He was a composer who seemed to fit some of the "tragic artist" stereotypes of the Romantic period, he was prolific, had unrequited love, and died tragically young. John Banther and James Jacobs explore Schubert's life, his unrivaled gift for melody, efficiency with composing, his arrest, and more!
An extraordinary performance of one his most popular lieder, Der Erlkönig
See and hear the Arpeggione instrument that intrigued Schubert
John Banther: I'm John Banther, and this is Classical Breakdown.
From WETA Classical in Washington, we are your guide to classical music. In this episode, I'm joined by WETA Classical's James Jacobs, and we are talking about the genius and tragic life that was Franz Schubert. He had a gift for melody few composers could attain, changed the world of songwriting, and he wrote over 1, 500 works. We look at what sets his music apart from other composers, his most popular unfinished work, what he did for the trombone, and even how he ended up getting arrested in Vienna.
Sometimes I forget Schubert died as young as he did at age 31 because he wrote over 1, 500 works spanning art songs, symphonies, chamber music, piano music, stage works and more. It's almost like, James, he is the Louvre Museum of composers. I feel like it would take an entire lifetime to appreciate his music.
James Jacobs: It is so amazing to think about his short lifespan, especially when you contrast that with other composers. He died two months before he turned 32 or he would've turned 32, and when you contrast that with Beethoven, say, if Beethoven had died at the same age that Schubert had died, we would've only gotten the two symphonies. He wouldn't have written the Eroica, we would've only gotten the three Piano Concertos and 20 Piano Sonatas. And even Mozart, we wouldn't have gotten Così fan tutte or the Requiem or Clarinet Concerto.
But you do sort of get the feeling that these composers had an inkling of their lifespan even before they knew it. And so when you get someone young and in a hurry, as it were, and Schubert definitely, even before he had any sort of inkling of the tragedy that awaited him, he felt like he was the guy in a hurry.
John Banther: In a hurry. And he wrote enough music to definitely, I think, warrant that description.
So Franz Schubert, born in Vienna on January 31, 1797, the 12th child to a parish school master, and his mother was a housemaid before she was married at age 19. He started learning piano from his brother Ignaz, who was about 11 years older. And Franz is about six or seven at this time, but apparently this young Franz quickly outpaced his brother Ignaz, who later said, " I was amazed when Franz told me, a few months after we began, that he had no need of any further instruction from me, and that for the future, he would make his own way. And in truth, his progress in a short period was so great that I was forced to acknowledge in him a master who had completely distanced and outstripped me and whom I despaired of overtaking."
Just imagine, James, you are 17, 18, about to go onto your own professional music career maybe, and this six- year- old next to you is saying, " You know what? I don't need to learn any more from you. I'm well beyond you, so I'm just going to go do my own thing now. Thanks."
James Jacobs: No, I mean, that's amazing to me. And again, when you compare that to other composers, he was at least as much of a prodigy. If you compare composers before age 10, I think Schubert was up there with Bach and Mozart. He was absolutely on pace with that kind of genius, that kind of precociousness in the way that he absorbed musical knowledge.
John Banther: Yeah. And he's coming from a musical family. He also gets violin lessons from his father when he's about eight, and also people outside of the family, a local organist who was apparently astonished with Schubert's abilities. He also picked up the viola around this time, playing in a quartet with his brothers and his father. And he would become a, of course, prolific composer, but he wasn't quite the prodigy, I think, on a particular instrument. He became very well- versed on a couple, but not like Mozart on the violin or something.
James Jacobs: Right, right. And obviously, he must've been a very good keyboardist because he wrote some very difficult music for the keyboard and he also knew the keyboard. But yeah, he wasn't that kind of virtuoso.
But another thing that I think that one of the things that differentiates him is the fact that this was a time when music was available to the working class, and there's a sort of bourgeois aspect, the idea that it's about a suburban school teacher. That's what his father was, and that's what he trained to be actually in his teens. And so he had his sights set slightly differently instead of like, " Oh, I'm going to be a Kapellmeister for this church or for this count," it's sort of like, " Oh, I'm going to conduct a student orchestra in the suburbs," which is fine. It's certainly more democratic that way.
