Franz Peter Schubert
b. 1797 Vienna, Austria; d. 1828 Vienna, Austria
Die Winterreise D.911 (The Winter Journey)
Franz Schubert was the founder of the Lied and we can count an impressive number of 600 works during his short life, of which only a third has been published.
"I am going to sing a cycle of sinister lieder to you... They have touched me more than others." This is how Schubert introduced "Winter Journey" to his friends, after having worked in secrecy. He specially appreciated this work, for this was the one he chose to introduce himself to Beethoven. "Schubert’s intelligence is divine," Beethoven is said to have commented on his death bed after reading the piece.
Schubert took part in Beethoven’s funeral and carried one of the candles. He asked to be buried at Beethoven’s side when he felt that his own life was nearing its end. Schubert was upset by the death of the grand master to such an extent that he could not write again for six months. The cycle "Winterreise" is thus cut into two groups, one written before and the other after Beethoven’s death. There are in all 24 Lieder on poems written by Wilhelm Mueller in 1827, one year before Schubert’s death. Death is omnipresent throughout the work. Winter Journey: Voyage… where life no longer has reason to be once the loved one is lost. Winter… with snow, cold grounds and frozen rivers. Wandering… turning out to be the discovery of a cemetery at the end of the road. These are the scenes of this trip.
Die Forelle D.550 (The Trout)
Quintet in A Major for Pianoforte, Violin, Viola, Violoncello, and Contrabass, “The Trout,” Op. 114 (D. 667) (1819)
Of the great composers associated with Vienna in his time — the others being Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven — Schubert was the only one born in that city and the only one who failed to achieve international fame in his lifetime. His birthplace is now a museum, but the house where he died has become a Volkswagen repair shop.
“I have come into the world for no purpose but to compose.”
Everything we know about Schubert suggests that he was a quiet and private man. Although a skilled pianist and violinist, he was neither a virtuoso performer nor a flamboyant conductor who could promote his own work on the public stage. He spent most of his days methodically writing music straight from his head, since he never owned a piano to help with composition.
At his death, only 100 or so of his approximately 1,000 works had been published — mostly songs (he wrote over 600), piano duets, and collections of dances, which were popular and thus easier to sell. Few chamber works were published, and no symphonies.
Schubert’s Piano Quintet, along with his Fifth Symphony, is considered the beginning of his full maturity as a composer, written during a happy time in his early twenties. He wrote: “I started working on this quintet when I was taking a vacation at Steyr, which is about 145 km west of Vienna. It’s really beautiful there. I went there with my friend Mr. Vogl, who really was a good friend of mine and a frequent participant and audience member at the Hausmusik concerts.
“Anyway, the quintet has been commissioned by Mr. Sylvester Paumgartner, a prominent music patron and cellist in the town of Steyr. I especially like the variation movement. I will admit that I was inspired by the beautiful countryside of Steyr, and by watching the water in the streams of that lovely countryside. I think that when it is finished you will like it a lot.”
A very prominent singer in Vienna, Johann Michael Vogl was an early friend, patron, and promoter of Schubert’s music. Together they started the “Schubertiads,” those now famous evenings of friends and music, of which this Forest Hill concert series is quite reminiscent.
According to Paumgartner’s wishes, the quintet was to be composed along the same structural lines and with the same instrumentation as Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Quintet, Op. 74, which was still new at the time and unusual in its scoring for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. The “variation movement” is the fourth of five, into which Schubert’s earlier song, “Die Forelle” (The Trout), is developed, also at the request of Paumgartner.
Despite the happy burbling of a brook in the music, the text of the song, from a poem by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739–1791), describes an unlucky trout tricked into being hooked by an angler who has muddied the water to camouflage his lure. The final verse, not set by Schubert, provides the moral of the poem in warning that unwary young girls are also easily snared by wily seducers.