly true
of his earlier instrumental works. It is not often the case with his vocal
songs. There his musical creativeness is constrained into perfection of
form through his completely adequate poetical conception of the words.
From the Erl King to "Am Meer" his greatest songs are remarkable for
saying just enough and knowing exactly when to stop. It is noticeable that
he very seldom repeats the same verbal phrases, with changes of melody
or harmony, as is customary in arias. In the arias, as well as in the
grand choruses, of oratorios, cantatas, and operas, such repetition is
often of the highest value as leading to an accumulation of sublime or
gorgeous effects hardly otherwise attainable. But inasmuch as it is an
artificial means of producing effects and would thus interfere with the
simple spontaneity of the Lied, it would generally be out of place there.
With Schubert the words of the poem are not merely a vehicle for the
melody, but poetry and music are fused into such identity that when one
has once known them it becomes impossible to separate them. In his earlier
instrumental works, however, released from the guidance of the poetical
thought expressed in words, Schubert's exuberance of fancy often runs
away with him, and takes him into a trackless forest of sweet melodies
and rich harmonies from which he finds it difficult to emerge. But in his
more mature works we find him rapidly outgrowing this fault and acquiring
complete mastery of his resources. In the A-minor sonata, the D-minor
quartet, and the last two symphonies, the form is as perfect as the
thought; and we are thus again reminded that Schubert, like young Lycidas
and others whom the gods have dearly loved, was cut off in his early prime.

So careless of fame was Schubert, so suddenly did death seize him, and so
little did the world suspect the untold wealth of music written upon musty
sheets of paper tucked away in sundry old drawers and cupboards in Vienna,
that much of it has remained unknown until the present day. As from time
to time new songs, sonatas, trios, or symphonies were brought to light,
a witty French journal began to utter doubts of their genuineness and to
scoff at the "posthumous diligence" of "the song-writer Schubert." This
was in 1839. Schumann was one of the first to bring to light the great
merits of Schubert's genius, as we have seen in the case of his Symphony
in C major, and his enthusiasm for Schubert knew no bounds. "There was a
time," he said, "when it gave me no pleasure to speak of Schubert; I could
only talk of him by night to the trees and stars. Who amongst us, at some
time or another, has not been sentimental? Charmed by his new spirit,
whose capacities seemed to me boundless, deaf to everything that could be
urged against him, my thoughts were absorbed in Schubert."

Since then much more has been done toward collecting and editing these
wonderful manuscripts, and the thanks of the whole world of music-lovers
are due to Sir George Grove for his devoted persistence in this work.
Vast as Schubert's fame has come to be, it is probably destined to grow
yet greater as his works and his influence are more intimately studied.
Few indeed have been the composers who have ever brought us nearer to the
eternal fountains of divine music.

* * * * *

The original documents for a biographical sketch, excepting the vast mass
of manuscript music, are less abundant than with most other musicians of
the highest rank. For this fact several causes may be assigned. Schubert
was as careless of fame as Shakespeare. He was shy of disposition and
inclined to withdraw himself from the world's gaze. He was not a virtuoso,
and was never called upon, like the youthful Mozart, to play the piano
or any other instrument before crowned heads, or in the presence of a
public wild with enthusiasm; nor did he ever come into prominence as a
director or conductor, like Handel and Mendelssohn. There was thus no
occasion for him to make long journeys and become personally known to
his contemporaries. In the course of his short life, except for a little
travelling in rural Styria and Upper Austria, he never went outside of
Vienna; and there he was not, like Beethoven, thrown habitually into the
society of aristocratic people; his few companions were for the most part
of humble station, though some of them in later years were not unknown
to fame. The obscurity of Schubert during his lifetime cannot be better
illustrated than by the fact that such a kindred spirit should have lived
so many years in the same city with Beethoven - and Vienna was not then
a large city - before attracting his attention. Nor did Schubert acquire
distinction as a musical critic, like Schumann, or leave behind him
writings characterized by philosophic acuteness or literary charm. He was
simply and purely a composer, the most prolific, all things considered,
that ever lived. He poured forth with incredible rapidity, songs,
symphonies, sonatas, operas, masses, chamber-music, until sudden death
overtook him. A great deal of this music he never heard himself except in
his innermost soul; much of it still remained in manuscript forty years
after his death; during his life he was known chiefly as a song writer,
and in that department his unequalled excellence was recognized by few,
while it was too soon for any one to comprehend the significance of his
creative work in its relations to the development of modern music. Thus
the reputation of Schubert, more than that of any other composer of like
eminence, is a posthumous reputation. His existence was too large a fact
for mankind to take in until after he had passed away. These facts account
for the comparative slightness of biographical material in Schubert's
case. There is, nevertheless, material enough to give us an adequate
picture of that singularly simple and uneventful life, the details of
which are largely comprised in the record of the compositions turned off
one after another with bewildering rapidity.

Among biographical sources the first place belongs to the sketch "Aus
Franz Schubert's Leben," by his brother Ferdinand Schubert. It was
published in Schumann's "Neues Zeitschrift für Musik," 1839, numbers
33-36, and is so good as to make one wish there were much more of it.
Between 1829 and 1880 personal reminiscences of Schubert were published
by Mayrhofer, Bauernfeld, Schindler, Sofie Müller, and Ferdinand Hiller,
bibliographical notes of which are given in Grove's "Dictionary of Music,"
Vol. III. p. 370. The first attempt at a thorough biography was the book
of Kreissle von Hellborn, "Franz Schubert," of which the second edition,
published at Vienna in 1865, is an octavo of 619 pages. Though dull and
verbose in style, and quite without literary merit, its fullness and
general accuracy of information make it a very valuable work. An English
translation by Mr. Arthur Duke Coleridge was published by Longmans, Green
& Co., in 1869, in 2 vols. 8vo, with an appendix by Grove, containing
the results of researches made among Schubert manuscripts in Vienna in
1867. Much slighter works are the biographies by Reissmann (Berlin,



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 17 of 32)