John Banther: And when he's 11 years old in 1808, he gets enrolled at the Imperial Seminary through a scholarship for his singing voice. He's singing in the choir. He also joins the school orchestra playing in the second violin section, also gets to study with Antonio Salieri a bit too.
James Jacobs: And say what you want about Salieri, Salieri basically, I mean, he discovered Schubert. When Schubert was seven years old, he said, " This guy's got a great voice and I'm going to train him." And it was Salieri who took him under his wing. He trained him with the Vienna Choir Boys, it's an institution that still exists all these centuries later. And Salieri, if it weren't for Salieri, Schubert would certainly not have been able to afford to go to school and have that, and certainly not have been able to rise to that level of fame. So yay, Salieri! Okay, everybody?
John Banther: Yay, Salieri. And there was another composer too that, probably very unfamiliar for most people, unfamiliar to me, that was also maybe a push for Schubert, and that is Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg, who wrote songs, and Schubert, I guess, became obsessed and just enthralled with these songs, or as we call them in German, lieder. He was trying to learn them, play them, memorize them. I wonder if he would compose the over 600 songs or lieder if it wasn't for this infatuation for this composer, Zumsteeg.
James Jacobs: Well, also this had to do with the new aesthetic at the time when music took on this sort of impressionistic idea that it could evoke images, and then certainly the idea of marrying poetry and music, and the influence of Zumsteeg is certainly very important. And that's also important to note, just like with Salieri, so many composers would not have been able to do what they do if it weren't for people that we'd never heard of. And so we should definitely... Zumsteeg was definitely someone that we should have on our radar as a giant in the history of music.
John Banther: And I'll try to put some video or some kind of links to him on the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org.
Well, we can already look at some of his earliest surviving music. He's barely a teenager at age 14 in 1811, and he's writing quite a variety. We have his earliest surviving song, of course he wrote more than this beforehand, " Hagars Klage," and it's also kind of long and well- developed as well. There is also the Octet for winds, which I kind of like. It's fine, it's unfinished. And he may have written that to commemorate his mother's death the following year.
He also wrote " Salve Regina," a work for soprano and orchestra. Now, this piece and what we're hearing right now is a really great, I think, distillation of my point on this episode with Schubert, and that is whenever I listen to his music, a symphony, solo piano song, chamber music, whatever, I'm always hearing it in a way that this can be reduced to just piano and voice, maybe another instrument. Even with the symphonies, I feel like this could be played by just a couple of people. I think Schubert is a very efficient composer. He's able to write in ways that get to the point and carry you along. When another composer may need more instruments, more rhythm, more this or that, Schubert doesn't.
James Jacobs: Right. And it is so interesting to sort of explore the difference between composers when it comes to that. Mozart's music seems simple, but actually, it doesn't reduce very well because he wrote it so specifically for those instruments. But somebody like Schubert, what he started with always was the melody. And if you have the melody, you have the composition, a sort of transistorized form of the composition in miniature, and then it all branches out from there. And so the melodies are complete and therefore he expands out from that. And so it can work.
You can actually sing Schubert's works easier than you can sing pretty much any other composer who wrote symphonies because it just carries you along. And I think that's part of why it makes it adoptable to different instruments in different combinations so that it could be chamber music or it could be solo piano music, orchestral music or whatever, and he had that quality from the very beginning,
John Banther: From the very beginning. And he also wrote his first symphony as well when he was 16 years old. So this is quite a variety. We already have song, choral music, a symphony, chamber music, and more. And all of that combined leads me to think, well, maybe Ignaz was correct. He did outpace him so quickly. He did advance so fast because of just all of this variety that we hear in his compositions already.
So what happens next for Schubert when he leaves this Imperial Seminary? It's 1813, he's 16 years old, pretty much I guess an adult at that time. He moves back home, but not to begin his music career. Actually, he studies a little bit with his father for teacher training to become a teacher. This sounds like it was kind of boring, not passionate for Schubert.
James Jacobs: Well, in a way, this is the period that made Schubert determined to sort of leave all this behind and go to Vienna and make a name for himself, and that this is not the life that he wanted to be stuck in the suburbs and teach because yeah, he was pretty miserable, but that didn't stop him from composing. He was constantly composing even at that time.
