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Timeline: Franz Schubert

U.S. Public Domain
Though Schubert's music was all but ignored during his lifetime, his work is now a staple in our modern concert halls.

Franz Schubert lived to be only 31 years old, but he left behind more than a lifetime’s worth of music. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, numerous chamber and symphonic works. Even his unfinished 8th symphony has become a staple in our modern concert halls, quite impressive for a composer who had very little exposure while he was alive.

Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797. His father was a Parish School Master and his mother was a former housemaid. He began studying music at the age of 6, spending time playing the instruments waiting to be sold in a piano-forte factory near his home.

The following year he caught the attention of Antonio Salieri, who eventually took him in as a pupil in both theory and composition. Even from that early age, Schubert had a desire to modernize the popular “Lieder”, or art song.

He was 17 when he became a teacher at his father’s school and began a relationship with a young soprano named Therese Grob. However, they were not permitted to marry due to the Marriage Consent Law of 1815 – in which a bridegroom must prove that he could provide for a family.

Schubert could make no such promises. In spite of this heartbreak, 1815 was Schubert’s most prolific year. He wrote over 140 songs, works for the local church and a symphony.

Schubert left his father’s school the next year and developed friendships with various artists, singers and even some members of the aristocracy. They used to gather for informal performances of Schubert’s music.

There was also a political bent to these evenings as well that led to Schubert and some of his friends being arrested at one point by the Austrian police.

The following years saw Schubert’s mastery of composition grow but almost nothing was published or publicly performed.  Some say that Beethoven (on his death-bed) had declared Schubert a genius but not much came of that endorsement.

Schubert battled poverty for the bulk of his life, though his last few years saw moderate success with the publication of his song cycle “Winterreise”.

In 1828, Schubert was diagnosed with typhoid fever and his health quickly deteriorated.  His dying request was to hear Beethoven’s 14th string quartet in C# minor one last time and to be buried next to his hero. Today you can find the graves of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Johann Strauss II side by side in Schubert Park in Vienna.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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