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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Image from the autograph manuscript of the song ‘An die Musik’

Autograph manuscript of the song 'An die Musik'
British Library Zweig MS 81
Copyright © The British Library Board
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

This manuscript is the autograph of 'An die Musik', one of the best-known songs of perhaps the best-known songwriter in German: Franz Schubert. Before his untimely death at the age of 31, he wrote over 600 songs, whose immediate lyricism, charm and subtlety makes them highly popular with both amateur and professional singers.

Who was Schubert?

The music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) reflects both his Classical training and the Romanticism of the early 19th century. His early musical education was as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, Vienna. Later he began teaching at his father's school and it was during this time that he composed his first opera,' Des Teufels Lustschloss' ('The Devil's Pleasure-Castle'), completed in 1814. The following two years were a great creative period for Schubert, during which he composed symphonies, masses, chamber music, and almost 250 songs.

Though his works were not a great public success, Schubert gave up teaching to concentrate on musical composition. He never achieved much public success, though he had a wide circle of friends who often performed his works in musical meetings. His premature death - generally thought to be from syphilis - robbed the music world of an outstanding and original talent. Schubert never married, and there are a range of theories about his romantic inclinations.

What makes his music special?

All Schubert's music sings. Even in his symphonies, string pieces or piano sonatas, the lines are always lyrical, as if the instruments were bursting into song. He set a huge variety of texts, from the best poets down to the most mundane amateurs.

He wrote firmly in the Viennese style of the time - traditional Classical order and objectivity on the one hand, Romantic passion and subjectivity on the other. However, more than other composers he was willing to experiment with harmonic shifts: an apparently innocuous tune may turn out to have taken a surprising harmonic path, ending up unsettlingly distant from its original key.

Though much of his work adhered to standard forms, he also attempted to break away from their confines. This shows especially within his songs, where he experimented with free forms when lyrics required it: one song may be based on a repeating melody for each verse, while another may be 'through-composed', with no such repetition.

Image of Franz Schubert

Schubert's works are catalogued by D-numbers, after the list compiled by Deutsch, and run up to D960

What are his most famous pieces?

Many of Schubert's works have become standard repertoire pieces, such as his song-cycles 'Die schöne Müllerin' ('The beautiful girl from the mill') and 'Die Winterreise' ('The Winter Journey'), the 'Great C Major' Symphony and the 'Unfinished' Symphony (which was left unfinished long before his death), the 'Trout' Quintet, and the String Quintet. Many of them exquisitely portray feelings of melancholy, longing and despair.

What does this page show?

The manuscript shown here is an example of Schubert's song composition. His setting of verses by Franz von Schober dates from about 1817, and he later revised the song, in the version shown here, for publication in 1827.

The simple melody, half stated in the opening bars of the accompaniment, goes to the heart of the poem.

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