John Banther: And he was still studying with Salieri for a few years, and he was giving some private music lessons, basically just to get some money to buy manuscript paper and things like that.
But it's also, at this time, I think, James, his composing really takes off in a hurry. He writes some of his most well- known songs like " Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel," " Erlkönig," and basically 150 other songs in a year and another symphony and more quartets and two masses. He really takes off.
James Jacobs: Yeah. And these early songs, they're fully formed. I mean, maybe the string quartets and symphonies are still works in progress or products of a work in progress, but the songs that he wrote when he was 15, 16 are still in the standard repertory of singers. And the Erlking is... I mean, it's incredible. It's like a one- person monodrama. And it's so dramatic. And he later didn't have much of a... He tried and didn't quite make it with opera, but you don't really need an opera when you have something like the Erlking, which is an entire opera for one person and a piano in three minutes. It's just, it's as dramatic as anything.
Music: ( Singing)
John Banther: It really is. And I'm going to put video on the show notes page of this Erlking song because, well, for me, songs are how I was really introduced to Schubert's music in school. I would actually even play them in recitals on my instrument because I thought they're really great studies for phrasing, how you treat syllables, repeated words when you're not singing. How do you do that? How do you do that stuff? And I remember hearing Erlking for the first time because just the first measure in the piano, it's like, " Oh my God, what happens next? What happens next? And then what? And then what?" It's just all the way through. And he's like 16, 17.
James Jacobs: Yeah, yeah. And it's amazing. It's so dramatic and so arresting. I'm sorry. I mean, Mozart didn't write anything like that when he was 16.
John Banther: No, no.
James Jacobs: Not even Bach. And it's almost like he was born with this innate sense of theater. And even though he wasn't a theater composer in the end, he had this innate sense of what constituted what the voice was capable of. He really understood it.
You talked about how Schubert wasn't a virtuoso on an instrument, but apparently, as a boy soprano, he was a virtuoso.
John Banther: Ah, yeah. That's right.
James Jacobs: He was a great singer. So that maybe that was really his instrument and something, and that's what also sets him apart from many of the other composers.
John Banther: Yeah. And I think it's this song lieder style, how he's distilling things into just the parts that are rescue. I think this is what carries him into the rest of his music for the rest of his life. When I was talking about how you can hear things, how it can be distilled down, a symphony even, to a singer and a piano or that arrangement we were hearing earlier with clarinet, piano, and soprano.
So I think this made him super efficient. Like I said, where other composers may need more instruments or rhythmic aspects, Schubert gets away with simplicity. And you hear this singing style, I can never get it out of my head anymore with Schubert because for instance, the Piano Trio No. 2, the second movement, it opens like so many of Schubert's works: the simplest, almost silly line on the piano, and then the voice or here an instrument comes in. It's so simple and then when the line flips from cello to piano, the cello and violin are playing just what the piano was.
I mean, it's almost like how he wrote so little without a note here or there, the whole thing wouldn't even exist. He's just taking away everything that's not necessary.
James Jacobs: Right. And again, compare how he composes a movement of that kind of form to someone like Beethoven. In Beethoven, you go through three minutes and you hear all these different little fragments of melodies, little melodic cells. You might hear a complete melody that's maybe a few measures long, but it's not really about that. It's about this constant sort of war between different little melodic cells and they're one- upping each other and there's different rhythmic permutations, and Schubert, no. There's a long melody that gets stated, and then someone else states that melody, and somehow he earns our patience, somehow he earns, he hypnotizes us to stay with it and listen to these long melodic lines and how... Really listen to them. So you heard it the first time, now hear it again with this other instrument, now hear it again.
And it's interesting because it's not this cosmic war that you associate with Beethoven. It's a song. It just unfolds with these melodies and it has its own internal logic, and it's really like no other composer I can think of. And that Piano Trio No. 2 is a great example. It just carries you along on these wings of melody.
John Banther: That's how you could introduce every Schubert piece. It's a song and it unfolds from there.
