Schubert, Franz

Franz Peter Schubert, born on January 31, 1797, near Vienna, Austria, is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Though his life was tragically short, Schubert left behind an extraordinary body of work that continues to captivate audiences to this day. He was a prolific composer, creating masterpieces in various genres, including songs, chamber music, symphonies, masses, and piano works. In this article, we will explore the life and music of Franz Peter Schubert, delving into his early years, his musical education, and the remarkable compositions that have secured his place in music history.

Early Life and Musical Education

Franz Schubert was born into a musically inclined family. His father, Franz Theodor Schubert, was a schoolmaster, while his mother, Elisabeth, worked in domestic service. Music filled the Schubert household, with the family regularly engaging in string quartet playing. Franz, their fourth surviving son, displayed an early talent for music, particularly the viola. Under the guidance of his father and his brother Ignaz, Franz received his initial music education, which included studying the organ and music theory with a parish church organist.

In 1808, Schubert won a scholarship that granted him a place in the imperial court chapel choir and admission to the Stadtkonvikt, a prestigious boarding school in Vienna. At the Stadtkonvikt, Schubert honed his musical skills under the tutelage of Wenzel Ruzicka, the imperial court organist, and renowned composer Antonio Salieri. During his time at the school, Schubert played the violin in the students' orchestra, quickly rising to the position of leader. He also conducted in the absence of Ruzicka and actively participated in choir practice. Schubert's passion for music extended beyond his studies, as he frequently engaged in chamber music and piano playing with his fellow pupils.

Early Compositions and the Emergence of the Lied

Schubert's early compositions reveal a remarkable talent even in his youth. Despite his initial shyness in showcasing his work, the encouragement of his friends and the recognition of Salieri helped bring his compositions to the forefront. Among his early works were a long Fantasia for Piano Duet, a song, several orchestral overtures, and three string quartets. Notably, he also commenced an operetta titled "Der Spiegelritter" (The Looking-glass Knight), based on a text by August von Kotzebue.

However, it was Schubert's foray into the realm of song composition that would prove revolutionary. In 1814, he set to music a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, titled "Gretchen am Spinnrade" ("Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel"). This masterpiece, Schubert's 30th song, marked the birth of the German lied, an art song genre that combined poetry and music. The following year, Schubert composed over 140 songs, further solidifying his position as a master of the form.

Schubert's Creative Process and Musical Style

Schubert's creative process was deeply rooted in melody. The words of a poem would spark a melodic idea, which would then guide the subsequent development of harmony and modulation. The melodies themselves often evoked vivid imagery, with Schubert's accompaniments skillfully depicting scenes from nature, domestic life, or mythology. These distinct characteristics can be observed in his songs from 1815 and beyond.

Schubert's musical style was characterized by his bold harmonic choices and unexpected key changes. Unlike composers who favored smooth modulations through pivot chords, Schubert preferred sudden shifts into unrelated keys, creating surprising and dramatic musical moments. One notable example of this is the transition from C major to E minor in the opening movement of his Symphony No. 9 in C Major.

The Influence of Friends and Acquaintances

Schubert's friendships played a significant role in his personal and artistic development. In his college days, he formed close bonds with individuals who would have a lasting impact on his career. Josef von Spanun introduced him to the poet Johann Mayrhofer, whose lyrics would inspire many of Schubert's songs. Franz von Schober, a young and brilliant acquaintance, fueled Schubert's desire to break free from his teaching duties and pursue his musical aspirations.

One of Schubert's most significant collaborations was with the baritone Johann Michael Vogl. Their meeting in 1817 led to Vogl becoming a vocal champion of Schubert's songs, captivating Viennese audiences with his performances. Schubert also forged friendships with Anselm and Josef Huttenbrenner, brothers who shared his passion for music, and Josef von Gahy, a talented pianist with whom he enjoyed playing duets.

Musical Achievements and Prolific Output

Schubert's creative output during the years 1813 to 1815 was astonishing in its variety and intrinsic value. Despite his youth, his compositions displayed a unique style, originality, and imagination. This period saw the creation of five string quartets, three full-scale masses, and three symphonies. Schubert also completed his first full-length opera, "Des Teufels Lustschloss" (The Devil's Palace of Desire), during his time at the training college.

However, it was Schubert's mastery of the song form that truly set him apart. In addition to his numerous compositions, he left behind unfinished fragments and sketches that offer insight into his creative process. These fragments demonstrate the centrality of melody in his compositions, while also showcasing his ability to evoke vivid imagery through his accompaniments.

Return to Teaching and Continued Musical Output

In 1818, Schubert's time as a schoolmaster came to an end, allowing him to focus more on his musical pursuits. During this period, his reputation grew, and his works garnered public attention. Notably, his Italian Overture in C Major was publicly performed in Vienna, marking an important milestone in his career. In June of the same year, Schubert accepted a position as a music master to the daughters of Johann, Count Esterhazy, in Zseliz, Hungary. This change of scenery brought about a burst of creativity, resulting in the completion of various compositions, including piano duets, dances, songs, and the "Deutsche Trauermesse" (German Requiem).

Schubert's Legacy and Influence

Franz Peter Schubert's contributions to music cannot be overstated. Despite his untimely death at the age of 31, he left behind an immense body of work that continues to inspire and move audiences worldwide. His mastery of the lied genre, his innovative harmonic choices, and his ability to evoke powerful emotions through his music have solidified his place as one of the greatest composers in history.

Schubert's influence extended far beyond his own time, with composers such as Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Gustav Mahler acknowledging his impact on their own musical development. His melodies continue to be beloved by performers and listeners, and his compositions are regularly performed in concert halls around the globe.


Franz Peter Schubert's life may have been tragically short, but his impact on the world of music is immeasurable. His melodic genius, boundless creativity, and willingness to explore new musical territories have secured his place among the great composers of all time. From his groundbreaking lieder to his symphonies, chamber music, and piano works, Schubert's compositions continue to inspire and enchant audiences, ensuring that his legacy will endure for generations to come.

Cello Compositions of Franz Schubert | Animato Strings


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