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Repertory Archive

Franz Schubert


Franz Peter Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797 and died there in 1828, at the age of 31.  He was a contemporary of Beethoven in Vienna, and like his master, who was twenty-seven years older, he represents the classical school of Haydn and Mozart carried forward into the opening of the “Romantic Period.”

Like Beethoven, too, he wrote symphonies, sonatas, and string quartets, but, unlike him, he developed a special talent for that type of solo song which, while tuneful and musically delightful, yet seizes characteristically the meaning and flavor of the poem and expresses these aptly.  This form of art owes more to him than to any other one composer in history.

He composed with infinitely more ease and fluency than Beethoven and the list of his works seems very long when one considers the brevity of his lifetime; some of them show a weakness of form or content, due to a rapidity and a facility that were so great that on occasion he was known to fail to recognize his own work when it was put before him.  His gift for pure and lovely melody is one of his greatest charms and in this he stands worthily beside Mozart.

He was the son of a schoolmaster with a small income, and his early life was not luxurious.  But he had the advantage of being a member of an intensely musical family, whose string quartet playing was renowned in their suburb.  At eleven he was admitted to the choir school of the Royal Chapel and here he received a good general and musical education, with insufficient food and little comfort.  On finishing his course here for a time he became an assistant in his father’s school, but his whole being was absorbed in music and soon he abandoned everything for it, living sparely and then only subsisting by the help of generous comrades who believed in him.  Some of his friends were afterwards famous as painters or poets; others belonged to the cultured bourgeois class.  They were members of a different “set” from the more aristocratic music lovers who in the same city and at the same period surrounded and supported Beethoven, and then the elder and younger musicians met only as they former lay on his death-bed, when, as is recorded, he was moved to an expression of generous admiration and confident prophecy.

Schubert carried a torch at the high ceremonial of Beethoven’s funeral and the next year was buried beside him.  He left worldly property of the tiniest value and a huge mass of lovely music — more, perhaps, than the world will ever have time to know.  Like Beethoven, Schubert was never married.  His elder brother, Ferdinand, a schoolmaster-musician like the rest of the family, and a minor composer, was one of his most devoted supporters, and deserves recognition as such.

American Ballet Theatre’s previous Schubert ballets are:  George Balanchine’s staging of his L’Errante, as The Wanderer, which used Schubert and Liszt, and Schubertiade, Michael Smuin’s ballet made especially for ABT in 1971.

Source:      The Oxford Companion to Music by Percy A. Scholes, Tenth Edition