So it's no surprise, as you can imagine, with Schubert writing over 600 of these and at this level, he really revolutionized songwriting a lieder, especially when it comes to song cycles. And that's something we've not actually talked about on this podcast before. A song cycle, that is a collection of songs that can be sung separately but are meant to be performed together and they have a continuous narrative thread. Before Schubert, I think there were two small examples of this?
James Jacobs: Actually, believe it or not, the person who invented the song cycle was Beethoven with " An die Ferne Geliebte," to the immortal beloved, when he was experimenting, actually around the same time, it was around 1816, with being a romantic composer. But of course, it makes sense for Beethoven because Beethoven, he basically turned the idea of a song into a kind of symphonic form because it created this narrative and so Beethoven created this 15- minute narrative out of these different songs that connected together. And Schubert, who revered Beethoven, basically seized upon that and in several great, great song cycles that are still unique. And other composers wrote other song cycles too, but Schubert's still are the ones.
John Banther: I mean, it's brand new. It's a brand new kind of thing with Beethoven. And he takes it from 15 minutes to an hour long. I mean, it's approaching Mahler symphony length at an hour long of just voice and piano. And the whole time it's just, " Okay, what's next? What happens next?"
And one of the big song cycles is Die Winterreise, the Winter Journey. Just the title in my head alone conjures up images. And we start it in a minor key. You can feel the cold. I can feel the snow crunching under my feet, maybe the bitter wind. The piano part is very economical, very efficient, as we said. And well, it's very Schubert, isn't it, that it's unrequited love, sadness, and wandering?
James Jacobs: Absolutely. It's a cycle of 24 songs and it starts off with this young man who obviously heartbroken in love, and he just starts walking in the snowy winter landscape, and we can hear him veering between despair and hope. Even in just the first song, you get elements of both as it goes between the major key and the minor key. And at one point, there's one of the songs, the fifth song is, " Der Lindenbaum," about a tree. And he sits under the tree and he has memories of sitting under the tree being happily in love and carving his initials into the tree and her initials into the tree. But of course, now you also hear the piano part imitating the wind, rustling the dead branches. So you get this evocation of this nostalgia for times when he was just, again, by himself and it's all this loneliness and wandering.
And by the time he wrote Die Winterreise, he had already received his diagnosis. He knew that he didn't have long, and he knew that he would probably never find happiness and love and he put all of that into this incredible piece. And it ends about as bleakly as anything, any work of art, but it doesn't have that... It's not sardonic that way. It's just you really feel like you could, as you said, you feel the cold, you feel the winter, like in that last song where he is just listening to the Hurdy- Gurdy Man, and nothing is more lonely than that song.
Music: ( Singing)
John Banther: He writes loneliness like very few can. And going back a little bit in his life, talking about the year 1817, he's 20, we're already, well, more than half through his life, he starts to teach music again. His dad moves to a different position at a new school. He moves in with a friend, and it's at this time he gets the first public performance of a secular work of his, an overture, I guess that was well- received. And then in the summer, he was a music teacher for a wealthy count, teaching piano and singing to the children. And so far, it seems like a relatively common story for composers. He's writing more. He has a public performance of an orchestral work. He teaches at a wealthy estate. So far, it seems like a relatively common story.
James Jacobs: Yeah. And so by the time Schubert's about 20 years old, there's really no clouds so far. I mean, yes, there was unpleasantness of having to work and all that sort of stuff, but really you sort of thought, "Okay, this is a promising young man and he's going to go on to a great, brilliant career, and he's got all the talent and he's got Vienna at his feet and what's going to happen next?"
John Banther: Yes. And we'll talk about the time Schubert was arrested right after this.
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So maybe you've heard of the idea of Schubertiades, little get- togethers to play music by Schubert. This began in Schubert's time, of course, and it was great for him initially, as he had been denied entry to a prestigious music circle previously. And this is how much of his music was played and experienced at this time, I think, at these Schubertiades.
James Jacobs: Yeah. They were salons and they sound like so much fun with people getting together, and Schubert, they were revolved around Schubert, though sometimes they included music by other composers, but it was definitely about celebrating this guy Schubert that they all knew was going to be the next big thing. And they would drink beer and do all sorts of different things from songs to chamber music and piano music. And they had to sort of gather together in a little bit in secret because of some interesting extenuating circumstances, political.
