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Music / Franz Schubert

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Franz Peter Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer of Classical Music. Schubert had early exposure to music thanks to his family and eventually his talent caught the eye of Antonio Salieri (who was best remembered as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's arch-enemy due to media's mispresentation). An extremely prolific worker despite his short life, Schubert's talent was admired by his friends, who often gathered to listen to his works in the so-called Schubertiad, but he didn't achieve significant recognition until after his death. Accounts by people who knew Schubert confirm that he was a Workaholic: friends would visit him at home and he'd look up from composing, say a friendly hello and then go back to work and forget that they were there. It's increasingly believed that he was Ambiguously Gay, but the lack of strong evidence suggests that his workaholism didn't give him much time for a personal life. Ludwig van Beethoven was his idol, and Schubert was a torchbearer at Beethoven's funeral.

Schubert is best known for his many, many songs, such as "Erlkönig", "Gretchen am Spinnrade", "Ständchen" (better known as Serenade), "Ellens Gesang III" (better known as "Ave Maria"), "Die Forelle" (known in English as "The Trout", or in Korean as the Samsung washer/dryer end tone) and "Wanderers Nachtlied II", as well as the song cycles Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin. Schubert is generally regarded as the greatest writer of classical song in the history of Western music; apart from the sheer quality of his songs, he wrote over 600 of them. But he also found time to write a lot of other music, including many important symphonies, chamber music, works for piano, church music and other pieces, before death (from either typhoid fever or syphilis, depending on who you ask) silenced him at the young age of 31.

He is mentioned as being dead in the song "Decomposing Composers" by Michael Palin sang on Monty Python's Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album.

Tropes present in Schubert's life and work:

  • Achilles' Heel: Schubert was a masterful composer in every genre he attempted except one — Opera. He made numerous unsuccessful attempts at writing one, however. His extant examples have unfortunately not rendered him Vindicated by History, which is perhaps surprising given his expertise at writing Lieder.
  • The Alcoholic: The composer's friends relate instances of his engaging in bouts of heavy drinking. Franz Von Schober wrote that Schubert in later years "let himself go to pieces, frequented the city outskirts [of Vienna], and roamed around in taverns," while another account says he engaged in "deplorable and embarrassing conduct while a guest at private functions in respectable family homes."
  • Ambiguously Gay: Schubert's sexuality has been hotly debated during the last several decades. It's true that he never married or had a serious relationship with a woman, shared a flat for a few years with his friend Johann Mayrhofer (who may or may not have been gay), and had bisexual/homosexual friends in his circle — but his lack of a stable love life may have been the result of a workaholic nature, a lack of money and stability, a hedonistic nature, his having contracted syphilis in his 20s, or other unknown reasons. He sometimes appears on lists of famous gay composers, regardless.
  • Bizarre Instrument: His Sonata in A major for Arpeggione and Piano was (until the 21st century) the only extant work written for the arpeggione, an instrument played with a bow like a cello or viol but tuned and fretted like a guitar. Invented in the early 1820s, it disappeared after enjoying a brief period of popularity for about a decade or so. Its solo part has been transcribed for many current instruments, most notably the cello, viola, contrabass, flute, clarinet, and euphonium.
  • Call-and-Response Song: 'Erlkönig' is this, sung from four different perspectives: the narrator, the child, the father and the elf-king.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Very much so, despite being short and stocky.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": You could not find a bigger fan of Beethoven in his lifetime, and while most accounts of the two men meeting are most likely fictional, Schubert once nearly had a Heroic BSoD when Beethoven pointed out a minor flaw in a work of his.
  • The Short Guy with Glasses: Schubert was barely over five feet tall and of stocky build; his friends gave him the nickname "Schwammerl," which means "little mushroom." He was also nearsighted and wore glasses from boyhood.