Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer who lived from 1797 to 1828 in Vienna. He lived between the Classical and Romantic eras, like Beethoven, who was born 27 years earlier but died only one year later. Schubert was raised in a musical household. He was a member of the family string quartet and was taught music his father and older brother.
Schubert won a scholarship and the opportunity to continue his studies after studying organ with the parish church organist. He studied with Antonio Salieri, Mozart’s noted rival. Simultaneously, he began teacher training and joined his father, who was also a teacher, as an assistant in a school that his father had founded.
His first works included a piano duet, overtures, chamber music, three string quartets, and an unfinished operetta, as well as a song. Between 1813 and 1815, he increased his output, writing five string quartets, three masses, three symphonies, and his first opera, but he primarily composed songs. During this time, he composed the first music for a Goethe poem, “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”). His work is credited with laying the groundwork for the musical genre known as the German lied, or art song, during this time period.
He took a few years off from teaching during which time he met Johann Michael Vogl, whose interpretations of Schubert’s songs became extremely popular, but he had to return to teaching to support himself until the summer of 1818. In this year, he completed his Sixth Symphony and had the first public performance of his Italian Overture in C Major in Vienna, as his reputation grew.
He composed his first well-known piano work, Piano Sonata in A Major, in 1819, as well as the Trout Quintet and several songs. In 1820, Vogl sponsored and starred in a production of Schubert’s opera Die Zwillingsbrüder (The Twin Brothers), which led to other works being performed. Despite this, Schubert’s work was unable to find a publisher.
This changed in 1821, when a plan devised his friends to publish one of his works subscription was successful, and he began his career in print. His songs and dance music became popular at parties named after him, called Schubertiaden. His main concern, however, was to become well-known in the opera world, and he left a number of works unfinished in 1821 and 1822 in order to achieve this goal. This is when he composed his Unfinished Symphony, as well as when he contracted a venereal disease.
In 1823, he composed the Piano Sonata in A Minor, as well as the song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin” (“The Fair Maid of the Mill”). However, his opera Fierrabras was turned down for a production. In 1824, he was poor and ill, with plenty of song performances but no one paying attention to his operas. His financial situation improved after his works were published.
However, after failing in his attempt to succeed Salieri as Kapellmeister when the latter retired, Schubert seemed to give up on both establishing himself and promoting his operas, despite his impressive competition. He composed his Great Symphony in C, the Winterreise, and the String Quintet in C Major near the end of his life. In March of 1828, Schubert gave his only public concert, and in November of that year, he died of typhoid fever.