John Banther: Yeah. I mean, I think it's kind of funny in retrospect. I'm sure it wasn't at the time, but these Schubertiades became kind of a problem. He ended up getting arrested because Austrian police were a bit wary after the French Revolution. They would arrest young people meeting in groups, especially, I guess, artists. And one friend went to a jail for a year, was kicked out of Vienna. Schubert was heavily reprimanded, I guess. And Schubert wasn't quite the imposing figure, although revolutionaries can come in any form, but-
James Jacobs: Right. It should be noted that Vienna in the '20s was sort of like an America in the 1950s. We had the Red Scare. We had the House on American Activities Committee, the blacklists and all that. And it was sort of a similar time. I guess the equivalent to World War II would be the Napoleonic Wars. And it was not an easy time to be a young person, especially if, as you had mentioned, Schubert and his friends to be people who thought deeply about subjects and had very strong political opinions and had very strong ways of expressing their opinions and were still remembering the time before the wars when they could say whatever they pleased and now they can't. And the culture was shifting and they weren't quite... And it was a dangerous time.
John Banther: Yeah. And his nickname, Schubert, was Schwammerl, meaning I guess a little plump or tubby little mushroom. So I'm just thinking in my head, he gets arrested, and do you have any aliases? I can imagine Schwammerl is written down for this imposing revolutionary, Schubert.
James Jacobs: Amazing that both Beethoven and Schubert spend time in jail.
John Banther: And you know Schubert thought of a song while he was in there.
James Jacobs: Oh, absolutely.
John Banther: And it's about this time, Schubert is in his early 20s, that he gets some of his works played at the prestigious Theater an der Wien, like some operas. And he wrote 20 stage works, I think, in total, but none of them really worked out, did they? But he kept at it, but none of them worked out.
James Jacobs: Yeah, this was a hard... His early 20s were difficult for him in terms of trying, he was transitioning. He knew where he was as a teenager and writing all his symphonies and songs and sort of being an apprentice to the craft as it were and establishing himself. But now, he was trying to make it in the big world, and it's sort of a battleground. He left so many works unfinished during those first four years of his 20s. He started and didn't complete so many operas and also other works too, as well as a couple of symphonies.
John Banther: Right. His Symphony No. 8 is about this time as well.
James Jacobs: Yeah. It's like the tail end of this period, the most famous unfinished work of all.
John Banther: Yeah, I really think so. He wrote two movements and he actually never heard this played. He only heard, I think, two of his early symphonies played, and this, which would become one of his most enduring works, he never actually heard it. And I think it's one that really shows what I mean by him being an efficient composer. And when it requires moments of more extravagance and more complexity, it makes those moments shine even more.
James Jacobs: Absolutely. And when you hear those two movements and you also hear his attempts to write a third movement, and you realize that he's sort of composed himself into a corner as it were, it's sort of like where could he go from there? And without it sounding like, " Oh, now it's time for the scherzo. Now it's time..." And it's sort of like by writing these two movements that are so substantial and so satisfying, he kind of, in a way, exposed the artifice and even the absurdity of the symphonic form, sort of like, what else is needed? You write what you need to write and why do you need a finale or a scherzo unless there's a real reason for it?
And so as a result, it's like, on the one hand, it's this extremely successful work artistically, but it's also the one that becomes sort of the hedge of like, okay, so where can music go from here? Where else can symphonic form go? And in fact, in Schubert's subsequent works, he tells us. He shows us.
John Banther: Yes. And this symphony, as you might guess, would be unpublished. In fact, most of his music wasn't published and would be, for many of them, discovered in years or even decades after his death. People were finding music tucked away in cupboards and drawers of his.
James Jacobs: Yeah, yeah. There was sort of a diaspora all over Europe in different people's homes, and it was still being discovered. And in fact, I think the Unfinished Symphony wasn't even uncovered until the 1860s, some 40 years.
John Banther: It was decades, yeah.
James Jacobs: Yeah, it's like 40 years after his death. But as I said, it was a little bit of a battleground for those four years. Unfinished Symphony was part of that, but then his piano work that he wrote shortly after that was really the thing that sort of got him out of that and defined what was to follow.
John Banther: Yeah, the Wanderer Fantasy would become one of his most popular piano works. He wrote that in 1822. And I mean, a broken record, right? I'm saying when I hear this, I hear a singular idea. You can sing it or whatever. It's just interesting that I'm not listening or picking out maybe more complex or multiple counter lines at the same time. It's deceptively simple. I'm not thinking about those things for many years, really until now when I'm trying to be a little bit more critical about it, and even in the final movement when it gets just really virtuosic, it's very clear, it's very laid out. It's not frantic.
James Jacobs: The Wanderer Fantasy is a sort of quietly revolutionary work. Actually, it's not so quiet, but he came up with this new way. He based it on a song of his called " Der Wanderer," which is one of his most popular songs at the time, about someone, typical Schubert subject matters, a heartbroken young man who was lost and confused. And he took this song and he took the melody of the song, and he wrote four different versions of it and they became the four themes of the four movements, or really sections, I should say, not really movements, of the Wanderer Fantasy and that became sort of the binding, the binder of this work, the connective tissue as it were because they all have that theme in common, but they all have a completely different character, somewhat akin to the four movements of a symphony.
And it's such a great metaphor for his life at this time that he took this lonely song about wandering and turned it into this journey with different permutations like the four seasons, these four sections, and that's completely triumphant at the end. And also to note that he wrote this work, this was one of the first works he wrote after he got that diagnosis from the doctor because he noticed that his health was deteriorating, and that sort of sharpened his focus, like, " Okay, this is what we're going to do now."
This is when he gave up writing opera, sort of like, okay, so he's not going to do that, but what he is going to do is write these long- form works, which is not necessarily what you would expect or even necessarily want from a composer at that time. Nobody was asking for long symphonies and sonatas, but he wrote them anyway. He could have just written short piano pieces and songs for the rest of his life, but he really wanted to emulate Beethoven by writing these long- form works and Wanderer Fantasy showed how he could do that, how he could marry his melodic instincts with these long- form novelistic forms.
John Banther: And it's around 1822 or 1823 or so where that diagnosis you're talking about, I think originally... Well, at first at this time, he was, I guess, getting treatment for maybe syphilis. There was like you took mercury and things like that, which I can't imagine.
James Jacobs: Right, right. The cures were worse than the disease in so many ways. And actually, pretty much everybody had syphilis at that point. But again, whether you really died of that or whether you died of an attempted cure to it or whether you died of an illness you got because that made you more susceptible and killed your immune system. So it's just hard to disentangle all of those.
John Banther: Oh, yeah. And kind of like I think how I was saying in his early teenage years, we see such a variety, we see that carry on through his short life, really. He's writing for a variety of settings and situations, even when it's not working out, like all those operas. He has variations for flute and piano, more songs, quartets and so on. And really, he also writes another work for an instrument that's not even popular, I guess, at this time, the arpeggione. He has a sonata for this instrument and well, for off for me, again, what a lieder, song- like introduction to this. And this tells me that Schubert was open to new ideas and instruments, not necessarily the most popular thing.
James Jacobs: Yeah, we would not know what an arpeggione... It would've been completely forgotten had it not been for that sonata that Schubert wrote. Someone tried to make a hybrid, a cross between a guitar and a cello, which immediately brings to mind, well, that's a little bit like a viola d'amore, but not quite. And it's sort of clunky. And when you hear one, you sort of feel like the sound can't make up its mind.
John Banther: You can see why it fell out of fashion.
James Jacobs: You can see why it fell out of fashion. And so it's been adopted. The advantage of playing on the guitar is that it's easier to get all the notes, but the advantage of playing the cello's because you sort of feel like that's the tone quality you want. It's very difficult to play on the cello, but it's worth learning because it's such a beautiful piece.
John Banther: And it's just a testament to Schubert and his ability that we're talking about this sonata for an instrument, over a century later, that nobody cared about basically in the end, that doesn't even exist. But the music is great, and we're still trying to play it on instruments available to us now.
So I mean, we're getting into the final years here of Schubert's life. 1825 sounds like it was a good one for him. He earned a little bit more money. He was able to live a little more comfortably. But at age 28, he already sees his health failing, as we've already mentioned, and sometimes the treatment or the cure is worse than the disease itself. And this slow, deteriorating health, it coincides with, I think, even more development of him as a composer, churning out really fantastic works like his String Quartet No. 14, known as the Death and the Maiden, another quartet, piano works, his great Symphony in C Major. It's almost like the music is pouring out of him like water out of a pitcher. I read that he even, writing several songs in one day, wrote one song at a tavern just on a break.
James Jacobs: Yeah. I think that as his health was deteriorating, he wanted to squeeze every drop of whatever he could out of himself while he still had time. And so even though he lived a short life, he wrote these long works, like that Symphony in C Major you mentioned, which is an hour long, which was an hour- long, purely instrumental symphony, which was completely unheard of at that time. And nobody until... It took Bruckner to really sort of take up where he left off.
John Banther: Decades, decades later, yeah.
James Jacobs: Decades later. And also, his string quartets, which were 45- minutes long, like the Death and the Maiden, which is like the Wanderer Fantasy, an instrumental work that was based on a song and takes on some of the characteristics of that and develops the themes of the song, both in terms of the text and the music.
And it's interesting that as his strength is being depleted, he's also finding more strength as he keeps on going and writes these incredible works that would be, I mean, it's amazing to... I can't even imagine writing one of them. He writes so many of them within a few months.
John Banther: There is a great book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. I think that's the title. I'll put a link on the show notes page. But it's basically a collection of daily schedules and rituals of all kinds of artists and Franz Schubert was included on one of those. Not a lot of information was gleamed to kind of recreate his days, but one of the things was he would compose from six in the morning to one in the afternoon straight, and he would say, " When I finish one work, I begin the next," just chain- writing this music out.
James Jacobs: Right. And again, I mean, it's interesting because in terms of a time schedule, that was similar to Beethoven's schedule, who also would start early in the morning, but Beethoven famously labored over all of his works and had sketches and spent hours agonizing. But what's incredible about these Schubert works is that, and this is how he's a little bit more like Mozart, it just poured out of him. And you sort of get that even though they have incredible internal logic and it flows, he didn't sweat it in the same sort of way. He wasn't engaging his frontal lobe so much. It was just these melodies pouring out of him. And it worked because he had that grounding of that training, and he knew what he wanted to get out of these different forms. He knew the string quartet, he knew piano, he knew songs, and you can feel that in every work.
John Banther: And something that actually I did not know until basically now is that in March 1828, just months before he would die, he would give his only public concert of his own music. I think with such a catalog of works and the legacy he would leave, it's just hard to believe that he would just, well, have one of those concerts in his life.
And in the months, really just before he would die, that November 1828, he wrote his cello quintet. And James, I think this is fantastic. As a tuba player, I can see why a cellist would love this. It's a departure from some of the quintets we see from other composers who add an extra violin or maybe an extra viola to a quartet to make a quintet, but adding the cello, which is what Schubert does, it gives so much more opportunity for color, for layering when you have this extra low voice. When you have that higher instrument added, it kind of flips the sound pyramid too much.
James Jacobs: Right. And just to clarify, this is a quintet for two violins, viola, and two cellos. And so the way Schubert uses the two cellos is really very unlike the way that earlier composers had used, say, the extra viola or a double bass. And so sometimes the cellos would play in unison, or sometimes they would play, for example, there's a part near the beginning of the first movement where you hear the two cellos on the bottom creating this deep baseline that creates an almost orchestral texture.
And then the second theme of the first movement is this lovely duet for two cellos, which is unprecedented in music, really, to have this idea of a cello duet in a piece of chamber music.
And then in the second movement, he's able to do things where the cello joins the second violin and viola as this three- part texture that creates this sort of blanket of sound. And the first violin sings over that and the second cello has this pizzicato, this plucked line that is the baseline. And so there's so many different permutations of those five instruments that gives you such a variety of textures. And so it's actually quite... It makes a lot of sense to have that second cello.
So this was in 1828. And as you mentioned, he had done that concert earlier. And again, it's sad that a lot of these composers finally get some success just before they're about to die, just like Mozart finally had a hit in Magic Flute, and then he died, and Schubert finally had a hit with this concert, and it looked like things were promising for him. But no, he just got sicker and sicker, and his body was deteriorating. And sometimes, he would write with one hand while holding together parts of his body with the other. It was awful. It was absolutely awful. People talk about watching him write in taverns and so forth. A.
Nd he would go back and forth. Sometimes he would still take long walks, and it was hard to tell. But then in November, he went to what turned out to be his deathbed and passed away on November 19th with typhoid fever. And just a few days before he died, a few friends of his, a string quartet came to play one of Beethoven's last works, the String Quartet in C- sharp Minor, No. 14, an incredible work. And it's just so touching to me to think of Schubert being able to listen to this incredible work. And apparently, he got so excited he would move around in his bed, and I can understand that because it's such an amazing work. And he was a fan to the end. And we can just imagine how that would've inspired Schubert and that he would want to hear this brand new work.
And he visited Beethoven's graveyard and requested to be buried near him and he got that request. He got his wish. And he was also a pallbearer for Beethoven in Beethoven's funeral. So by the time he died, he was fully accepted as a member of the Viennese musical society. He had gone from being this sort of Bohemian rebel just a few years before who's arrested, so I mean, he really was on his way to inheriting that mantle and he never got to. And apparently, Beethoven, while he was on his own deathbed, finally got a chance to look at some of Schubert's works and said, " Okay, this guy, this guy's a genius." And he sort of regretted that he couldn't do more for Schubert, but he had his own issues.
John Banther: Yeah. Well, it's just something to see Beethoven have this admiration for Schubert and Schubert for Beethoven, and on their deathbeds, thinking about the genius of the other. And yeah, he was the pallbearer just a year before for Beethoven. And then he would be laid to rest, as you said, right next to him.
And his legacy, Franz Schubert, it would unfold in the coming decades as his music would continue to be discovered, things getting published. I also think he was one of the first composers to actually write interesting parts for a trombone in a symphony.
James Jacobs: I would agree with that. I mean, Beethoven gets the credit because he was the first to put trombones in a symphony but-
John Banther: He didn't write it very good though.
James Jacobs: But yeah, I mean, Schubert was the first person who actually knew how to use trombones I think.
John Banther: With that, I think he was, well, he has a special place in my heart for that. And of course, the hundreds of lieder that he composed and the song cycles that were still an inspiration, still just you can't mention lieder without talking about Schubert.
James Jacobs: Schubert would've written wonderful tuba music. It's really too bad.
John Banther: Yeah, I think so too.
James Jacobs: I think he would've really gotten that instrument.
John Banther: And now it's time to read your reviews from Apple Podcasts.
Conan in Space gave us five stars on Apple podcasts and said, " While a teenager, as with so many of my generation, I suspect, my introduction to all genres of classical music was by means of Kubrick's Space Odyssey, a unique contribution to film culture. Regardless of my later interests, I have always loved this music. Similarly, this podcast is unique in that it explores and explains classical music's DNA. It's a history lesson, a sampling for the curious, and a form of meditation. Thanks to all concerned."
And thank you so much, Conan in Space, and I understand, James Kubrick's Space Odyssey is something special for you too?
James Jacobs: Oh, absolutely. Well, really, it's all about my older brother because I was six and my older brother, he was six years older. And so I just remember he saw 2001 when it first came out, and then he went out and bought what he thought was a soundtrack to 2001, but actually, it was actually just a recording of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra that was used in 2001, and there was sort of misleading cover art. But it was good because then he started listening. He'd listened to the entire piece, and I would be there because I followed my brother around while he was listening to all his music. And so that's the piece that turned him onto classical music, and therefore, it was also the piece that turned me onto classical music.
John Banther: Wow, full circle.
James Jacobs: And yeah, all because of Stanley Kubrick and those apes and those bones.
John Banther: I love it. Well, thank you so much, James, for talking with me about all things Franz Schubert.
James Jacobs: My pleasure.